Buried under St. Peter’s Basilica is the treasured Tomb of St. Peter, an important historical and religious burial site since the 1st century. Built in honor of St. Peter - one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, the tomb has several structures that together make up a grand tomb. These structures were created by the Vatican authorities to memorialize the martyrdom of St. Peter.
The Tomb of St. Peter is located in the depths of St. Peter's Basilica in an area called the Vatican Necropolis. It is believed that after the death of St. Peter, he was buried on Vatican Hill, close to the site of his martyrdom.
At first, an old basilica was built on the site of St. Peter's Tomb, which was eventually replaced by the current structure of St. Peter's Basilica.
Peter the Apostle was crucified at the site of St. Peter’s Square, located in front of St. Peter's Basilica. This area was known as the Circus of Nero during the 1st century and was used as a spot for public executions and hearings. His death was ordered by Emperor Nero as part of the grotesque executions of Christians in 64 AD.
St. Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome during Nero's time. He was crucified along with St. Paul, who is said to have founded the Church in Rome along with Peter. His martyrdom is depicted in religious iconography as crucifixion with his head pointed downward. He believed that he was unworthy of being crucified the same way as Christ and wished for his head to face down during his death.
A massive fire occurred in Rome in the year 64 AD, for which Emperor Nero blamed the Christians. This subsequently led to the crucifixion of St. Peter, who was considered the leader of the Christians. He was then buried at the Vatican Necropolis close to the site of his death.
Around 326 AD, Emperor Constantine I ordered the construction of a massive basilica to commemorate the death of St. Peter. This ancient basilica was built over the final resting place of the Saint at the Vatican Necropolis.
After the collapse of Old St. Peter’s Basilica, a new church was built on the same site by Pope Julius II, who wished to preserve the sanctity of St. Peter’s burial site.
When the foundation was being laid for four massive columns designed by Bernini, several burial tombs were discovered below the Basilica during the 16th century. These graves were rediscovered during the 19th century under the reign of Pope Pius XI.
He wished to be buried next to St. Peter’s Tomb, which led to subsequent excavations of the site. A complex set of mausoleums were discovered during the construction of the Pope’s tomb, which formed a part of the ancient Vatican Necropolis.
In 1942, a Catholic priest named Ludwig Kaas uncovered relics from a second tomb in the necropolis. These relics were placed elsewhere for safe-keeping, however, after the death of Kaas, they were accidentally found by an archaeologist. The remains were immediately returned to the Church in the belief that they belonged to St. Peter.
Archeological examinations revealed that the bones belonged to a 61-year-old male from the 1st century. Pope Paul VI was convinced that the bones were those of St. Peter and announced the same to the public.
A. Peter was one of the twelve apostles of Christ. He helped start the Christian Church and is widely considered the first Pope.
A. St. Peter was sentenced to death by crucifixion by Emperor Nero.
A. Archeological evidence suggests that St. Peter’s body was most likely buried at Vatican Hill.
A. Examination of the found relics revealed them to belong to a 61-year-old male from the 1st century. This led Pope Paul VI to announce that they most likely belonged to St. Peter.
A. Entry to the papal tombs is through St. Peter’s Basilica. You don’t have to pay to enter the Church unless you wish to go on a guided tour.