Vatican Necropolis

By | June 6, 2022

According to Homosociety, the greatest interest has focused on the results of the excavations carried out at San Pietro in the years 1953-57 under Bernini’s canopy. The focal point is constituted by the field P (fig. 1), an uncovered area of ​​about 4 × 8 m, placed exactly below the papal altar. The field was delimited and monumentalized at a time that can be dated well, thanks to some stamped bricks found in the work which date back to a period between 146 and 160 AD. In this phase, enclosure Q was built, the path that allows access from south and the so-called “ red wall ” (named after the color of its plaster), which divides the driveway to the west from Campo P to the east. At the same time as the red wall and in the center of it, on the side facing the campo, a monument was built as a shrine consisting of two superimposed niches, obtained in the same red wall and divided by a horizontal travertine slab supported by two columns. Above the upper niche perhaps a tympanum crowning must be reconstructed, while in the area included in the aedicule, on the right and almost perpendicular to the red wall, there is the “ wall g ”, covered with graffiti with invocations and symbols Christians. In this wall, of modest height, a niche covered internally with marble slabs was obtained, already during the construction phase. The aedicule (fig. 2) can be identified with the ” Trophy of Gaius ”: the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, in fact, in his Historia ecclesiastica (2,25,7) mentions a Christian scholar named Gaius, who lived around 200, who, in controversy against a Montanist heretic who boasted the tomb of the apostle (or deacon) Philip in Hierapolis in Phrygia, opposes him ” trophies ” (in Greek τϱόπαια) of the apostles Peter and Paul visible in Rome respectively in the Vatican and on the Via Ostiense. According to Gaius, therefore, there was a monument on the place of Peter’s burial to commemorate the triumph he brought back with martyrdom. Difficulties arise from the fact that under the shrine, where one would have expected to find the pit with the remains of Peter, the archaeological situation was upset and no human bones were found. Traces of the original pit remain only in the cavity which appears to have been spared during construction in the foundations of the red wall, to avoid damaging an underlying deposition. Human bones, together with the remains of a purple cloth interwoven with gold threads, were instead found in the niche of the later wall g. To these data is added a series of graffiti, one of which in particular, traced on the red wall, should be read according to the integration proposed by M. Guarducci: Πέτϱ [οψ] / ἔνι ie “Peter is here”. The importance of the graffiti is increased by the fact that it was located in the part of the red wall against which the wall g leaned, in correspondence with the niche. According to the reconstruction proposed by Guarducci, after being crucified in the Circus, Peter would have been buried in a nearby pit which, about a century later, was monumentalized with the erection of the Trophy of Gaius. His bones, exhumed under Constantine by upsetting the primitive grave, would have been deposited in the niche of the wall g. Constantine himself then built a monument around the trophy before building the basilica. Various objections have been raised to this hypothesis; instead, an important detail has been observed in support of it: the basilica is not exactly parallel to either the Circus of Caligula or the axis of the Roman necropolis, even though it is an almost obligatory orientation, dictated by the very nature of the hillside. The same angle difference of a few degrees is found in the axis of the wall g, which is not perfectly perpendicular to the red wall.

Necropolis of the Via Trionfale. – The necropolis under the basilica of St. Peter was located along the via Cornelia. Other findings have affected the gravitating one on the Via Trionfale. The ancient road, coming from the “ Neroniano bridge ” immediately downstream of today’s Vittorio Emanuele bridge, had to detach itself from the common stretch also to the via Cornelia (roughly in correspondence with St. Peter’s Square) heading north, according to a path that currently corresponds to via del Mascherino, via Leone ivand, in fact, via Trionfale. The excavations for the erection of the Vatican car park have brought to light an area of ​​burials arranged on the slope to the west of the road. The funerary buildings are of a somewhat lower level than that attested under St. Peter’s and range from about the middle of the 1st century AD to the end of the 2nd-beginning of the 3rd century, but the use of the necropolis continued at least for the entire following century.. The picture is homogeneous with what is known for the tombs found under the current Vatican Annona and near the Fountain of the Galera.

Phrygianum. – The location of the sanctuary of the Phrygian goddess Cybele (called Phrygianum), which must have been well known in the Roman world, remains uncertain, because in two inscriptions (CIL xiii 1751 and 7281) from Lyons and Kastell (Mainz) the local places of worship of the goddess are called Vaticanum and Mons Vaticanus. Part of a new bullfighting altar was found during the demolition of buildings adjacent to the old Vatican mint.

Vatican Basilica. – The excavations in the necropolis have also allowed some acquisitions on the structure of the Constantinian basilica of St. Peter. The preserved remains are limited to the foundations and parts of the elevation of the northern and western sides of the transept, of the apse, to sections of the foundations of the colonnades that divide the five naves and to two sections of the northern and southern walls. The date of commencement of the construction works, based on several independent indications, currently lies between 319 and 324.

Vatican Necropolis