Necropolis (Scavi)
The Shrine of St Peter
(Trophy of Gaius)

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Shrine in 800 AD

Clementine Chapel
West of the Shrine

The monument erected above St Peter's tomb was in the shape of an aedicule, set against a red plastered wall. There was a niche in the wall, divided into two parts by a horizontal travertine stone tablet, supported at the front by two white marble columns. The aedicule had an opening at its base onto the tomb of St Peter below.

This was certainly one of the most important discoveries made during the course of the excavations ordered by Pius XII. In fact, a monument already know about in literary sources had been discovered, the Trophy of Gaius.

This discovery confirmed the centuries-old Christian tradition that placed, from 200 AD on, the venerated tomb of Peter exactly on the spot covered today by the Bernini canopy. The learned Roman presbyter, Gaius, in fact refers to this construction during the pontificate of pope Zephirinus (199-217), when, in reply to the heretic Proclo, who boasted of the existence of famous tombs from the apostolic era in Asia Minor, pronounced the following works handed down by Eusebius di Caesarea: "I can show you the trophies of the apostles. If, in fact, you go out towards the Vatican or along Via Ostia, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church" (Storia Ecclesiastica, 2, 25, 6-7).

Model of the 'Trophy of Gaius'
Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano

From: Creating St Peter's. Knights of Columbus Museum, 2004

This model represents the funerary aedicula (shrine) erected over the Tomb of St Peter a century after his death. Remains of the monument, discovered during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (Pacelli, 1939-1958), are visible beneath the Papal altar of the Vatican Basilica. The Roman Presbyter Gaius mentioned the aedicula at the beginning of the 3rd century by using the Greek term tropaion, meaning 'monuments of victory,' symbol of the victory over death through the profession of faith and martyrdom.

On the right (north) side of the model, 'Wall G' is represented, a structure with a surprise amount of Latin graffiti scratched into the plaster by the faithful who visited the tomb of St Peter between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th 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
P. Zander. Creating St Peter's. Knights of Columbus Museum, 2004

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