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The Red Wall is so called because of the red color of the plaster (now largely fallen off) which was used to cover it. The essential purpose of the Red Wall seems to have been to fix the boundaries of the various burial places in the area.

About a hundred years after the death of St Peter, a funerary monument (aedicule), was built against the red plastered wall. A fragment of the red wall was found with Greek graffiti, interpreted by the scholar Margherita Guarducci to say: Peter is here.

This graffito is Greek and it is placed on two lines. There are four letters on the first line and three on the second, not very deeply carved and averaging about 0.7 centimeters in height. To the left of the inscription, the surface of the plaster shows no traces of writing; but to the right the epigraph must have continued, at least on the first line. The other graffito on the Red Wall, has stayed in place. It is also written in Greek letters and consists in a single line mutilated at the beginning and the end:

Among the letters still legible, we can make out the group KAIP followed by an apostrophe. This is evidently the imperative singular of the verb , (Chairein) written, as it was sometimes during the Imperial era, with a K instead of a X. Its meaning is equivalent to the Latin "salve," the English "hail." We cannot say with certainty who is the object of this greeting; but considering the place where it is found it seems probable that it was directed at the Chief of the Apostles

Most of the elements in immediate contact with the red wall, it was found, bore a definite and close structural relationship, confronting the archaeologists with an unexpected challenge.

At its opposite end, to the north, the red wall had been joined by another wall, set at a right angle, suggesting an enclosure. It was clear that a large rectangular area, equal in length to the red wall and about twelve feet in depth, had once stood here free and unoccupied. The entire floor of this open space had been covered by a paving of tiles, white with a green border, laid in part on earth-fill. The focus of this walled-in space, which actually formed a small courtyard, was the two-niched monument built into the red wall, heavy with its travertine shelf.

Before Constantine enclosed the Tropaion in his basilica it had been in place on the red wall for at least a hundred and fifty years, though it could well have been nearer two hundred.

When it came time to build the Tropaion a century or so after the burial, the orientation of the red wall had to conform to the line and arrangement of the imposing pagan mausoleums now hedging closely round the site. This had forced the red wall to cut directly across Peter's grave almost at its center, and at a decided angle. It may have been now that the grave was shortened, rather than later, but in any case, it was evident that the builders had taken great care to preserve as much of it as they could, including its alignment on the hillside. They lifted the red wall foundations over the grave in an inverted V, and left standing a remnant of the two low brick walls in their angled position. The closure slab atop the chamber was also preserved intact, twisting away from the red wall at the same eleven degrees. The whole operation bespoke a strong desire not to lose sight of the primitive grave, while fitting the new monument into the surrounding pattern of tombs.

According to the reconstruction, the building has two niches, one above the other, both cut into the Red Wall. The lower niche is 0.72 meters in width, 1.40 meters in height; the upper one, about 1.10 in width, and its height uncertain. Between the two niches, a slab of travertine is inserted horizontally, jutting out, like a table, about one meter from the side of the Red Wall. It is supported by two small marble columns, located in front and on either side of the lower niche. In the floor of the shrine, there is a trap door which I shall discuss later. It is important to note that the two niches were not indented into the Red Wall after its construction, but were included in its design when it was being built. This fact is established beyond question by a detailed study of technical points. We can state positively, then, that the chapel's date is the same as that of the wall, around 160 A.D. Under the two niches which form part of the chapel, there is another, very coarse and irregular niche in the foundation of the Red Wall. Various theories have been offered to explain the nature and purpose of this niche, but none has been powerful enough to eliminate all doubt. Therefore we shall leave the question open, waiting for the day when a satisfactory answer is found. The names given to the three niches by the first excavators are N1, N2, and N3. The niche in the foundation is N1, while N2 and N3 are, respectively, the lower and upper niches in the wall itself.

Behind the Red Wall ran a small street (the so-called clivus) which slopes up from the south to north and includes some sets of stairs. On the other side of this clivus are the remains of two other tombs, called R and R1 by the excavators. The clivus gave access to the Tomb R1 and to a tomb called Q which lies behind the Red Wall with the Red Wall itself used for its eastern wall.Under the clivus runs a little gutter used for drainage and covered with a line of tiles, five of which, fortunately, bear a mark by which they can be dated. The mark mentions Aurelius Caesar (the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and his wife Faustina as proprietors of the furnace in which the tiles were made. The tiles can therefore be dated between about 146 and 161 A.D. It was about 146 when Faustina, wife of the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius, received the title of Augusta, and in 161 Aurelius Caesar, having succeeded Antonius Pius, abandoned the name of Aurelius Caesar and took that of Marcus Aurelius.

Wall G is generally considered a supporting wall, built to shore up the sagging Red Wall.

In summary, we can say that those who built the Red Wall and its chapel, about the middle of the second century, had the precise intention of marking a place sacred to the Apostle Peter. It has been rightly observed that it would have been simpler to build the chapel beside the Red Wall, instead of laboriously indenting it into the wall. This extra effort shows a desire to indicate with absolute exactitude a place that was considered more precious than any other.9

From the numerous graffiti on Wall G, we shall now pass on to the few but no less important writings preserved on the Red Wall. These are found in a small fragment of the red plaster which once covered the wall, precisely at the place where Wall G meets the Red Wall; just above the repository which, as I have mentioned, is contained in Wall G.16 There are two small graffiti, one of which has remained in its original place while the other, removed during the first excavations, is now kept in the offices of the Fabbrica di San Pietro (Building of St. Peter).

Since the Red Wall was built around 160 A.D. (a point which we establish from the examination of a series of bricks with the manufacturers' seals on them) and Wall G can be dated, through various archaeological and topographical data, around 250 A.D., the age of the graffiti on the Red Wall must naturally be between those two dates. One of the graffiti seems very close to the earlier date and must be considered, at least, earlier than the end of the second century.

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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