From the very
start of his pontificate, the pope wished to build a shrine against
the inner facade of the ancient basilica, between the central door
and the Ravenna Door. The intention was to create a noble chapel
dedicated to St Boniface IV that was to become the burial place
for the pope himself as well as for his relatives. The commission
was entrusted to the most prestigious artist of the time, Arnolfo
di Cambio. The altar was consecrated on May 6, 1296, but the work
was completed only in 1301. In the wall above the altar was an ample
niche where the sarcophagus with the body of Boniface VIII was to
be placed after the pope's death. Above the sarcophagus was a mosaic
attributed to Jacopo Torriti, representing the Madonna and Child
in a clipeum in the sky, while to the right was St Peter presenting
the genuflected Boniface VIII to the Virgin. To the left was the
figure of St Paul.
of St Boniface were sealed in under the table of the altar. The
entire structure was dominated by an elegant ciborium where four
classical fluted columns on high bases supported an octagonal dome
decorated with light pointed needles. Next to the shrine was the
bust of Boniface VIII imparting his blessing - another work by Arnolfo
di Cambio, today in the Apostolic Palaces.
When the facade
of the old basilica was demolished, the ciborium and the altar of
St Boniface had to be dismantled. On October 11, 1605, the sarcophagus
was opened and after three hundred years the pope's robust body
was found, still dressed in the papal vestments. It was sealed again
and taken down to the grottoes, but the surveys of 1835 and 1950
revealed major deterioration of the remains.
of St Boniface, instead, were translated to the altar of St Thomas
the Apostle in the new basilica, while the ancient inscription is
still on display in the chapel of Partorienti.
On front of
the marble coffin is a fine embroidered drapery decorated with elements
from the family crest of the Caetani. The same decorative pattern
appears in the mosaic below. The lying figure of the pope is at
the same time schematic in lines and volume and highly individual
on the face. With his outstanding skill Arnolfo shows the physical
appearance of the pope as well as his personality. The papal vestments
are sculpted in great detail showing the style of the epoch with
the tiara with two crowns, the custom introduced by this pope.
On the wall
above is a small plaque with the name of the pope: BONIFACTVS /
PAPA VIII. To the right from the sarcophagus is a small pillar with
the papal crest, originally from the ancient ciborium.
On the floor
in front of the sarcophagus is an inscription indicating the presence
of the remains of one of the pope's nephews.