The Vatican Necropolis, or city of the dead, lies two stories beneath the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It is the original ground level of Vatican Hill and is the cemetery that Saint Peter is believed to have been buried in.
tomb of st peter
Saint Peter, Simon bar Jonah, was crucified here in Nero’s circus or chariot racing track after the emperor blamed the Christians for starting the fire of Rome of 64 AD.
Peter had been preaching in the Empire’s capital, which would have given him him the largest audience.
st peter’s bones
Crucified upside down beside the obelisk, which now sits in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, the Christians removed him from the cross and buried him in a neighbouring cemetery in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
st peters tomb
A simple inscription “Petros Eni”, or Peter Lies Within in Greek, was inscribed above his grave so the small Christian Community would know where his remains were.
The early Christian community used Greek which was the practical language of the Eastern Roman Empire where Peter was from.
The Gospels were also written in Greek or Koine as Hellenised Jews and gentiles (non-Jews) would not have understood Hebrew (official written Jewish) or Aramaic (colloquial spoken Jewish).
Greek had been the Lingua Franca or main language of the region since Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered the region almost four hundred years previously.
Greek was easier to translate in to Latin which was the official language used in the West.
where is st peter buried
Over time many Christians chose to be buried near the grave of the man regarded as the Chief Apostle.
As the tombs of Jesus and Mary were unknown and/or unoccupied, Peter’s tomb became one of the holiest sites in Christendom alongside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Written sources from the first century refer to Peter being crucified.
The Roman writer Tacitus documents the persecution of Christians under Nero, of whom he was a contemporary, and John’s Gospel, written after the fire, records Jesus as telling Peter “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go” [Jn 21:18].
Stretching out your hands is considered a direct reference to crucifixion.
Tertullian and Origin, writing in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, tell of Peter’s “passion” and “crucifixion” in Rome, upside down at his own behest; he felt he was not worthy of emulating Jesus in any way.
The Roman writer Josephus, from the first century, also tells us that Roman soldiers liked crucifying their victims in different ways, so they would have accommodated Peter’s request.
old st peter’s basilica
In 326 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine built his Basilica or Church on this site with the altar right over Peter’s grave.
Most of the non-Christian tombs were cleared and cemetery was discontinued. Constantine’s Basilica lasted 1200 years until it was gradually replaced by the current basilica (1506 – 1626).
In the 1940s Pope Pius XII ordered excavations carried out on the necropolis around the area of the tomb.
These excavations revealed many pagan tombs in the vicinity of Peter proving the written source material that the cemetery on Vatican Hill, where Peter is recorded as buried, was indeed pagan.
Digging twenty years later, during the tenure of Pope Paul VI, about 250 bones were found beneath the altar, piled together, interestingly without a skull.
Tradition records that Peter’s skull is actually in the church of Saint John the Lateran and was taken there to avoid it being damaged by the Saracens, or Muslim pirates, when they sacked Rome in the ninth century.
The Pope’s personal physician and a team of doctors confirmed these bones as those of a sixty to seventy year old man who had been powerfully built.
The bones match of the age of Peter and the written location of his burial.
st peter’s grave
Visits to the Scavi Necropolis can only be organised through the Ufficio Scavi with the Vatican themselves,
they have their own tour guides, and you should book at least two months in advance to avoid disappointment.
Photographs are not permitted, and thus I do not have many above. Here is the Vatican’s site about the Scavi.
As the Scavi are underground, it is not suited to those without full use of their lungs, so children must be older than 16 and people with breathing conditions asthma or anything more severe should not
attempt to visit the necropolis.
Also the area of the scavi are close quarters, if you have claustrophobia or dislike cramped conditions, the scavi are not for you.
As the Necropolis is a holy place, cameras are not permitted. Small bags, messenger bags and ladies handbags are permitted.
You should dress conservatively with covered knees and shoulders and you should wear comfortable shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers or trainers etc.
Images of the Vatican Necropolis
My Tour reviews:
Dara did a wonderful job. I wish we would have had him as our tour guide the entire time we were in Rome. He made the tour wonderfully entertaining and very educational. He placed just enough detail in the explanation to teach us but not bore us. He did an outstanding job. Thank you Dara!
5.0 Stars Rebeka Carter
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
Dara was an Excellent Guide
Dara was an excellent guide. His tour was very informative without being too ‘heavy’ and included just the right amount of humour. I’m sure we learnt a great deal more from Dara than if we simply read the guide books. The whole tour experience was incredible and helped to make our brief holiday to Rome a great success. Well Done!!
5.0 Stars Alison and Alan Twyford
Brilliant Irish Wit
Dara was so knowledgeable about all aspects of the history, architecture and general elements of the Vatican. What we really appreciated were the background stories he shared about why things were done the way that they were as it really aided our understanding and appreciation. Our group included 2 teenagers, and all of us were pleased. There was so much to cover and he did it brilliantly. His brilliant Irish wit was greatly appreciated too! I can’t imagine trying to do the Vatican on our own.
5.0 Stars Carrie
Dara was an Excellent Tour Guide
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Vatican and felt that we obtained a lot more information than we would have done on our own. Dara was an excellent tour guide who was well informed and able to deliver the information in an enjoyable way.
5.0 Stars Shirley Ryan
Dara was AWESOME!
Dara was AWESOME!
5.0 Stars Maz
The tour was good and Dara did a fine job explaining everything.
5.0 Stars Shirley Ryan
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
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
Tons of Sense of Humour
I love Dara’s format of explaining with tons of sense of humour.
5.0 Stars Celina Tablante
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