St. Peter's Tomb

What is St. Peter’s tomb?

St. Peter’s Tomb is a holy site located within the walls of the largest church, St. Peter’s Basilica. The St. Peter's Basilica is a great example of timeless art and architecture created by some of the most brilliant minds to have ever existed. The Basilica was made by Emperor Constantine as the resting place of the apostle. It was operating as a church for many years until it was expanded on greater levels later.

The Basilica houses St. Peter’s tomb as well as a shrine for many holy men and has been a source of faith for many. Its iconic dome, which looks over the panoramic skyline of the city, has served as an inspiration to many-a-cathedrals and buildings. Pope’s have also been interned in the Basilica since the early Christian era. It is one of the four Major Basilicas. Built between 1506 and 1626, the present St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church and one of the holiest shrines of Christianity.

Where is St. Peter's Tomb located?

Situated within the confines of the Vatican Necropolis, the St Peter's Tomb resides beneath the expanse of St. Peter's Basilica. Tradition holds that following his passing, St. Peter found his final resting place on Vatican Hill, near the location of his martyrdom. Originally, an aged basilica was erected atop the site housing St. Peter's Tomb. However, this original construction was eventually supplanted by the present-day edifice of St. Peter's Basilica.

Historical Significance of St. Peter

The location known today as St. Peter's Square, situated in front of St. Peter's Basilica, holds historical significance as the place where Peter the Apostle faced crucifixion. In the 1st century, this area bore the name Circus of Nero and served as a venue for gruesome public executions and trials. In the year 64 AD, Emperor Nero orchestrated the macabre execution of Christians, among them Peter, as part of his cruel practices.

Peter, one of the central figures in Christianity, met his martyrdom in Rome during Nero's reign. Alongside him was St. Paul, who, according to tradition, played a pivotal role in establishing the Church in Rome alongside Peter. Iconography depicting Peter's martyrdom illustrates his crucifixion with an unusual orientation—his head downturned. This positioning is attributed to his belief that he was undeserving of sharing the same crucifixion stance as Christ, and thus, he chose to have his head facing the ground at the time of his death.

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Tracing the original St. Peter's tombs

It is believed that St. Peter’s tomb was laid on land that belonged to Christian proprietors. The actual St Peter's tomb was in an underground vault which was later brought to the Basilica. Due to the tumultuous nature of the period for Christianity, it is believed that the remains of saint Peter and the saint Paul may have been removed for a while from their original tombs to preserve them from the Romans.

The lore tells that the remains of saint peter may have been removed secretly by the Christians at night and hidden in the Catacombs of St. Sebastiano in 258 AD, and later returned in 260 AD to the place, where Valerian's reign ended.

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Know more about St. Peter's Tomb

History of the Tomb

The Church was at peace in the era of Constantine the Great. This gave the Christians their chance to be able to at last build great edifices. St. Peter’s tomb has the relics of the great Apostles. Constantine built a Basilica with five-aisles above the early Christian necropolis, which was thought to be Peter's resting place. This was Between 320 and 327 AD.

The Vatican Hill was smoothen to get a firm foundation for St. Peter’s tomb which was in the first St. Peter’s Basilica. The high altar of St. Peter’s was to be put right over the tomb. The matter became complicated when the upper chamber or memoria above the vault was brought into question. It was of significance to the Romans and they were unwilling to let anything damage it. Therefore, the memorial was turned into the Chapel of the Confession. Then, the construction of the Basilica's main floor was made, which had the raised altar right over the Chapel of the Confession.

Modern Excavation

No mausoleum was ever made directly beneath the present high altar of St Peter's, which did however contain shallow burials. There was a tile that was related to the reign of Vespasian which came up. Apart from this, a small niched monument built into a wall was also brought to light in the excavation of the place.

Tomb at St. Peter’s Basilica

While the Basilica is mainly known for St. Peter’s tomb, there were many tombs that are part of the Basilica. A St Peter's Tomb was also dug out at the beginning of the 16th century, when the foundations were being laid for the construction of the columns for Gian Lorenzo Bernini's "Confessio" in the church. While constructing the Old St. Peter Basilica, they found semi-subterranean burial chambers.

The "Tomb of the Julii," which appears to have Christian mosaics, was discovered among them. After subsequent excavations of the site, many more tombs were found as well in 1939, when building a tomb for Pope Pius XI. He wanted to be buried next to St. Peter's Tomb. During the construction of the Pope’s tomb, a complex set of mausoleums were discovered which later formed a part of the ancient Vatican Necropolis.

Relics of Saint Peter

The Administrator of St. Peter’s Basilica was Ludwig Kaas who found some unknown remains in a second tomb in the monument, Saint Peter's Tomb. Not being able to get them authenticated as St. Peter’s, he ordered his staff to keep these remains stored elsewhere for safe-keeping.

The re-discovery was made by Margherita Guarducci by complete chance. She informed Pope Paul VI of her deductions about remains, thinking they are of Saint Peter. Anthropological examinations of the bones show that they belonged to a man in his sixties. In 1968, Pope Paul VI announced these relics were of Saint Peter, though only circumstantial evidence supports this claim.


Who is Saint Peter?

St. Peter, formerly known as Simon, was one of the twelve disciples of Christ and the first leader of the early Christian Church.

Where is St. Peter's Tomb located?

The Tomb of St. Peter is located in the depths of St. Peter’s Basilica in an area called the Vatican Necropolis. It is believed that after the death of St. Peter, he was buried on Vatican Hill, close to the site of his martyrdom.

Where was St. Peter buried?

St. Peter was buried in the Vatican Necropolis which is under the current St. Peter’s Basilica.

What is St. Peter Basilica famous for?

The Saint Peters Basilica is famous for St Peter’s Tomb and its marvelous Architecture. Many of these are the High St. Peter Altar, the confession, the dome, the columns, the 91 tombs of the early Popes and more.

What is inside St. Peter’s Basilica?

St. Peter’s Basilica houses the tombs of 91 Popes, a few church dignitaries, monarchs, and other important figures from Roman history.

Why is it called St. Peter’s Basilica?

In Catholic tradition, St. Peter’s Basilica is believed to be the burial place of Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.

How did St. Peter die?

Emperor Nero condemned St. Peter to the punishment of crucifixion.

Is Peter the Apostle really buried at St. Peter’s Basilica?

Archaeological findings point to the likelihood that the remains of St. Peter were interred on Vatican Hill.

Where are the relics of St. Peter?

Reportedly, modern archaeological excavations unearthed the purported relics of St. Peter, and these remains are currently safeguarded within St. Peter's Basilica.

What structures are dedicated to St. Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica?

In addition to the Basilica's primary dedication to St. Peter, supplementary structures including a shrine and a Baldacchino were erected to honor his martyrdom.

How can I visit Saint Peter’s tomb?

The public can visit Saint Peter's tomb, which is accessible through St. Peter's Basilica and situated in the Vatican Necropolis below the church.

Do I have to pay to visit Saint. Peter’s tomb?

Access to the papal tombs is granted via St. Peter's Basilica, and there is no admission fee to enter the church unless you opt for a guided tour.


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