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Field P

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From: 'Guide to the Vatican Necropolis' by Michele Basso, Fabbrica di S. Pietro

The area known as Field P was the most venerated part of the cemetery; in fact, various tombs surrounded it, both respecting and honouring it, the tomb of St. Peter. A simple tomb, dug out of the ground, it is situated in the very centre of all the others because it was the tomb of the Apostle St. Peter, martyred during the persecution of Nero in the Neronian Gardens, between 64-67 A.D. This site has been the object of indisputable continuous veneration of the Church from the first century. Evidence has been confirmed by the discovery of walls and architectural materials which surrounded and rose above this sacred burial place.

From: 'The Tomb of St Peter' by Margherita Guarducci
This little area which, in relation to the modern basilica, is directly under the Confession, was called "Field P" by the excavators. It is rectangular in form (about seven meters from north to south, about four from east to west), and it lies in a place where the terrain rises quite rapidly from the south to the north, i.e. toward the Apostolic Palaces, and more gradually from the east to the west, i.e., toward the Vatican Gardens.

Field P is bounded on the west by a wall called "Red" because of the red color of the plaster (now largely fallen off) which was used to cover it; on the south by a tomb which the excavators call S; on the east, but only in the southern half of the east section, by another tomb called O (this tomb was owned by the Matuccii and is sometimes called by their name). The northern boundary of the eastern side and all the northern boundary of the eastern side and all the northern boundary cannot be traced today, but there are good reasons for believing that there were once structures there which have been mostly destroyed.

The most ancient of the tombs surrounding Field P is certainly Tomb O, which, as can be seen form the marble tablet over the entrance, belonged to the Matuccii family. This tomb, in which the rite of cremation was practiced, can be dated about 130, and is certainly later than 123, since a brick was found in one of its walls with a seal dating from that year.

Field P was full of burial tombs. Some of these were brought to light during the 1939-1949 excavations; others in much greater numbers, by the successive excavations of the years 1955-1957. These tombs are generally quite modest, situated in the bare ground with little or no protection. Some of them are certainly older than the Red Wall, i.e., as I have explained, before about 160 A.D. One of these is the tomb indicated by the excavators with the Greek letter gamma (): a child's tomb which extends partly under the Red Wall, which shows that it must be older than the wall. A precious clue to establish its date comes from a seal pressed into one of the tiles covering it. The seal is dated by scholars at the beginning of the second century (about 115-123),4 and it is quite probable that the tomb is not much later than this date. Tomb gamma is also interesting because one of its walls contains a terra cotta tube through which libations were poured from the outside in honor of the deceased. This is essentially a pagan custom, but it was adopted for a while by some Christians.

Other tombs in Field P can be dated earlier than the Red Wall. They are usually designated by the Greek letters eta ( ) and theta ( ). The first is certainly more ancient than the Red Wall since the two little columns of St. Peter's Memorial are placed on it, and this monument, as I shall explain in a moment, is contemporary with the Red Wall. The second of these tombs (theta) is under Tomb eta and so, necessarily, earlier. In addition, Tomb theta has, on one of its tiles, a seal that can be dated in the time of the Emperor Vespasian (69-79). This seal was already discussed in the chapter on the Vatican in antiquity;5 and the fact that this tomb belongs to the first century is unquestionable. In addition, the existence of first-century tombs in this part of the Vatican necropolis is confirmed, as I have said,6 by other documents, particularly by a lamp that can be dated with certainly in the first century, found with other funeral material from the same period in the immediate vicinity of Tomb theta.

All these tombs of Field P are, for us, anonymous, since none of them has preserved an epigraph in which the name of the deceased is indicated. But it is quite probable that in ancient times the names (at least some of them) were carved on tombstones rising out of the ground and that these were later lost during the many vicissitudes of the region.

From: 'The Shrine of St Peter and The Vatican Excavations' by Toynbee and Perkins
The Aedicula faced onto, and was intimately connected with, an open space or courtyard, 'P' (referred to in the Report as 'Campo P'), the greater part of which underlies the sixteenth-century Open Confessio... The limits of P were in part determined by pre-existing structures, on the south by the north wall of Tomb S, and on the east, for some length, by the outer wall of the staircase flanking Tomb O. The north wall seems to have been destroyed at quite an early date within the Middle Ages, probably in connection with the construction of the Covered Confessio, but its position can be determined from the surviving traces of the return of the plaster facing at the point where it abutted against the face of the Red Wall, near the northern angle of Tomb Q. The northern part of the east wall has not been traced; but it is a reasonable assumption that it was carried northwards from the north-west angle of O, delimiting a roughly rectangular area, a little more than 7 metres from north to south by nearly 4 metres from east to west. The entrance to this area, which was open to the sky and does not seem at first to have had any formal paving, must have been either from the north or, rather more probably, in view of the lie of the ground, from the east, behind and above Tomb O; how steep the slope was can be gauged from the fact that the floor of P and of the Aedicula, which wa almost exactly level with that of the tessellated pavement of Q, was over 3 metres above that of O.

P. Zander. The Vatican Necropolis, in "Roma Sacra", 25, Roma 2003
Margherita Guarducci, The Tomb of St Peter, Hawthorn Books, 1960
John Evangelist Walsh, The Bones of St Peter, New York, 1982
J. Toynbee - J.W. Perkins. The Shrine of St Peter and the Vatican Excavations, London 1956
Michele Basso. Guide to the Vatican Necropolis, Fabbrica di S. Pietro in Vaticano, 1986

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