Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica aka the craziest thing I've seen so far!

St. Peter's
For purposes of clarity I am going to post a couple of times today on different subjects.  Things have just been so busy here and I haven't had any time to sit and write.  I'll start with the Vatican.  I am in a religion class, Papacy and the Roman Church, and we had a onsite class on Friday to St. Peter's Square.  I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready, pack for my weekend trip to Florence, and catch the bus.  I was so proud that I got up and out of the house on time, but this pride and excitement was soon crushed after waiting at the bus stop for an hour.  I finally got on my bus, at this point, completely freaking out that I was going to get lost, left behind, and would end up walking aimlessly around with a fifty pound bag on my back.  I got off at my stop and decided the best thing to do was to walk towards the big dome.  I entered the giant square and I thought it was a hopeless case, but luckily after trudging across in my bright yellow rainboots (on a sunny day) a kid in my class yelled out my name.  I joined the group and my excitement immediately returned.  We were going to go on a tour of the ancient Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica.  This tour is something you have to book months in advance.  Our little group went down a steep staircase and had to maneuver ourselves through cramped, dim spaces, but the result is something I still cannot fathom.  We saw layouts of the first basilica for St. Peter, created under Constantine, that was torn down to create the one that stands today.  Some of the original foundational walls are still standing and we saw one as we moved underground.  The tour focused on the mausoleums of families that lived centuries ago.  Tombs, urns, paintings of pagan gods, inscribed stones, and offerings lined these tiny rooms.  These mausoleums were excavated under Pope Pius XII in the 1940s and 50s.  They continue in a giant strip, like a street, but only so many could be excavated because the standing basilica would be compromised otherwise.  While the mausoleums themselves are amazing sights, it was the viewing of St. Peter's bones that really hit me.  The church will not confirm for sure whether they are in fact St. Peter's remains, but the archeologist who discovered them and many others confirm it with certainty.  The church just doesn't want any possible humiliation if it turns out to be a false find.  St. Peter was crucified upside down and so the upside cross is visible in many places near his burial sight.  We entered a gorgeous tiny chapel (in the shape of the upside down cross) before going into the burial room; the gold fixtures and moldings, the intricate paintings, and the marble altar were so beautiful and unreal.  We walked into the room where the bones were visible.  Once they were discovered, they were placed in plastic boxes and laid back to rest in the original location.  We could barely see the bones, but a piece of the jaw was clearly visible.  Also visible was a portion of one of the original columns from the alter from the first basilica in honor of St. Peter.  To be honest, it was one of the most ridiculous experiences of my life.  After a moment of reflection, we exited from underground the Vatican.  As we were leaving we passed tombs of the previous popes.  The first tomb we saw after leaving the excavation sight is Pope Pius XII.  His location is purposeful as he wanted to be near his discovery of St. Peter.  A candle is lit in front of his tomb which indicates he is in the process of a bid for canonization.  We passed many popes, but we stopped in front of Pope John Paul II who is also in the bid for canonization.  He is going to be moved to the main floor of the Vatican because he is so popular and loved that people make a pilgrimage to his tomb (nuns were sobbing and praying in front of it).  It was only 12pm and I had seen so wasn't really even processing.  I still had a long day ahead of me as I started my adventure to Florence.


  1. Tierney, I am loving your blog. So glad you are having so much fun and learning too!!! Love and miss you lots.

  2. Oh Tierney this is quite something! Thank you for writing these wonderful blogs! I giggled over some of the images, you in your YELLOW rainboots and "We passed many popes..." As Jolanne wrote, I am so glad to read about what you are seeing and learning, and the excitement in your writing! I am very happy for you! Can't wait to read about Florence!
    Love you girl!!

  3. I am so envious!! I love archeology! I've always wanted to tour the site underneath St. Peters. Keep the posts coming! I can enjoy vicariously!