St. Peter’s bones to be displayed for the first time

Photo via The Catholic Register for Pope "Frank" praying at the tomb of St. Peter inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

Photo via The Catholic Register for Pope “Frank” praying at the tomb of St. Peter inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

The bones of St. Peter will go on display for the first time to coincide with the end of the Year of Faith, which started on October 11, 2012 and ends on November 24, 2013.  The bones of St. Peter have never been displayed publicly and always kept in the grotto of the basilica.  Only the ossuary for the remains has been on display.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, announced the Vatican’s plans in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Newspaper.  Due to the great number of pilgrims who journeyed to the tomb of St. Peter during the Year of Faith, the Church believed that the most appropriate culminating event for the end of the Year should be the presentation of the skeletal remains that are traditionally recognized as the relics of St. Peter.   However, Archbishop Fisichella didn’t give a date for the display but it’s expected to happen before the Year of Faith concludes on November 24, the feast of Christ the King (less than two weeks).

Photo via Wikimedia Commons of the graves near St. Peter's

Photo via Wikimedia Commons of the graves near St. Peter’s

The Tomb of St. Peter is located in the Vatican necropolis, which is the papal burial chamber and the tomb of many popes, and is located under the main altar of the Vatican basilica. (see map to the right).   Between 1939 and 1949, an archaeological team led by the Vatican discovered a complex of pagan mausoleums, now called the Vatican Necropolis, which were estimated to have been built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

In 1942, the bones were discovered in a tomb, in a marble-lined repository, near some graffiti that read Petr[os] eni (“Peter is here’).  About half the skeleton and skull fragments were found with remnants of gold and purple cloth.  At the time, the Administrator of St. Peter’s and head of the archaeological dig, Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, didn’t tell anyone of the discovery because he didn’t know much about archaeological techniques (which is why they put him charge, natch!) and stored them for safekeeping.   After Kaas’s death in 1952, Professor Margherita Guarducci, who was Monsignor Kaas’ successor, found the relics and told Pope Paul VI of her belief that these skeletal remains belonged to St. Peter.  Scientific analysis revealed that the bones belonged to a man in his sixties who was about 5’6” tall.  On June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been “identified in a way which we can hold to be convincing.”

Read more at:


The National Catholic Register

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