Plan a Visit to the Grand Tomb of St. Peter
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.
Who is Saint Peter?
St. Peter, formerly known as Simon or Simeon, was one of the twelve disciples of Christ and the first leader of the early Christian Church.
He led the founding of the Christian Church after Jesus’s death, which made him an important figure during the 1st century. For his contributions to the Church and his role as a leader of the Christian community, St. Peter is considered the first official Pope of Christendom.More about Saint Peter
Where is St. Peter's Tomb located?
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.
Visit St. Peter's Basilica
The Death of St. Peter
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.
About St. Peter's Tomb
History of the Tomb
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.
Relics of Saint Peter
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.
Tomb at St. Peter’s Basilica
Dedicated to the honor of St. Peter, the new St. Peter’s Basilica houses the sacred tomb of the Apostle below its grounds inside the Vatican Necropolis.
When the Basilica was being designed by Michelangelo, he made sure that the dome was constructed above St. Peter’s Tomb. Even the Baldacchino designed by Bernini was built right above the tomb, both of which mark the high level of importance given to St. Peter.
Pope Pius XI wished to be buried next to St. Peter Tomb, after which the area became a prestigious burial site. Today, the Vatican Necropolis holds the tombs of about 91 Popes and other significant persons.Visit St. Peter's Tomb
Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Tomb
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's death took place in 64 AD, on the site of St. Peter’s Square, formerly known as the Circus of Nero.
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. Allegedly, the relics of St. Peter were discovered through modern excavations. These remains are preserved at St. Peter’s Basilica.
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. St. Peter’s tomb is open to the public and can be accessed through St. Peter’s Basilica. It is located in the underground Vatican Necropolis.
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.
A. Other than the Basilica itself being dedicated to St. Peter, a shrine, and a Baldacchino were built to commemorate his martyrdom.