Your Complete Guide to Visiting the Vatican Grottoes Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Below St. Peter’s Basilica lies a set of ancient and modern tombs, referred to as the Vatican Grottoes. It is a fascinating area visited by millions of tourists every year. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the Vatican Grottoes including its history, what lies inside, and how you can visit.
Discover the Vatican Grottoes
The Vatican Grottoes are a complex of Papal tombs that lie below St. Peter’s Basilica. Inside the Grottoes are also ancient artworks and relics preserved over centuries. Aside from the tombs of Popes, this is also the resting place of church dignitaries, monarchs, and other significant individuals from the history of Rome. There are more than a hundred tombs inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and most of these lie within the Vatican Grottoes.
Visit St. Peter's Basilica
Where is the Vatican Grottoes?
To access the Vatican Grottoes, you can use the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica. Once you enter the Church, walk along the aisle until you find the statues of St. Helen and St. Andrew. Here you will find a door that leads to the Grottoes. You can always ask a member of staff in case you can’t find it.
Alternatively, there is an entrance towards the right of the portico, which leads to the Grottoes.
How to Visit the Vatican Grottoes
- Photography is not permitted inside.
- Cell phones must be kept on silent mode.
- All guests must follow the dress code.
History of the Vatican Grottoes
Papal Tombs at the Vatican Grottoes
After the death of Saint Peter and the legalization of Christianity in Rome during the 1st century, many Popes wished to be buried close to the Apostle. The number of Papal tombs began growing over the years and today more than 90 Popes are buried in the Grottoes.
Some Papal tombs you will find inside include the tomb of Pius VI who died in exile in France in 1799, Benedict XV, who was the Pope during World War I, and John Paul I, whose Papacy lasted for just 33 days.
Inside the Vatican Grottoes
Here are some highlights inside the Vatican Grottoes that you should keep an eye out for.
Chapel of the Madonna of Bocciata
This is the oldest chapel around the Tomb of St. Peter. Inside this chapel is a fresco of Madonna called ‘Madonna Della Bocciata,’ referring to her swollen face. An ancient legend says that her face bled after a drunk soldier threw a bowl at the fresco after losing a game.
Irish Chapel of St. Columbanus
Close to the Polish Chapel is the Irish Chapel of St. Columbanus, which was the first national chapel built inside the Grottoes. The Knights of Columbus requested Pope Pius XII in 1950 to commemorate the work of the Irish monks in spreading the Word around Europe.
Chapel of St. Longinus
This chapel holds the tomb of St. Longinus, a Roman soldier who is believed to have pierced the body of Christ with a lance. This is depicted in the fresco above his tomb. His actual name was unknown and so he was given the name Longinus.
The Tomb of the Stuarts
On the left aisle lies the remains of the last few members of the royal Stuart family. They were stopped from succeeding the throne in 1688 after the expulsion of Catholic James II from England. Buried here are his sons James III, Charles Edward, and Cardinal Henry Benedict.
The Tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden
Next to the tomb of John Paul II is the tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden. Adorned with simple white marble and decorative corners, the tomb was constructed in the 20th century. After her conversion to Catholicism in 1655, she spent the rest of her life in Rome until she died in 1689.
During the 16th century, Pope Paul V commissioned the extension of the Grottoes to include parts of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica. Inside the Grottoes are a total of six archeological rooms with parts from the old Church including tombs, frescoes, and other structures.
The Clementine Chapel or the Chapel of St. Peter, is the main highlight of the Vatican Grottoes. It contains the sepulcher containing the alleged remains of the Apostle Peter. This chapel is the only part of the old basilica that still serves its original function and purpose.
Tomb of the Queen Charlotte of Cyprus
Built with white marble is the tomb of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus. The oldest and only surviving daughter of King John II and Helena Palaiologina, Charlotte served as Queen between 1458 and 1464. After her illegitimate half-brother challenged her as a successor, she was exiled in 1463.
Empty Tomb for Benedict XVI
As morbid as it sounds, there is an empty tomb inside the Vatican Grottoes built for Pope Benedict XVI. At age 78, he was the oldest elected Pope, who served his Papacy from 2005 to 2013. He was elected as Pope after the death of John Paul II.
Vatican Grottoes Floor Plan
1. Chapel with Tomb of Pius XII
2. Chapel of St Veronica
3. Clementinian Peribolos
4. Chapel of St Helen
5. Clementine Chapel (Chapel of St Peter)
6. Gregorian Peribolos
7. Chapel of the Madonna of Bocciata
8. Opening onto the Archeological Remains of the Confessio (ex Chapel of Salvatorello)
9. Irish Chapel of St Columbanus
10. Chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti
11. Southern Corridor of the Confessio
12. The Confessio - Pallium Niche
13. Northern Corridor of the Confessio
14. Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa
15. Lithuanian Chapel of Mater Misericordiae
16. Peribolos - Last Section
17. Mexican Chapel of Our Lady of Guadeloupe
18. Tomb of Pius VI
19. Chapel of the Madonna between Peter and Paul
20. Peribolos - First Section
21. Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
22. Chapel of St. Andrew (Grottoes Entrance)
23. Opening in front of the Confessio
24. Chapel of St Longinus
25. Tomb of Pius XI
26. Central Altar
27. Tomb of John Paul II (previous)
28. Tomb of Cardinal Merry del Val
29. Tomb of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus
30. Queen Christina of Sweden
31. Tomb of the Stuarts
32. Tomb of Cardinal Francesco Tedeschini
33. Tomb of Benedict XV
34. Tomb of Innocent IX
35. Archeological Room VI
36. Archeological Room V
37. Archeological Room IV
38. Tomb of Innocent XIII
39. Tomb of John Paul I
40. Tomb of Marcellus II
41. Tomb of Urban VI
42. Tomb of Paul VI
43. Chapel of Our Lady, Queen of the Hungarians
44. Entrance to Scavi from Piazza Braschi
45. Archeological Room I
46. Archeological Room II
47. Archeological Room III
48. Early Christian Sarcophagus
49. Mosaic of John VII
50. Gallery of Clement VIII
51. Sarcophagus of Pius III
52. Sarcophagus of Paul II
53. Polyandrium under the floor
54. Tomb of Hadrian IV
55. Tomb of Innocent VII
56. Tomb of Nicholas V
57. Tomb of Monsignor Ludvig Kaas
58. Tomb of Gregory V
59. Tomb of Emperor Otto II
60. Tomb of Julius III
61. Statue of Pius VI
62. Tomb of Nicholas III
63. Tomb of Boniface VIII
64. Icon of the Madonna Dolorosa
and Reliefs of the Doctors of the Church
65. Dividing wall of Paul III and the
Remains of two Columns from the Old Basilica
66. Funerary Monument of Calixtus III
67. Marble Statue of St Peter Enthroned
68. Exit from the Grottoes to the Patio
- Don’t miss out on visiting the tombs because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Photography is not permitted inside the Vatican Grottoes.
- A guided tour is a great way to explore the grottoes and learn more about them.
- Switch your cell phone off or on silent mode during your visit.
- Plan your visit to the grottoes after you’ve explored the rest of St. Peter’s Basilica or else you will have to wait in line again to get inside the Church.
- There’s a lot to see inside so make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Vatican Grottoes
A. The Vatican Grottoes are a set of ancient and modern tombs.
A. The Vatican Grottoes lie below St. Peter’s Basilica.
A. You can enter the Vatican Grottoes through St. Peter’s Basilica.
A. Yes. The Vatican Grottoes are open to the public.
A. Yes. The Vatican Grottoes are a part of St. Peter’s Basilica but on a lower level.
A. Previous Popes and other church dignitaries are buried within the Vatican Grottoes.
A. The Vatican Grottoes are open from 07:00 AM to 07:00 PM (April to September) and 07:00 AM - 06:30 PM (October to March).
A. No. You do not need a tour guide to visit the Vatican Grottoes, however, guided tours are a great way to dive into the history of the place.
A. No. The entrance to the Vatican Grottoes is free.
A. Inside the Vatican Grottoes, are a set of tombs, archeological rooms, statues, and chapels.
A. Over 90 Popes are buried within the Vatican Grottoes.