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The Tomb of Urban VI

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The sarcophagus of Urban VI in the Vatican Grottoes

Pope Urban VI
Bartolomeo Prignano
c. 1318 1389
Papacy - April 8, 1378 to
October 15, 1389

In a niche on the south wall of the Grottoes, next to the exit through the Archeological Rooms, is the sarcophagus of Urban VI. Member of the Prignano family from Naples, he was elected pope in 1378, even though he was Bishop of Bari and not a Cardinal. After a difficult pontificate, in the course of which the western Schism started, he died in Rome in 1389.








Urban VI was buried in a 3rd century sarcophagus already occupied by a married couple, whose portrait, in a symbolic gesture of dextrarum iunctio1, is sculpted in the center of the back side. Devoid of the name, for many years it remained exposed to the chaos of the building site of the new basilica. It was recognized and salvaged by Giacomo Grimaldi, the notary of the basilica, who had it placed in the grottoes in 1606.

On the front is a diptych with the figure of genuflected Urban VI, dressed in papal vestments and wearing the tiara, in the act of receiving two big keys from St Peter standing in front of him. Above, the inscription in small characters says: HIC IACET VRBANUS VI PONT. OPT. MAX. (Here lies Urban VI, the great pontiff)

To the sides, inscribed in octagonal frames, are the crests of the pope: the open-winged eagle surmounted by the tiara.

On the shorter sides are two angels holding candelabra, representing the acolytes of the pope. The sculptures are attributed to Salvatorello Salvati from the borough of Trevi. The sarcophagus once sat on the two lion's heads that are now on the sides of the opening in front of the Confessio and was surmounted by architectural elements with an inscription. On top of the sarcophagus was the lid from another tomb with the figure of another pope, perhaps Nicholas III. Now, on the edge of the new lid is the simple inscription: VRBANVS PP VI. Above the sarcophagus is a mediocre medieval high-relief in white marble representing Madonna with Child, from in the aedicula in the church of SS Cosmas and Damian in Banchi that once was administered by the basilica.

Madonna with Child over the Tomb of Urban VI
Madonna with Child - Tomb of Urban VI
Niche in Vatican Grottoes with Tomb of Urban VI
Tomb of Urban VI - Vatican Grottoes
Urban VI receives 2 keys from St Peter - Sarcophagus of Urban VI
Urban VI receives the keys from St Peter
The Coat of Arms on the Right side of Urban VI's sarcophagus
Coat of Arms on Urban VI's sarcophagus
Source: Roma Sacra The Vatican Grottoes, Fabbrica of St. Peter's, June 2003
1dextrarum iunctio - The sacred clasping of the right hands in a solemn gesture of mutual fidelity and loyalty.

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