Vatican Grottoes St. Peter’s Tomb of St. Peter Basilica, Vatican City Customized Tours. Information about Official guided Tours in Rome and Vatican Museums.
Vatican Grottoes in St. Peter’s Basilica | Tomb of St. Peter | Vatican City Customized Tours. Official guided tours in Rome and Vatican Museum
Archaeological excavations in the Vatican City Rome
Initially, the saint’s remains were placed in a tomb dug into the ground on the Vatican hill, near the place where he was martyred in the gardens of Nero’s circus where the Emperor used to organize the death sentences and torture of Christians. Initially, the Tomb was marked by a simple plaque, a votive shrine, called the Trophy of Gaius. Under Emperor Constantine, some changes were made by building important structures in porphyry marble, and subsequently, in 320 AD. the first and imposing basilica of San Pietro was built. The burial place of the apostle and his precious remains were perfectly coincident below the main altar.
Vatican Grottoes in St. Peter’s Basilica | Over the centuries, the tomb of St. Peter has been constantly modified and embellished by superimposing different structures. Only in the mid-1900s, during excavations under the main altar of the current St. Peter’s Basilica, it was possible to discover the exact burial point and the remains of the first and original votive shrine. The various superimpositions are attributed to Constantine, Gregory the Great, and Callisto II. The last is the altar, built by the will of Pope Clement VIII, which we can admire today under the Dome designed by Michelangelo in 1594 in the Basilica rebuilt by the will of Pope Julius II. The most interesting thing is the fact that after all these centuries and the architectural and structural vicissitudes and upheavals, the tomb has always remained at the center of the Basilica to represent the primitive fulcrum of Christianity and the Catholic church.
Excavations began in 1939 after the accidental collapse of a portion of the cave floor which revealed the existence of ancient Roman funerary structures. From the information that Pope Pius XII had thanks to an ancient document kept in the Vatican, the Book of the Popes, there was a detailed description of the place of the burial of St. Peter, so he continued the excavations that brought to light many pagan tombs finely decorated and perfectly preserved and under the various altars, a red-painted wall was also found on which there is the first votive shrine erected on the tomb of the apostle Peter called the Trophy of Gaius.
Vatican Grottoes in St. Peter’s Basilica | The Vatican Grottoes are only located below the basilica’s central nave, just below the Bernini canopy between the current basilica and that of Constantine. Among the tombs of many Popes, Kings, and illustrious personalities, several early Christian sarcophagi and architectural elements belong to the first Constantinian Basilica. They can be reached by taking a staircase just behind the pillar of San Longino. The Vatican Grottoes have a semicircular structure with the precious chapel of St. Peter in the center, built exactly above the ancient tomb of the apostle. Over the centuries, radial corridors were excavated and added, which connect to the four chapels excavated in the pillars of the Michelangelo dome (Pilone di Santa Veronica, Pilone Sant’Elena, Pilone San Longino, and Pilone Sant’Andrea), as well as a further 5 chapels. Pope Paul V had a further section of the Caves created and excavated, consisting of three naves with lowered vaults on mighty pillars extending below the median nave. In these environments, many sepulchral monuments belonging to the first basilica were allocated: sculptures, altars in precious marble, frescoes, and mosaics. Further and important excavations were also carried out by Pope Pius XI (1940-57), obtaining a new entrance and the addition of 10 new rooms used to house works of art originally exhibited in the Petriano Museum and others found in recent excavations. During the latter, the original plan of the first Constantinian basilica was brought to light, confirming that this had been built based on the virgin land of a pagan Necropolis and not on the ruins of the Circus of Caligula and Nero.
Vatican Grottoes in St. Peter’s Basilica | Behind the central railing, of gilt bronze, is a little niche, which is supposed to be the only part left of the former oratory of St. Anacletus of which we have already spoken; on the floor, there is a cross marking the tomb of the Apostle. On each side of the niche are mosaic portraits of St. Peter and St. Paul, after the design by Michelangelo. The mosaic portrait of Christ is very ancient and dates from the 4th century.
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