The Bones of St. Peter
The First Full Account of the Search for the Apostle's Body
by John Evangelist Walsh
© 1982, Doubleday & Co.
(all rights reserved, this material should not be copied)
1. BURIED TOMBS
The Surviving Skeleton of St. Peter
The following table of the bones preserved in the graffiti wall is adapted from the exhaustive study performed by Dr. Venerando Correnti on all the bones found in and around Peter's grave, as published in Guarducci, Le Reliquie di Pietro, 96-103. Parts of the skeleton which are entirely absent are not listed herein, but they may be seen in the Correnti table. The term "fragment" is not meant to indicate size, only that the bone is less than entire.
13. Surviving parts of Peter's skeleton, shown in black.
Notes and Sources
In these Notes I have not dwelt on matters of general and church history which are already well known, but have restricted myself to items directly concerned with the main theme, citing only those primary sources on which my narrative is based. Mingled with these citations is some additional information and discussion which may hold a degree of value or interest, and which would have been out of place in the text.
The fundamental source underlying Chapters 1-6 is the Vatican's official report of the first excavations, Explorazioni, etc., (see Bibliography). Rather than cite these volumes repeatedly, I mention them only for the more pertinent sections. Titles of all sources are given in short form, and may be fully identified by a glance at the bibliography.
PROLOGUE: THE ANNOUNCEMENT
Pope Paul's 1968 announcement about the bones was made in the course of one of his regular Wednesday audiences in St. Peter's Basilica (the New York Times, 27 June 1968, p. 1). Apparently, it was done rather suddenly, without prior notice to any of the scientists involved. The headline in the Times read: "Pope Says Bones Found Under Altar Are Peter's."
Five days later the same paper carried a follow-up story, a long article discussing the background of the discovery. Based on interviews with several of the scientists, it was an earnest effort, but its several distortions, errors, and oversights illustrate the difficulty many journalists faced in treating the complications of this subject (the New York Times, 3 July 1968, p. 2). See also Science Digest, December 1968, where another sincere attempt to unravel the confusion only made it worse ("St. Peter's Bones - Are They or Aren't They?"); also Time magazine and Newsweek, both for 8 July 1968, and National Geographic, December 1971, for some other less than successful efforts at grasping the facts.
Inevitably, in certain portions of the Christian community there was a decidedly cool reaction to Paul's announcement, in which scientific concerns were pushed aside by other interests. The Christian Century (10 July 1968) commented editorially: "We can't get too excited about the to-do in Rome occasioned by the Pope's announcement … We make no bones about the fact that we are perverse enough - or Protestant enough - to believe that no bones, not even a saint's, are sacred. If there is a connection between bone veneration and the gospel, we have yet to find it."
Even Catholic scientists were guilty on occasion of making hasty and over-casual judgments. Dr. Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia, one of Italy's leading forensic scientists, dismissed the whole mater with the remark, "The bones could be anybody's" (Science Digest, December 1968).
CHAPTER ONE: BURIED TOMBS
The start of the excavations and the discovery of the various sarcophagi, the Caetennius tomb and the other graves, is covered in several sections of Esplorazioni. Further detail was derived from Toynbee and Perkins, xv-xxii, 44-51; Kirschbaum, Tombs, 30-33; and from the several articles by Respighi, Josi, Ferrua, and Kaas.
Medieval accounts of the Agricola tomb, and the tomb of the gold mosaic: Kirschbaum, Tombs, 35-36; Toynbee and Perkins, 30-32.
Several account of the Ostoria Chelidon sarcophagus state that the body was found embalmed and intact, clothed in purple garments, etc. (for instance, Toynbe and Perkins, 106, and Guarducci, Tomb, 68). But this is an error specifically corrected by one of those present at the opening of the sarcophagus: "The body was not embalmd. Only the bones are preserved" (Kirschbaum, Tombs, 217). The error may have arisen, strangely enough, from Josi, 4.
"Mix the wine, drink deep …" Toynbee and Perkins, 58, where the whole inscription is given in English.
The history of the Vatican area since Constantine, and of the two basilicas, may be had in a number of works. I have used the more recent volumes of Lees-Milne and Hollis; also Toynbee and Perkins, 195-239, and Guarducci, Tomb, 44-59.
Primary sources for the excavations beneath the body of the basilica are not voluminous as to detail, and most are available only in Italian. The official report, concentrating its attention on Peter's grave and shrine and the immediately surrounding area, leaves much information about the other tombs unrecorded. Early articles by Josi, Ferrua, etc., filled this gap to some extent, but the discrepancy was at last comprehensively supplied by Jocelyn Toynbee and John Ward Perkins in their scholarly work, The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations, 1957.
CHAPTER TWO: STREET OF THE DEAD
Tombs flanking the Caetennius mausoleum: Toynbee and Perkins, 24-117, passim (the descriptions do not proceed in sequence but are grouped according to artistic and architectural categories). Also, Kirschbaum, Tombs, 27-45, and the articles by Josi, Ferrua (1941, 1942, 1952), and Belvederi.
The Valerius tomb: The cloaked figure in the central niche of this tomb is interpreted by some as representing not a member of the Valerius family, but the god Apollo Harpocrates. I have preferred the opinion expressed in Toynbee and Perkins, 85. For the sketched heads of Jesus and Peter, and he inscription in the central niche, see Guarducci, Tombs, 144-47, Kirschbaum, Tombs, 28-9, Toynbee and Perkins, 14-17, and O'Connor, 179-82.
"We let the workmen … " Kirschbaum, Tombs, 34. For further detail on the interior of this tomb, see Toynbee and Perkins, 72-74.
A summary listing of all the burials found in the tombs under the basilica, including names and family relationships, and in some cases occupations, is given in Toynbee and Perkins, Appendix A.
Details of the terrain on which the Roman necropolis stood and the difficulties that faced Constantine's engineers: Kirschbaum, Tombs, 42-44, Toynbee and Perkins, 197-98.
Pope Sylvester's part in the building of the first basilica is recorded in Liber Pontificalis, where it is expressly stated that the first suggestion for erecting a basilica over Peter's grave came from this pope. Whether this means that the whole concept was Sylvester's from the start, or that he may have responded to an offer from Constantine, is not clear. In the same section of the Liber Pontificalis occurs the reference to the bronze coffin.
Nero's Circus: A principal concern of the excavators in the early phases of the work was with finding some trace of the circus or arena of Nero, whose ruins supposedly underlay the south side of the basilica. This hope was connected with claims in early documents that Peter's grave lay adjacent to the arena. No sign of the circus was found, however, and the plausible explanation was offered that the structure could have been built of perishable materials, perhaps mostly wood and earthen banks, rather than of stone and marble. Later, however, the excavators came upon an inscription over the entrance to a tomb which made it certain that Nero's circus had indeed once stood in the vicinity. The inscription, engraved on marble, mentions a clause from the will of the tomb's owner, Popilius Heracla, directing that his mausoleum be situated "on the Vatican near the Circus." If the dead man's wishes in this respect had not been honored, the inscription would scarcely have bothered alluding to the clause. (See Kirschbaum, Tombs, 21-22; Josi, 6; Respighi, 5.)
CHAPTER THREE: BENEATH THE HIGH ALTAR
All the early documentary references to Peter are handily collected or mentioned in O'Connor, Peter in Rome, where they are discussed and evaluated (many of O'Connor's conclusions, as to the individual worth or import of these documents, are open to serious disagreement, an exercise not pertinent here). For further extended treatment of certain of the early documents see Guarducci, Tombs, 25-43, Toynbee and Perkins, 127-33, Respighi (1942).
"When you were young …" John 21:18
"So put away all malice …" 1 Peter 2:1-3
"Their death was turned …" Howe and Harrer, Roman Literature, 633
"Marcellus, not asking …" M. R. James, 336.
The "memorial shrine" supposedly erected in the first century by Pope Anacletus is discussed in Kirschbaum, Tombs, 132-33; the original record is in Liber Pontificalis. For a highly probably confusion with the later Pope Anicetus, see the text above, p. 67. The reference by the priest Gaius to the "Tropaion" is preserved only in Eusebius, History of the Church. Gaius' remark was called forth during a controversy with the Montanists, in which the graves of certain apostles were appealed to as conferring apostolic sanction on various teachings. See Kirschbaum, Tombs, 78-79, O'Connor, 85-101.
The belief of Monsignor Kaas that Peter's body would be found in a bronze sarcophagus is in Guarducci, Reliquie-messa, 82-83; also a letter from Dr. Guarducci to the author. Kaas' settled conviction in this regard, as Dr. Guarducci believes, certainly must have played a part in his unfortunate blunder at the graffiti wall by blinding him to all other possibilities; see Chapter 6 and its Notes, 160. On this same topic, see Kirschbaum, Tombs, 51-52.
"The man who desires to pray …" Gregory of Tours, quoting a description supplied by his deacon, Agiulph, after a visit to the basilica, in De Gloria Martyrum, quoted here from Kirschbaum, Tombs, 157.
"Unspeakable iniquities … " Quoted from Toynbee and Perkins, 228.
The accident of 1594 at the shrine: Kirschbaum, Tombs, 61, 220, and Lees-Milne, 225.
The inspection made by Hartmann Grisar at the Niche of the Pallia: Grisar, Le Tombe, 19-23; see also Analecta Romana, 1899.
The original basilica shrine: Eventually the excavators were able to reconstruct, in some detail, the original Constantinian shrine over Peter's grave. Essential to the success of this effort was a fifth-century reliquary known as the Samagher Casket, then stored in the Lateran Museum in Rome. The four sides of this box have liturgical scenes carved into them, one of which, it was at length realized, depicts Peter's shrine in its original appearance. The complete facts about this unique artifact have been gathered by Dr. Guarducci into a pamphlet, La Capsella Eburnea di Samagher, 1978.
CHAPTER FOUR: PETER'S GRAVE
The principal primary source for reconstructing the actual sequence of the excavations under the high altar is found in Kirschbaum, Tombs, 53-94. None of the other participants provided any record with like detail. But Kirschbaum's account, unfortunately rather bare and somewhat confusing, must be interpreted in the light of several other sources, particularly Respighi, "Esplorazioni recenti"; Ferrua, "Il sepolcro"; Josi, "Gli scavi"; Toynbee and Perkins, 137-66; and Belvederi, "La tomba."
"Expectantly, we turned …" Kirschbaum, Tombs, 66.
Discovery of the graffiti wall: Esplorazioni, 129-30, Kirschbaum, Tombs, 67.
"merged into the darkness …" Kirschbaum, Tombs, 77.
The initial discovery of the empty marble repository in the graffiti wall is covered at some length in Kirschbaum, Tombs, 71-73. See also Esplorazioni, 162, and Guarducci, Le Reliquie, 19-21.
The entry into the central chamber, Peter's grave, is given by Kirschbaum himself in Tombs, 74-78 (see also 91, 195-96), and Esplorazioni, 195-96. A rather reticent man when writing of his own part in the excavations, Kirschbaum neglected to describe his actual finding of the bones under the red wall, though he fully discusses the bones themselves, specifying their location and condition when uncovered. My picture of the moment is based on a study of all available contemporary sources, primary and secondary. While I cannot guarantee that the finding of the bones occurred during this first entry, rather than at some subsequent entry, the tendency of the evidence makes it very probable.
That Pius XII was immediately informed of the discovery of the red wall bones, and was present at their unearthing is mentioned only in the New York Times, 22 August 1949. It is hardly a point, in any case, which needs documentary support.
A circumstantial description of the various bones a the moment they were taken from under the red wall is not supplied by Kirschbaum, nor by any of the other participants. My description is based on the later detailed analysis of them by Dr. Correnti, printed in Le Reliquie, 107-23.
For the early medical verdict on the red wall bones see Kirschbaum, Tombs, 195-96, Guarducci, Le Reliquie, 15-16, and O'Connor, 196.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE RED WALL COMPLEX
The coins: A complete listing, with illustrations, of all the coins found in and around Peter's grave and shrine is supplied in Explorazioni, 225-44.
For the excavators' interpretation of the various structures comprising the red wall complex see the articles of Josi, Respighi, Ferrue; also, Kirschbaum, Tombs, 79-83, Toynbee and Perkins, 144-51. For a later commentary on the earlier conclusions, offering a few refinements, see Prandi, La Zona, passim.
The open courtyard before the Tropaion: It is not explained in the several reports just why the excavators should have decided that this supposedly open area, surrounded by walls, might not have been covered by some sort of roof. Since only a relatively short portion of one wall remains (the red wall), and nothing can be judged as to its top, it would seem possible that the courtyard had in fact originally been roofed over. Certainly it is reasonable to think that protection would have been given to the Tropaion itself, as well as the grave's closure slab under it. That probability, moreover, is supported by the rather fresh, unweathered appearance the red plaster presented when first uncovered. The same, in general, might be said for the upper burial ground, which now is also thought to have been open to the skies.
"dwindled to a few centimeters … " Kirschbaum, Tombs, 85.
Dating of the red wall complex: Kirschbaum, Tombs, 80, Toynbee and Perkins, 262-65. The mid-second-century date assigned to the complex by the excavators was subsequently confirmed by the excavations of Adriano Prandi (1956-57), as reported in his book, La Zona Archeologica, 3-37, 92-93.
The work of Prandi negated one of the excavators' pet theories, that concerning the burials surrounding Peter's grave. Originally, eleven such burials were uncovered, matching the claim in old documents that exactly eleven early popes lay in the close vicinity of Peter's body. Prandi's operaion, however, turned up some thirty burials, whole or in remnants. With that, the claim regarding he eleven popes was forgotten - though why the eleven might not be counted among the thirty is still unclear.
The angled grave under the Tropaion: Kirschbaum, Tombs, 78, 91. The excavators rightly stress the peculiar angling of the central chamber and the closure slab, in relation to the red wall, as proving that the empty space below the monument was once an actual, full-length grave. No other interpretation supplies a reasonable cause for this subtle but striking anomaly.
The word "Tropaion" - and its possible meanings - has been exhaustively studied, especially by Christine Mohrmann (see Bibliography). Almost all scholars now agree that the word can only mean a monument built over a grave containing a body. Some critics had insisted that the word might indicate nothing more than a commemorative monument set up at any random location, or that it simply marked he site of Peter's execution. The linguistic studies, together with the incontrovertible fact of the angled chamber, have laid such objections to rest. See Kirschbaum, Tombs, 110-14, Toynbee and Perkins, 154-57, O'Connor, 95-101.
CHAPTER SIX: STROKE OF FATE
"Has the tomb of St. Peter …" Radio broadcast of Pius XII, Christmas 1950, reported in the New York Times, 24 December.
"some human bones …" Esplorazioni, 165.
The Petros Eni graffito found by Ferrua in the repository of the graffiti wall was first reported by him in Il Messaggero, 16 June 1952. A strange situation later developed, which saw Ferrua treating the bit of masonry almost as his personal property, in effect withholding it from study by other experts. He included an incorrect sketch of it in an article written for La Civiltŕ Cattolica, and later (1954) discussed it at an archaeological congress in Aix-en-Provence. But not until 1957 did he relinquish the artifact itself for permanent storage in the Vatican. Its surrender at the time was at least partly due to pressures brought by Dr. Guarducci, who was curious to see the inscription in the original. As it turned out, her instincts were sound. See Kirschbaum, Tombs, 221, Guarducci, Retrouvé, 60, and the Notes below, 166.
Monsignor Kaas and the marble repository: The truth regarding this episode went unrecognized for more than twenty years, until Dr. Guarducci and her colleagues were able to reconstruct the actual sequence of events. See Guarducci, Le Reliquie, 37-40, and her Reliquie-messa, 13-14, 82-92. Also see Chapter 8, and the Notes below, 167.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE WOODEN BOX
Dr. Guarducci's own extensive writings remain the principal source for reconstructing the detailed sequence of her pivotal role in the finding of Peter's relics. Basic, as an overview, is her St. Pierre Retrouvé, 1974 (only this French translation from the Italian is now available), but this must be supplemented by her earlier writings, particularly I Graffiti (1958), and Le Reliquie (1965), with its important follow-up pamphlet of 1967.
In addition, I have had the pleasure of direct discussions with Dr. Guarducci through correspondence and in person. Now nearing eighty, she continues with her work, an inspiration in her field, her energies unabated after almost sixty years of steady accomplishment. The total of her contributions to scholarly journals, both Roman and Greek, has continued to mount and now exceeds a remarkable three hundred. A bibliography of her writings up to 1976 had been issued by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome. The cornerstone of her career continues to be the two now-standard collections: Inscriptiones Creticae, four volumes, Rome, 1935-50, and Epigrafia Greca, four volumes, Rome, 1967-77.
Decipherment of the Valerius inscription: See four works by Guarducci; Cristo e San Pietro, etc., which contains a full report on the work, I Graffiti, II, 397-403, Tomb, 144-46, and Retrouvé, 62-64.
Dr. Guarducci's amazed reaction to her first sight of the graffiti wall is in a letter to the author; also, Retrouvé, 65-66.
Finding of the wooden box: Le Reliquie, 20-21, and Reliquie-messa, 5-6. The conversation between Giovanni Segoni and Dr. Guarducci is in Retrouvé, 105-6.
The separate bones found in the wooden box in September 1953 are not enumerated or described by Dr. Guarducci. My description of them is based on the analysis later supplied by Dr. Correnti in Le Reliquie, 134-44.
Dr. Guarducci's crucial decision, prompted solely by scientific habit, to set aside the graffiti wall bones for further routine study is in Retrouvé, 108. In the same place she notes the date of which the bones were locked away: September 1953. Thus, for ten years these bones, later to be identified as Peter's, lay unregarded in the Vatican. It is this "lost" period, especially, that many journalists in their professional hurry found it difficult to account for, or to view without suspicion.
CHAPTER EIGHT: WHAT THE GRAFFITI HID
Dr. Guarducci's pioneering effort at the graffiti wall was reported by her in massive detail in the three large volumes of I Graffiti. The third of these volumes contains a complete series of close-up photographs of the wall's whole surface, showing with admirable clarity the entire network of names and coded inscriptions (that is, the individual scratches in the tangled mass may be clearly followed). Admittedly, for the unpracticed eye it requires some patient study to recognize all the forms and shapes identified by Dr. Guarducci - and perhaps her interpretations here and there might, as some insist, be questioned. But that is hardly surprising when dealing with so arcane a code piled up in such a welter.
Further discussion of the mystical cryptography theory was presented by Dr. Guarducci in her articles "Il Fenomino orientale," 1964, and "Dal Gioco letteale," 1978.
"He said that with his own …" Eusebius, Life of Constantine, quoted from Guarducci, Tomb, 123.
The Peter symbol: Guarducci, I Graffiti, I, 385-478, which provides a comprehensive discussion of the symbol itself, its varied uses, development, background, etc. See also her volumes Tomb, 107-12, and Retrouvé, 72-73.
"He was known throughout …" Eusebius, Theophania, IV, 7, quoted from Guarducci, Tomb, 9. Of course, this proof of a widespread clinging to the memory of Peter during the centuries after his death did not come as any great surprise to those familiar with the Christian art of the catacombs. Second in importance only to Christ as a subject of catacombal art, Peter is represented on the moldering walls of these eerie passageways beneath the environs of Rome more than three hundred times. The number of different scenes and incidents depicted from his life, all found in the Gospels, is nearly thirty (Hertling and Kirschbaum, Catacombs, 242-44)
CHAPTER NINE: THE BONES EXAMINED
Dr. Correnti's study of the red wall bones was fully reported by him in Le Reliquie, 93-124. He gives a lengthy table listing every bone and fragment, along with a complete set of illustrations. See also Guarducci, Retrouvé, 109-10.
"A recess under the …" Kirschbaum, in Hollis, The Papacy, 17. An earlier statement by Kirschbaum to similar effect occurs in his own book, Tombs, first published in German in 1957. It clearly demonstrates the anguished indecision produced in the Vatican by the red wall bones:
A small heap of bones was discovered beneath the lowest niche of the red wall. They were therefore in the area of the ancient central grave, which we have identified as that of the apostle … It might be surmised that scattered remains had at one time been collected and placed beneath the red wall. In that case, an anatomical investigation would have showed that they belonged to different skeletons. Medical examination, however, gave the contrary verdict, i.e., that all these bones belonged to one and the same person. That person was further described as an elderly and vigorous man. This skull is missing …
All we can say is that the bones were removed from a grave now recognized to have been that of St. Peter, and that they were in fact the bones of an elderly man. At the time of his death Peter was elderly. Great responsibility, to be sure, is incurred in the attribution of any bones to St. Peter. But there would be just as much responsibility at stake in ignoring earthly remains of the chief apostle, if they had in fact been found. As things now are, it is probably impossible to pass a final judgment. Yet we have to emphasize the fact - which must be seriously considered - that the bones of an elderly man were discovered within the precincts of the apostle's grave, and that a thousand or more years ago they were acknowledged to be such … Can we seriously imagine that at some indefinite period some indeterminate bones were placed precisely at this spot, which as we have seen was the focus of a constantly increasing devotion, and that, in consequence, we have been seriously misled? The question we prefer to leave open … (195-96).
The real source of the difficulty, of course, was the hurried and mistaken verdict rendered on the red wall bones by Dr. Galeazzi-Lisi and other medical men. No report of this early examination was ever published, officially or otherwise, so there is little that may be said of it. However, it appears certain that these doctors took their task rather too casually, not recognizing that the study properly required a professional anatomist. The speed with which the first verdict was rendered contrasts sharply with the time taken up by Correnti's later definitive study.
The absence of foot bones: There has been little or no comment on this peculiarity of the graffiti wall cache - peculiar because of the total absence of the bones below both ankles. That these pieces might have been lost because of their small size is no answer, since many bones from the fingers of a similar size are present, showing how much care was used with these relics. One possible explanation, admittedly beyond proof, does leap to mind: Might there not be some link between the missing foot bones, and the tradition that Peter was crucified head downward? With his feet nailed to the upper part of the cross, whether separately or together, Roman executioners in removing the body certainly would not have hesitated to sever the feet, should the extraction of the heavy nail from the wood have proved at all difficult.
Dr. Correnti's examination of the graffiti wall bones was fully reported by him in Le Reliquie, 134-57. Again, he supplies a complete table, as well as illustrations. He also gives precise anthropological values for certain of the more important pieces in support of his decision as to the individual's sex (141-44)
CHAPTER TEN: THE PETER THEORY
The conversation between Drs. Correnti and Guarducci, and its consequence in turning her thoughts toward the true identity of the graffiti wall bones, is in Guarducci, Retrouvé, 112-14. See also Le Reliquie, 19-24, and Reliquie-messa, 6.
In her first conception of the Peter theory, Dr. Guarducci may have been aided to an extent by some prior speculations of the four original excavators. In the years after the first discovery of the cavity in the graffiti wall, Josi, Ferrua, and Kirschbaum had continued to be curious about its function. In their writings each had suggested that the hidden space might, in some undetermined way, actually have been connected with Peter's remains. Each considered whether it might have been used as a temporary depository in earlier periods, either for all the bones or for the skull alone (see, for example, Kirschbaum, Tombs, 196-200). These ideas were linked to theorizing about another archaeological site in Rome - now covered by the ancient Church of San Sebastiano - where mysterious devotions to both Peter and Paul had flourished for some decades before the advent of Constantine. But such speculations, highly tentative as the excavators admitted, perhaps did no more for Dr. Guarducci than prepare her mind for the sudden onset of her own hypothesis. The real trigger, appropriately, was provided by an inscription, the Petros Eni graffito. (The literature on the San Sebastiano site is large; for an introduction see O'Connor, 135-58, also Toynbee and Perkins, 167-82.)
Dr. Guarducci's study of the Petros Eni graffito is given in I Graffiti II, 396-402. See also her description in Tomb, 131-33, and Le Reliquie, 37-40.
In this same connection, Dr. Guarducci asserts that the upper of the two lines on the plaster (the IIETP …) shows a decided convex curvature from left to right, as if the unknown writer had used his elbow for a pivot. She sees the conjectured right termination of this upper line as being too far lowered to permit the second line (the ENI) to have originally been longer, since it would then have run across the end of the drooping upper line. Considerable discussion has centered on this claim, and several scholars have registered strong disagreement. The materials themselves are too fragile and tenuous to permit an absolute decision, but it must be said that Dr. Guarducci's theory does indeed appear quite possible. See I Graffiti, II, 396-407, Tomb, 131-33, and Reliquie-messa, 53-65.
The first audience of Dr. Guarducci with Paul VI, and their later meetings, are recorded in Guarducci, Retrouvé, 115-17. See also Menen, Rock, 57-65.
Examination of the animal bones, the cloth, and the soil: Le Reliquie, 161-82. See also Guarducci, Retrouvé, 118-22. Examination of the contents of the Lateran reliquary is reported in Reliquie-messa, 80-82.
No official report has yet appeared on the Lateran skull. In its absence, perhaps several suggestions might be made. The paucity of bones available for study obviously would have negated any effort to determine such fundamentals as age, sex, and body type. And yet Dr. Correnti was unequivocal in his opinion that no conflict existed between the Lateran skull and the graffiti wall bones, among which were some skull fragments. Logically, there appear to be only three methods by which this certainty could have been reached:
1) The Lateran bones were submitted to radiocarbon dating and their absolute age was found to be a good deal less than the requisite nineteen hundred years. Dr. Guarducci hints at this outcome when she invites her readers to "reflect" on the fact that the first traceable record of the Lateran skull dates to only the eleventh century.
2) All fragments from the two groups were compared and no exact duplication was uncovered. This would leave intact the claims of both sets of bones to authenticity.
3) One or more of the Lateran cranial fragments showed traces of the suture, and the degree of ossification showed the individual's age at death as less than fifty years. Of course, it is not wholly impossible that the Correnti study turned up information of quite a different order.
The discovery by Dr. Guarducci that none of the original four excavators had any knowledge of Monsignor Kaas' action in removing the graffiti wall bones and quietly storing them away is in Reliquie-messa, 12-14. See also Guarducci, Retrouvé, 124-26.
After the Pope's 1968 announcement about the bones, the four excavators were sought by reporters for interviews, but apparently only Josi was available. To the newsmen he insisted that he had taken no part whatever in the work of Dr. Guarducci, had "nothing to say" about the Pope's sudden announcement, and in fact was completely "out of the picture" (the New York Times, 27 June 1968). This response, naturally, left the reporters even more puzzled than before, since so far as they were aware Josi had been a key mover in the excavations. But nothing more was said.
Even today it is not easy to understand why these four men should have been left out of the latter phases of the work, beginning with Correnti's study of the graffiti wall bones in the fall of 1962. And a large portion of their obvious resentment, undoubtedly, arose from thoughts of what might have happened had they been told of the existence of the bones a any time during the ten years (1953-62) in which they lay ignored in a cupboard at the Vatican. The marble cavity in the graffiti wall, found empty so far as they knew, had already captured their attention to the point of theorizing about its possible links to Peter's remains (see above, p. 165). This view deserves some sympathy, since it is true that if Dr. Guarducci had informed these men about her accidental discovery of the bones, at the time it occurred in the fall of 1953, the denouement of 1968 might have taken place more than a decade earlier. In that case, much of the confusion and indecision over the red wall bones would have been avoided, and the troublesome interlude during which the graffiti wall bones lay "forgotten," would never have occurred. Detectable in all of this, it must be said, is a certain antagonism, on both sides, which prevented mention of the graffiti wall bones even in a casual or offhand way. Signs of such a personal strain between the parties are not wanting in the literature.
Kirschbaum's acceptance of the Peter theory was expressed to Dr. Guarducci in a letter of December 1964, mentioned in Reliquie-messa, 13. See also Kirschbaum's article in Archivum Historiae Pontificiae, where he points out the fact that he and several others before Dr. Guarducci had suggested a possible connection between the marble repository and Peter's remains. Quite correctly, he says that it would not have been amiss had Dr. Guarducci seen fit in her writings to make some mention of these earlier speculations.
For a full presentation of Dr. Guarducci's evidence in favor of the bones, see her Le Reliquie, 72-77, Retrouvé, 117-44, and Reliquie-messa, 6-8.
The five scientists who reviewed Dr. Guarducci's proofs are listed in Reliquie-messa, 8-9. They were, from the University of Rome, Professor Giovanni Beccati and Professor Guglielmo de Angelis d'Ossat; from the University of Perugia, Professor Filippo Magi; and Professor Gianfilippo Carettoni, Direcor of excavations at the Roman Forum. It seems not to have been the function of these men to judge general conclusions about the identity of the bones, but only to pass on the soundness of the scientific elements involved in the theory, along with permissible interpretation of that evidence.
Testimony of Giovanni Segoni: The notarized affidavit of foreman Segoni, dated 7 January 1965 and now in the Vatican archives, makes the following main points. When he inspected the cavity sometime in 1941 it contained a "certain quantity of bones," all stark white. At the order of Monsignor Kaas, and in his presence, he removed the bones, placed them in a wooden box, and personally stored the box with others in the small room behind the chapel of St. Columban. In September 1953 he recovered this same box for Dr. Guarducci. A second workman, it later developed, had also been occupied nearby at the moment when Segoni removed the bones, and recalled the circumstances (Reliquie-messa, 11-12; Retrouvé, 128)
CHAPTER ELEVEN: DECISION
For the several leading objections to Dr. Guarducci's 1965 book and theory, and her replies thereto, see her 1967 pamphlet, Reliquie-messa, 24-53, passim. See also her article "Infundate" and her book Retrouvé, 124-26. For coverage of the more extended objections see the articles in the bibliography below for Carcopino, Coppo, Ruysschaert (1965), Smothers (1965), and Toynbee (1965); also O'Connor, Peter, 170-205, passim.
Color-testing of the cloth: Reliquie-messa, 65-74.
Inspection of the repository: Reliquie-messa, 14-17.
The Constantius coin: Reliquie-messa, 74-75
(For the three items above see also Retrouvé, 119-33.)
Dr. Correnti's discussion of the Carbon-14 test is fully presented in Reliquie-messa, 77-78. It might be noted that today, more than ten years after Correnti's opinion was first expressed, radiocarbon dating technique has undergone considerable refinement. Much less material is now required, perhaps as little as the size of a fingernail, and the plus-or-minus factor has also been drastically reduced, some authorities claiming an accuracy of perhaps two percent, which would put it under fifty years. Despite all reasons offered to the contrary, there can be no doubt that the test should someday me made.
Chemical tests were also performed on the bits of red plaster and the marble chips found in the wooden box. These were proved to match the red wall and the slabs lining the repository. See Reliquie-messa, 9-11, and Retrouvé, 117.
An eyewitness description of the ceremonies attending return of the bones to the graffiti wall is in Guarducci, Retrouvé, 147-48. See also the New York Times, 28 June 1968.
CHAPTER TWELVE: THE ANCIENT SILENCE
For Roman law respecting the burial of criminals, see O'Connor, Peter, 93-94, 128; also Dictionary of Roman Law, American Philosophical Society, 1953.
Recovery of Peter's body: The manner in which Peter's body was, or might have been, recovered after his crucifixion at one time threatened to become a minor controversy on its own. Some respected scholars insisted that the body could not have been saved, that it must have disappeared, since after death on the cross it would have been burned - perhaps lost in a heap of martyrs' corpses - and any remaining bones would have been scattered. At best, this was an argument in a vacuum, there being nothing whatever known of the true circumstances, not even whether Peter died by himself or with others. That the recovery could have been managed either through bribery of some minor official, or else surreptitiously, must be admitted by all. And at least two instances of a martyr's body being stolen out of the hands of the Romans - one definite, the other highly probable - can be documented (the fact that the incidents took place some hundred years after Peter's death does not, in my view, lessen their relevance. The usual charge that the "cult of the martyrs" did not arise until long afterward has no bearing on the special case of Peter).
About the year 165, St. Justin and six Christian companions were executed in Rome. A contemporary account tells what happened next: "The holy martyrs went out, glorifying God, to the customary place, and were beheaded, and fulfilled their testimony by the confession of their Savior. And some of the faithful took their bodies by stealth and laid them in a convenient place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ working with them …" (Martyrdom of St. Justin, quoted from Fremantle, 196). It might be noted that the unnamed "convenient place" in which the bodies were interred, at least temporarily, may well have been the upper burial ground adjacent to the Tropaion. The site had been completed only a few years before, and could easily have accommodated seven bodies.
About a decade before the death of Justin and his friends, there occurred the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, in Smyrna, and the preservation of his bones very probably affords another instance of recovery by stealth. After Polycarp's death under the sword, his body was burned by the Romans, precisely to prevent its being taken for veneration by the faithful. But, as the old record relates, the faithful were not deterred: "We took up his bones, being of more value than precious stones and more excellent than gold, and laid them apart in a suitable place" (Barry, 74). The writer does not specify that the saint's charred bones were actually stolen from Roman custody, but under the circumstances that conclusion may be taken as certain - neither the writer nor his readers needed to have such matters explained. The use of the phrases "a convenient place" and "a suitable place" in the accounts of Justin and Polycarp also strongly indicates that the locations of such graves were customarily kept secret.
A third example of the attempts to recover the mutilated bodies or charred remains of martyred Christians, this time by both stealth and bribery, occurred in the year 177 at Lyons, though in this case the effort failed. After a sudden, ferocious, but short lived local persecution (fired by dark rumors of "Thyestean banquets and Oedipean unions") the heaped remains of perhaps a dozen martyrs were committed to a guard of Roman soldiers. The contemporary account explains:
Those that were suffocated in the prison they threw to the dogs, watching carefully by night and day lest we should give any of them burial. After that they exposed what the beasts and the fire had left, part torn, part charred, and the heads of the rest with the trunks; these likewise they left unburied, and watched them for many days with a guard of soldiers … There was great sorrow because we could not bestow the bodies in the earth. For night did not help us towards this, nor money persuade, nor prayers shame, but they watched every way, as though they would derive some great profit from the martyr's loss of burial … So the bodies of the martyrs, after being subjected to all kinds of contumely and exposed for six days, were then burnt and reduced to ashes by the impious, and swept into the river Rhone which flows hard by, that not a fragment of them might be left on earth. (Letter from Lyons and Vienne, quoted from Fremantle, 208-9)
"Secretly, it is true …" The Emperor Julian in his treatise Against the Galileans, quoted from Fremantle, 261. Certain scholars have not known quite what to make of this remark of Julian's about Peter's grave and have ended by passing it off, rather abruptly, as worthless. "A tradition such as this, appearing for the first time in the fourth century, is surely unfounded," wrote D. W. O'Connor (Peter in Rome, 103). But this is much too hasty a judgment, obviously the result of a momentary lapse in critical balance. Elsewhere in his book, for instance, O'Connor willingly accepts the testimony of Porphyry against Peter's having founded the Roman church, even though Porphyry's opinion dates to two centuries after Peter's death, and is available only in the work of another writer (Peter in Rome, 88). Here is the passage from Against the Galileans in which Julian's remark occurs:
At any rate, neither Paul nor Matthew nor Luke nor Mark ventured to call Jesus God. But the worthy John, since he perceived that a great number of the people in many of the towns of Greece and Italy had already been infected by this disease, and because he heard, I suppose, that even the tombs of Peter and Paul were being worshipped - secretly, it is true, but still he did hear this - he, I say, was the first to venture to call Jesus God …
Julian's easy reference to the graves of Peter and Paul as already being venerated at the time when John wrote his Gospel (A.D. 90-100) is clearly an offhand mention of a fact that Julian takes to have been long and widely accepted. His obvious source would have been his own uncle, Constantine, who must certainly have learned about the tradition of a secret grave from Pope Sylvester when plans for the first basilica were being formed. Thus the tradition did not "appear" for the first time in the fourth century, but was then publicly acknowledged, at the same time, be it noted, that the location of the hidden grave itself was revealed.
Design of the Tropaion: It may perhaps be asserted that the monument's neutral design was merely a result of the prevalent tendency among early Christians to adopt whatever was good and serviceable in Roman culture. That may be true to an extent, but the point to be stressed is the total absence in the design of any feature which could link the structure to Christianity - a simple cross, for instance, or the usual symbol of a fish, or even some rendition of the key-like Peter symbol, to mention the obvious.
The graffiti wall: If this wall was erected during the early part of the decade 250-60, then transfer of the bones from the grave to the marble repository would have been the work of Pope Cornelius (251-53). Interestingly, the Liber Pontificalis credits him with a "translation" of Peter's remains (and Paul's), though the reference is obscure and has no obvious relation to the graffiti wall. If the wall was built toward the latter part of the decade, during the fierce persecution of Valerian (257-60), then Pope Sixtus II would have been responsible for transfer of the bones. The Liber Pontificalis, however, has no reference that can be so interpreted. Sixtus himself died a martyr when he was beheaded in the catacombs by Roman soldiers. He was at the time engaged in celebrating mass for the martyrs buried there, an act which infringed Valerian's law closing Christian cemeteries. Between Cornelius and Sixtus, two other popes had brief reigns, Lucius and Stephen. While either of these could have been responsible for the transfer, no document links their names with the Tropaion or with Peter's remains.
The conspiracy of silence: Of course the whole Christian movement during the early years involved a fundamental secrecy regarding membership, and this pervasive atmosphere would have made it natural and easy to extend the silence to Peter's remains. After all, had not Jesus declared to the apostle, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church"? In light of these forthright words, it is not surprising that, in addition to Peter's living presence, Christians should have come to regard his physical body as in some sense partaking of the Rock on which the church was built, and would desire to preserve it, at all costs, for as far into the future as possible. And it is hardly outside the experience of human nature that this attitude was at last given full physical expression when the red wall complex - the first real church building - was constructed over and around Peter's body.
It might be observed that a theory of deliberate silence, applied to the living Peter, would also explain the almost total dearth of reliable information concerning the last two decades or so of his life. After his miraculous delivery from prison, it must be remembered, he carried the brand of an escaped convict - and King Herod was so angered at losing this particular prisoner that he had the unfortunate jailers executed (Acts 12:19). Looked at in this light, it is perhaps understandable why Peter's whereabouts thereafter, and his movements, should have been left almost completely unrecorded in contemporary documents, and especially that explicit mention of his is oddly absent from certain letters of Paul.
Diocletian's persecution began in the year 303, while Marcellinus was pope. Little is known of him and no document offers any clue as to whether it was at his command that the bones were transferred from grave to wall. A confusion in the records makes it uncertain whether Marcellinus reigned until the year 309, or whether another man, named Marcellinus, served briefly 308-9, with the office vacant during 304-8, when the persecution reached its bloody height.
Constantine and Sylvester: The relations between Emperor and Pope, personal and official, would certainly have played a part in Sylvester's decision about keeping or revealing the secret location of Peter's bones. And the history of their association, as much of it as is known, shows that there was never a time when the Pope could have placed full and irrevocable confidence in the Emperor's Christian orthodoxy. During the twenty years or so in which they reigned together, there was continual embroilment over church affairs, organizational matters, the deliberations of church councils, implicit questions as to the Pope's primacy, and the need to deal with heresy, particularly Arianism, which at one period Constantine himself viewed sympathetically. And perhaps - just perhaps - Sylvester may very early have decided that the secret of the bones need never be revealed. He knew with absolute certainty that Peter's bones lay within the sumptuous marble shrine then standing over the grave. That the bones were in the graffiti wall, rather than in the central chamber, may not have struck Sylvester and his companions with the same force felt today. And it is in this area that Dr. Guarducci's reasoning on the point has some relevance. The factors she cites as explaining the removal of the bones from grave to repository make much more sense when used to explain why the bones were permitted to remain in the repository.
Julian the Apostate: Some modern scholars tend to absolve the Emperor Julian from being an actual persecutor of Christians, mostly, it seems, because he did not order any wholesale bloodletting, as had some of his predecessors. But the whole tendency of his brief reign was undoubtedly in that direction, and if he had lived, the history of Rome and of Christianity in the latter part of the fourth century, and for who knows how long thereafter, would have been vastly different. All this is clearly set forth by Giuseppe Ricciotti in his definitive scholarly work, Julian the Apostate, 177-204.
Julian's desecration of the body of St. Babilas took place near Antioch, where a Christian church had been built near a pagan temple. As a result of the ensuing rivalry between Christian and pagan communities, the gods of this temple soon ceased to pronounce their oracles. This failure was distressing to Julian, and when he was told that it had resulted from contamination of the site by dead Christian bodies, especially that of St. Babilas, he took prompt action. Unceremoniously, he had the saint's remains removed from the church, placed in a wagon, and carted away to a distant cemetery. Following the wagon was a large crowd of angry Christians, singing psalms, and Julian had many of them arrested. A little afterward, the pagan temple caught fire (almost certainly by accident) and it burned to the ground. Julian blamed the Christians and immediately started what promised to become a full-scale persecution. He destroyed several chapels containing martyrs' bodies, and closed the principal Christian church of Antioch after desecrating its altar and sacred vessels. Shortly thereafter he was called to the battlefield, where he died within six months (Ricciotti, 210-13).
"You have filled the whole earth …" The Emperor Julian in his treatise, Against the Galileans, quoted from Fremantle, 262.
"It is not possible to lay down …" Trajan to Pliny the Younger in A.D. 112, quoted from Barry, 76
"We will not fail to explain …" Justin Martyr, First Apology, quoted from Barry, 34-36.
The later investigations of Prandi in the small anteroom (designated tomb R1 in the technical literature) succeeded in uncovering much of interest about the structure, but nothing which could confirm or deny the theory of its use as a baptistery. Only the lower portions of the lateral walls remain, making it impossible to decide what may have been the interior arrangements for access to the reservoir. One of the surprises turned up was a small hidden underground chamber, empty when found, whose purpose is still not clear. Of equal interest is Prandi's independent and carefully measured opinion that the room R1 was built separately, at about the same time as the red wall complex. (Prandi, La Zona, 30-36, and see the section of illustrations for an interesting series of photographs and cutaway sketches.)
The Tropaion as an altar: Polycarp of Smyrna, a year or so before his martyrdom in A.D. 156, paid a well-known visit to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus on church affairs. An interesting item in the old documents concerning this visit may hold some hidden reference to the Tropaion, perhaps just then completed. The Pope, it is said, "made way for Polycarp, to celebrate the Eucharist in his church, by way of doing him honor" (Letter of Irenaeus to Pope Victor, in Eusebius, History of the Church, quoted from Jurgens, 106). Now a simple invitation to celebrate mass would hardly in itself have conveyed any signal honor on the famed and revered Polycarp, who must, in any case, have expected to continue his customary observance while in the city. But an invitation to officiate at the newly built Tropaion, above the very bones of Peter, would have provided the Smyrnan bishop with a moment never to be forgotten.
The first actual church: In the beginning, of course, there were no buildings specially built as churches by Christians. Everywhere, ceremonies were conducted in private homes, some of which might have a room set aside for the purpose. The earliest actual church building so far discovered is a Christian chapel found in the ruins of Dura Europos, datable to the early third century, perhaps A.D. 230. The red wall complex predates this structure by some seventy or eighty years.
More problematic is the early church structure known to have stood on the site of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Traditionally referred to as "the mother of all churches," it certainly dates to A.D. 120 at the latest and thus precedes the red wall complex by at least thirty years. But it may have been a private home converted to church use, not an original church building. Still, the question remains open, and perhaps can never be settled. The reference in early Syrian literature to a second-century "Christian temple" at Edessa is taken by some to record the first true church building in Christendom. But this case also is injudicable.
Peter's grave prior to the Tropaion: If the conclusions reached herein concerning the red wall complex are correct - that the area served as Christendom's first real church building and, taken as the seat of a bishop, a cathedral - it may be asked whether similar ceremonial use was made of Peter's grave in the obscure ninety or so years that preceded erection of the Tropaion. To that question the Emperor Julian provides the only clue with his remark, already quoted, that the grave even during the first period was being venerated, though "secretly." Before A.D. 125, approximately, there were no large mausoleums on the Vatican hillside to shield the gravesite from view, so it is improbable that crowds of Christians congregated there. But it is not unlikely that the popes themselves, with a few church officials, may have conducted small Sabbath services at the grave by night. If so, then it may be said that mass has been regularly celebrated over Peter's body through an unbroken span of more than nineteen hundred years, beginning perhaps from the day of his death.
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