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:
5.0 Stars Angela Delzotto
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
I attended the tour with my friend and we both found the tour extremely interesting. I would definitely recommend this tour.
5.0 Stars Tracey Bennett
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
Dara was an excellent guide, knowledgeable and added a nice touch of humour to the tour. We really enjoyed ourselves on the tour.
5.0 Stars Kevin Hall
Take the Tour
Take the tour, even if you will do it on your own later.
5.0 Stars Dara Fazel
Dara was Great!
skipping the lines is a BIG DEAL! vatican has too many visitors. would reccomend this tour. Dara was great.
5.0 Stars Nina from Dubai
Our tour guide was very informative and knew the history of all the statues and art paintings and frescoes on the walls and ceilings. We are very glad we took this guided tour. We would not have known what we were looking at. Excellent work to Vatican tour and guide. Thanks!
5.0 Stars Katherine R. Yazzie
Excellent tour. Our guide was wonderful and really cared about everything.
5.0 Stars Peggy Collias
Easy to Understand
Dara was a good guide and seemed to know what he was talking about, plus he was easy to understand.
5.0 Stars Jason P
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