Visiting St. Peter’s Tomb

Typically, it is a year’s wait to get into see the bones of St. Peter. When we started planning our trip to Rome, Dave sent in a request for us to get a tour of St. Peter’s Tomb.

Surprisingly, two months later we received unprecedented access to the Vatican, including a place beneath St. Peter’s Basilica where cameras and people are nearly never allowed.

It’s a place where St. Peter himself is buried — the man considered to be the very first pope.

If the dead could speak, this basilica would be screaming. Popes of the past are everywhere, even entombed in glass.DSC_0475

Directly under the floor where millions of visitors walk and where the public is not allowed are hidden chambers — tunnels, lined with dead popes.

And around the corner, a small hole leads to underground tunnels, a large graveyard and to what is believed to be Peter’s burial site.

We had to have a tour guide and went through tight security to gain access: No purses or bags. Shoulders and knees must be covered and men had to have a collar and pants. No cameras were allowed so I do not have any images to share with you – only my beloved memory of this sacred burial place.

As we walked through the dark, humid tunnels you realized you were walking through 2,000 years of history since this burial ground dates back to the first century, and excavation for the tomb as you know it today, didn’t begin until the 1940’s.

We were only a few feet away from Peter’s tomb, Up narrow steps off to the right is another large tomb. But deep inside the cave, on the far back wall, is a wall where in the 1940s archaeologists discovered the words, written in Greek: “Peter is here.”

Scientists say the bones are of an adult male around 65 years old. And something unique: every part of the skeleton was found except the feet. There wasn’t a single bone from his feet. They realized then, if a man had been crucified upside down, that the easiest way to remove him from the cross would be to take a sword and cut off his feet,

A History on the Vatican

“Vatican” is used to refer to a sanctuary dedicated to God. To the ears of an imperial age Roman, the word would have suggested links to an eastern religion and it was unlikely to have been associated with Peter’s humble grave. Things changed significantly following the Edict of Milan (313), in which Constantine granted freedom of religion to Christians and then embarked on building some grand new basilicas for the new community to worship in.

Peter’s burial site was hardly suitable for a monumental structure, but it was important to not underestimate is religious significance. Peter had been the first leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem and – along with Paul who had been martyred around a similar time in Rome – he was the pride of the Roman community, which regarded the two apostles as its centerpieces.

Constantine overcame some serious legal and engineering challenges to have an enormous basilica built above Peter’s tomb in the 320’s. It was necessary to create an enormous terrace on the slope cutting into the hill and filling in the area below that housed necropolises and a section of the old circus (yes – the Vatican was originally the site of a circus).

Also, because the tomb was subject to local and religious restrictions, it could not be moved without breaking the law. Yet, the emperor could authorize such act, as he was the high priest of the ancient Roman religion. Ironically, Constantine could only build the greatest Christian basilica in Rome because he was a pagan priest!

DSC_0453So, this marked the start of the basilica work, during which incredible care was taken to place the center of the apse over St. Peter’s grave, which now lies below the monumental altar and Bernini’s Balanchine.

Through six centuries, the Basilica has taken on many changes, additions, demolitions, etc. in order to come to the magnificent structure it is today.


After our jaw dropping visit, we noticed more tour groups. You can’t miss them. They all have some matching type of accessory: A hat, t-shirt, necklace and following a pole with either a flag, squirrel, feathery thing or small dog chew toy attached to it.

While we were eating dinner several times we encountered people who would walk up to you selling their wares. It became rather DSC_0069bothersome, at least to me. Tripping them would be rude (especially after I just visited a holy site). But I’m wondering if Rome has considered requiring a license for these idiots to sell scarves, roses, collapsible bowls and artwork (which they say is authentically painted by them, but we all know better), to the innocent tourists.

Then I think about the Italians. The people who live in Rome. I mean, their home is a tourist trap 24/7, 365 days a year. And, it draws people from all different cultures so it’s almost like having the Olympics in your hometown All. The. Time.

We also noticed several traffic violations. There was a woman beeping her horn because some guy blocked her in. He just parked there and obviously shouldn’t have, but parking in Rome is scarce. Most people use a motorcycle or scooter since it is more compact to park. We saw cars parked the wrong way, cars parked on the curbs and another car parked in the middle of the street.

If I ever lived in Rome, I would NEVER drive a car. It’s too dangerous!

Fashion violation Day 3: Shorts on women. Italian women, at least the young ones, like to show their butt cheeks like exposing your toes in sandals. Cowboy boots with shorts in 90 degree heat, and a guy wearing two pairs of glasses.

Don’t ask, because I certainly don’t have the answers to the last one. Plus, he was walking reaaaaaallly slooooooow which may explain wearing two pairs of glasses.

Lastly, Italians love their dogs. I was surprised to see so many larger dogs than smaller ones, and I’ve noticed that there are more pregnant women in Wheaton per capita than Rome.


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