The Papal Tombs are the official resting place of the Popes. They are located one floor beneath St. Peter's Basilica.
It is up to each Pope to be buried where he would like, although most have chosen to be buried in the tombs.
The tombs are the location of the grave of Saint Peter, who was buried on this site following his execution in the chariot racing track of Nero on Vatican Hill. Christians buried Peter in an adjacent cemetery on this hill and he would be followed by many Christians who wished to be near a man who walked with Jesus.
Christianity was legalised by the Roman Emperor Constantine 250 years after Peter's death and Constantine would build a church over the grave of the first apostle in 326 AD. From then the Popes, or Bishops of Rome, would be usually buried close to Peter's tomb to show the continuity of their office from the one they believe established by this fisherman from Galilee. Popes have also been buried in their local parish churches, the catacombs in Rome and a variety of locations.
By the middle ages Constantine's Basilica was decrepit and in constant need of repair. In 1506 work began on the current St. Peter's and it would not be completed until 120 years later in 1626. Carlo Maderno, the second last architect of the Basilica, created the area for the current Papal Tombs by raising the Basilica floor one storey.
The original ground level of Vatican Hill where Peter and the early Christians were buried is called the necropolis or city of the dead. This is two stories beneath the basilica floor and is only open to the public by special permission through the ufficio scavi. It is very difficult to get a viewing of this.
The papal tombs are directly above the necropolis and are the closest that the public can get to the grave of Peter without a specific permit. The tombs house the remains of over twenty Popes, Kings, Queens and Cardinals including Saint Peter, John Paul I, Paul VI, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, James Stuart (James III) of England and Queen Christina of Sweden among others. John Paul II was raised from the Papal Tombs to the Basilica floor following his beatification in May 2011. He was recognised as a saint recently. To read my blog article on his beatification click here.
Like any Catholic Church the papal tombs are free, but there is a line or queue for them.
The entrance is to the right of Saint Peter's Basilica, as you enter the main portico or porch take a right. There are two lines, one is for the dome and the other is for the tombs. As it is a holy place, effectively a graveyard, no photography whatsoever is allowed. The tombs are open until 5pm in the winter and 5.30pm during the warmer months. If you are exiting the Sistine Chapel on the way to the basilica the papal tombs are beneath you as you exit. In either case, follow the signs.
You can include a visit to the papal tombs on a tour provided by me by request. Click here to book a Vatican tour guide. If you book a tour through me you will experience no line for the tombs as you can skip the general entrance line for the basilica that feeds in to the line for the papal tombs.
My Tour reviews:
Very funny and Entertaining
Dara was fantastic!! Really informative, considerate of everyone on the tour. Aware that it was a long tour with a lot of walking and was always aware of the groups comfort and needs. He was also very funny and entertaining, I would highly recommend him!
5.0 Stars Tracey Herbert
Thank you for providing a wonderful tour of the Vatican - with special thanks to Dara who was an outstanding guide!
5.0 Stars Simon Harris
It was a great tour except it was too long without being able to sit down or take breaks. (This is a criticism of the Vatican many people have - there should be more benches - Dara).
5.0 Stars Sheila Picard
Dara was AWESOME!
Dara was AWESOME!
5.0 Stars Maz
5.0 Stars Angela Delzotto
Throughly Enjoyed the Tour
Dara was excellent I throughly enjoyed the tour as did my family. I would do it again when I return.
5.0 Stars Olga Corapi
Dara was Great
Dara was great. We had to leave the tour early because our ship changed the departure time from the port city - move it up 1 hour. Dara gave us great directions on where to go to see what we wanted to see since we couldn't stay with the tour. He also was very informative while the hour or so we were with the tour.
5.0 Stars Jerry Parche
The tour was very good and Dara had the perfect combination of knowledge, respect and humour! It was good he had this as the tour is long but we knew it would be. The only aspect of the tour which saddened me and my friends (this has no reflection on Dara) when we entered the Sistine Chapel I could believe the noise, flash photography and uncovered arms!!) This is obviously a sign of the times but the Vatican should Not allow it. Vatican Tour was amazing and of course I will be recommending it.
5.0 Stars Anna Baker
Dara made the whole foot pounding experience very interesting with a touch of humour thrown in for good measure. Without him pointing out things on the way we would have missed a lot. My teenage daughter was not looking forward to the tour, but afterwards she commented on how much she got out of it and found it very funny.
5.0 Stars Mr Parlour
Informative and Interesting
Our tour was most informative and interesting. The guide kept the family entertained with facts of the origins to the many statues and artwork. Well worth the cost to cover such a magnificent papal residence.
5.0 Stars Gilbert & Luisa Rigon
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