Inside the Vatican:
St. Peter's Basilica

National Geographic Television Special
Airs in the U.S. on the National Geographic Channel

Page two of eleven

St. Peter's Basilica is a monument to Peter whom Jesus tapped as the chief apostle, declaring that Peter was the rock on which he would build the church.

Because Rome was the capital of the empire, Peter, along with the apostle Paul, came to the city to spread the faith, early in the first millennium.

But early Christians were often persecuted for their beliefs and, according to church tradition, in A.D. 64, the apostle Peter was arrested, brought to one of the great imperial circuses in Rome and martyred on an inverted cross.

His body was taken outside the walls of the arena and there, on the side of what was called the Vatican Hill, he was buried, perhaps in a small roofed grave.

Almost three hundred years later, Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, declared that a great church be built on the site of the tomb of St. Peter which had evolved from a simple grave to a small shrine.

Anchored on the grave of the apostle, the first St. Peter's Basilica incorporated the original shrine into the altar floor. But twelve hundred years later, when the first basilica was replaced, the details of Peter's burial had been forgotten.

The Vatican had long held the tradition that Peter was buried under the basilica, but even as late as the 1930s, they didn't really have any proof.

Then, in 1939, workers renovating the grottoes beneath St. Peter's, the traditional burial area of the popes, made a stunning find. Just below the floor level, they discovered an ancient Roman grave. It soon became clear that there wasn't just one grave, but an entire city of the dead.

Continued on Next Page >>


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