papal tombs

Papal Tombs

The Papal Tombs are the official resting place of the majority 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.

st peter’s tomb

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.


grottoes

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.


tomb of st peter

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.


st peter’s bones

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.


st peters tomb

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.


vatican grottoes

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, the longer one on the right is for the dome and the shorter one on the left 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.


vatican necropolis

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.


Images of the Papal Tombs

  • vatican necropolis
  • vatican grottoes
  • Tomb of John Paul I in the Vatican Papal Tombs
  • vatican necropolis tour
  • where is st peter buried
  • st peter's bones
  • st peters tomb
  • old st peter's basilica
  • tomb of st peter
  • under the vatican

My Tour reviews:

    Vatican Tour
    Excellent!
    This Irish tour guide was excellent. Very knowledgeable and delivered information in a thorough manner with a clear voice. By far the best guide I had on the trip.
    5.0 Stars Russell Lau

    General Tour
    Take the Tour
    Take the tour, even if you will do it on your own later.
    5.0 Stars Dara Fazel

    Vatican Tour
    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

    Vatican Tour
    Excellent Tour
    It was an excellent tour. Would recommend it to anyone who was going to Rome.
    5.0 Stars Paula Bawiec

    Vatican Tour
    A Great Tour
    The tour was great, after talking with others on our cruise we got the better deal as they went on the cruise sponsor tour. I do have 2 items to help with improvements. I know you may not be able to do this one and it may be out of your control, but benches would be great when listening to the information on the Sistine Chapel. The second, the guides need better microphone, when they turn their head the mic stays put and you lose volume. My party all agreed that it was a great tour. Debbie.
    5.0 Stars Deborah Flanders

    Vatican Tour
    Knowledgeable and Friendly
    We had a wonderful time on our tour. Dara was knowledgeable and friendly. The Vatican trip was a highlight of our trip to Rome. Thank you.
    5.0 Stars Medina Khalil

    General Tour
    Great Tour
    Great tour
    5.0 Stars Angela Delzotto

    General Tour
    Excellent Sense of Humour
    Very informative and Dara has an excellent sence of humour.
    5.0 Stars Billy Kane

    Vatican Tour
    Incrediby Informed
    I don’t know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. 🙂 Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
    5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly

    Vatican Tour
    Very Knowledgeable and Spirited
    He was very knowledgeable and spirited. Plus, what with the Obamas in town, we had to walk the entire way around to get to the Vatican when the tour was over. As an aside, my daughter and I waited in the Vatican for almost an hour as there was a rumor that Mrs. Obama was expected, but in the end, what with only 1 1/2 days in Rome, we left. Since we continued on to Florence, Bologna, and Venice, we never did find out if we had missed seeing her. But was there ever a lot of excitement in that area
    5.0 Stars Dr Donna Ferrara