The POPE Encyclopedia

by Matthew Bunson

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The final resting place  of  the  Prince  of  the  Apostles,
traditionally  said  to  be  located on the Vatican Hill and
held now to  be  beneath  the  main  altar  of  St.  Peter's
Basilica.  After  his  crucifixion,  around  62,  Peter  was
believed to have been interred on the Vatican Hill  and  so,
when Emperor Constantine theGreat (d. 337) choose to erect a
basilica in his honor, he naturally placed it upon the  very
spot  where  the  bones  of  the  first  Bishop of Rome were
supposedly placed. As the actual site was  a  cemetery,  the
emperor  took  the  unusual  (and  cost-effective)  step  of
leaving the honored dead where they were, simply building on
top of them after filling in the tombs with earth.
This  had  the  beneficial  effect  of  preserving the tombs
completely intact. When work began on the new;  St.  Peter's
in   the   sixteenth   century,   workmen   discovered   the
long-forgotten tombs, but the  dead  were  left  undisturbed
owing   to  respect  for  the  deceased,  a  demanding  time
schedule, and the oft- repeated stories of  curses  striking
anyone who might violate the sacred ground. The cemetery was
discovered again in 1939 when workers were preparing a crypt
for  the recently deceased Pius XI. A full investigation was
undertaken, and at the deepest level,  under  the  altar,  a
simple  grave  was uncovered; in it were the bones of an old
man, with bits of fabric in gold and purple. The find caused
a  major  stir  in  the  Church,  but  the cautious Pius XII
awaited further research before announcing in his  Christmas
message for 1950 that archaeologists had unearthed the tomb.
Final declaration came  only  in  1968  when  Pope  Paul  VI
proclaimed  that  the  bones  were, indeed, St. Peter. There
naturally  remains  some  question  as   to   the   absolute
authenticity  of the bones, but the tomb is still one of the
most moving sites in all of St. Peter's.

(sebelum, sesudah)

Published by Crown Trade Paperbacks
201 East 50th Street, New York
New York 10022, USA
ISBN 0-517-88256-6

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