structure is perpendicular to the red wall, built on the
right-hand side (north) of the trophy of Gaius during the
second half of the 3rd century. The wall gets its name from
the surprising amount of Latin graffiti carved 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
graffiti includes names, petitions, Christian symbols of
complex interpretation and signs superimposed on one another
on the reduced surface of the wall.
form, St Peter's name is present on the wall at least twenty times,
usually accompanied by prayers for the dead person named - in
one case expressing joy that the lost relative lay in the same
cemetery that held Peter's own body. On every part of the wall
- freestanding between the letters of a name, formed from or engrafted
onto existing lines - there occurred the initials PE or PET.
At the beginning
of the 4th century, a burial niche, internally covered in marble
slabs, was built into the depth of wall G. During the excavations
of 1941, bones were found inside the niche of Wall G. Initially
these were not though to be the bones of St Peter, and they were
simply stored away in the Grottoes for many years. Later, Margherita
Guarducci, who was researching the graffiti of Wall G, had the
bones examined. Professor Venerando Correnti, of Palermo University,
one of Europe's most distinguished anthropologists, made a full-scale
anatomical study of the bones now widely believed to be those
of the apostle.
Guarducci sums up the case for these bones being those of St Peter
1. The Constantinian
monument was considered, in Constantine's day, to be the tomb
of the martyr.
the monument-sepulchre there exists a loculus, and one only: the
loculus of Wall G.
3. This loculus
was carved out of Wall G and lined with marble at the time of
4. The loculus
was never broken into from the age of Constantine until the time
of the excavations (about 1941).
5. From this
loculus come the bones which were removed at the beginning of
the excavations, kept without interruption in a nearby spot in
the Vatican Grottoes and recovered from this spot in 1953.
bones, therefore, are the ones which were verified at the time
of Constantine as the bones of Peter and place in the loculus
of Wall G, inside the monument-sepulchre.
7. The cloth
of purple interwoven with gold-thread in which the bones were
wrapped at that time confirms the highest dignity then attributed
to the remains. The royal purple harmonizes perfectly in fact
with the royal porphyry which decorates the outside of the monument.
8. The anthropological
examination of the bones - belonging to a single individual -
showed that they conform perfectly to what, by tradition, we can
imagine was Peter's physical appearance at the time of his martyrdom.
Apart from the obvious fact that they belong to a male, the bones
indicate a sturdy build and an age somewhere between 60 and 70.
9. The earth
encrusted on the bones indicates that the bones themselves originally
lay in an earth-grave, and we know that Peter's first burial was
in the earth.
10. The characteristics
of the earth, shown by the scientific examination, match those
of the place where the original tomb was dug (marly sand), while
in other parts of the Vatican area the earth is different (blue
clay or yellow sand).
11. The place
of the earth-burial under the Trophy was found empty. This is
in harmony with the presence of the bones, transferred about two
metres higher up, in the loculus in the monument of Constantine.
Margherita Guarducci. The
Remains of Peter in The Vatican and Christian Rome, Vatican, 1975
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