THE TOMB OF ST. PETER
by Margherita Guarducci
© 1960, Hawthorn Books
(all rights reserved)
- H. V. Morton
In writing these pages, I have attempted to bring out a few points of particular importance. Now I would like to summarize them, to permit the reader more easily to evaluate the complex problem of the final events in the life of the Apostle Peter and the beginnings of the devotion he has received and continues to receive from the faithful.
There are many authoritative writers who testify to the fact that Peter came to Rome to bring the message of Christ, and that he suffered martyrdom in Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68). By comparing the testimony of St. Clement of Rome (about 96 A.D.) with a passage in the Annals of Tacitus, it can be established that the Apostle's martyrdom took place in the Vatican, more exactly, in the famous Gardens of Nero (perhaps in the arena which was its chief attraction), during one of those cruel exhibitions which - following the burning of Rome (July, 64 A.D.) - the emperor had arranged to appease the angry populace. From the testimony of various authors it can also be established with certitude that Peter was crucified.
Peter's crucifixion is an important point in considering the question of his burial. One of the major arguments against the existence of the Apostle's tomb is that there can be no tomb of Peter simply because it would have been physically impossible to recognize the Martyr's body in the pile of human flesh at the end of the spectacle. This argument has little force because the martyrs must have been accompanied until the very end by the pitying care of the faithful. And in the case of Peter the argument is even less effective because the body of a man hung on a cross could easily be recovered and buried.
The site of Peter's burial was in the Vatican. The most ancient author who gives us this information is Gaius, a churchman of Rome who lived during the time of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217); and the fact is confirmed by excavations under the basilica, which offer the following evidence:
burial place whose most ancient tombs date back to the first century (i.e.,
the century in which the Apostle died). This burial place is under the
basilica and in its immediate vicinity.
From all these elements it becomes clear that, at least since the middle of the second century, the faithful have been convinced that St. Peter's tomb was in the Vatican necropolis; more precisely, at the place marked by the chapel under the present papal altar. When we go back to the faithful of the second century, this belief becomes very important, considering that they were extremely close to the date of Peter's martyrdom (65 or 67 A.D.) and must have been well-informed - from stories told by their fathers, if from no other source - on the circumstances of the Apostle's death. The intensity of their devotion to the Martyr is shown clearly (at least for the period around the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century) by the graffiti on Wall G. In these inscriptions, the faithful poured forth the fullness of their religious feelings, apparently wishing to proclaim their faith near the tomb of Christ's Vicar.
These graffiti, and also the Christian evidence in the tomb of the Valerii, make it obvious that at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century, Christians recognized and honored the Martyr's tomb in the Vatican. According to a widespread modern opinion, the Apostle's remains were kept - at precisely this time - on the Appian Way, where the Church of St. Sebastian now stands. Peter's body, with that of Paul, is supposed to have been placed there in the year 258, during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Against this theory, which literary sources and the results of excavations have already shown to be poorly-founded, we now have the added testimony of the Vatican inscriptions. All that can be said with certitude is that, in 258 a combined devotion to the two Apostles was begun on the Appian Way, probably centering on various "relics."
The faithful who come to the Vatican basilica today consider the altar of the Confession a monument marking the most sacred spot in the immense building. This altar, protected by Bernini's ornate baldacchino and crowned by Michelangelo's dome, was built by Clement VIII (1592-1605). It is the latest in a series of monuments, placed one above the other. In descending order, i.e., going backward through the centuries, we can establish this sequence:
altar of Clement VIII (1592-1605) which stands in the present basilica;
Over a humble first century grave, therefore, we find an uninterrupted series of monuments which rise, step by step, to the level of our own time: eloquent witnesses of a certitude which has been kept intact, down through the generations, to the present.
At the beginning of these pages, I asked whether or not we can accept the tradition that St. Peter's tomb is at the heart of the Vatican basilica. I stated that only a very careful study of the evidence could give us an exhaustive answer.
At the end of that study, I can state that the tradition is acceptable; indeed, that an objective examination of the evidence has greatly increased its strength and its value. Prescinding from a few points which have not yet been completely clarified (let us hope that they will be, by further excavations and new discoveries) we can now say that in the investigation of St. Peter's tomb Science has come to the aid of Faith. This happy alliance has placed on age-old tradition a strengthened and renewed seal of irrefutable Truth.
Margherita Guarducci, author, and professor of Greek epigraphy, was born in Florence, Italy, December 20, 1902. She received her doctorate in Greek literature from the University of Bologna. Her studies were completed at the Archaeology schools of Rome and Athens. At this point she began to specialize in epigraphy. In 1942 the University of Rome appointed her to the Chair of Greek Epigraphy. She is the author of 160 monographs on ancient history, archaeology and epigraphy, published in academic journals and reviews. Her monographs illuminate the various aspects of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Much of her work is based on archaeological explorations of the island of Crete and involves its history and antiquity, which she incorporated in a voluminous work entitled Inscriptiones Creticae, which revealed the meanings of the Greek and Roman inscriptions found there. This work has been of key importance to all scholars of antiquity. Since 1952 Doctor Guarducci has been at work on her interpretation of the inscriptions found under the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. THE TOMB OF ST. PETER is her own popularization of this dramatic investigation, which appeared in Rome in 1958 in three massive volumes under the title of I graffiti sotto la Confessione di san Pietro in Vaticano. She is a member of the Pontificia Accademia di Archeologia, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, and the Accademia di Scienze e Lettere di Napoli and the Instituto di Studi Romani. She is the author of Cristo e san Pietro in un documento preconstantiniano della necropolis Vaticana and of La Tomba di Pietro.
THE TOMB OF ST. PETER (Hawthorn, 1960) was designed by Sidney Feinberg and completely manufactured by American Book-Stratford Press, Inc. The body type was set on the Linotype in Baskerville, a modern reproduction of the types cut in 1760 by John Baskerville, or Birmingham, England, reflecting the style of stone inscriptions.
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