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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
G is generally considered a supporting wall, built to shore
up the sagging Red Wall.
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
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).
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
John Evangelist Walsh, The Bones of St Peter, New
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