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There were some bone fragments found under St. Peter's Basilica in the 1940's. Pope Paul VI said in 1968 that the bones were "identified in a way that we can consider convincing." What is the convincing argument that these bones are indeed's St. Peter's?

A perfect answer will include the details about how the bones were found.


On a related note, the bones have recently been made available for public viewing for the first time. During a Mass, Pope Francis seemed to venerate the relics, which may mean that the Church will officially declare them as St. Peter's bones.

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  • I think they mentioned this briefly in The History Channel's Inside the Vatican, though I am not sure about its validity.
    – Double U
    Nov 24 '13 at 20:09
  • Sorry, there are no evidences and Rino Fisichella in reference to that bones said that 'they are the bones of Peter only by tradition', but I think this is enough. Nov 24 '13 at 20:43
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A lot of the evidence is circumstantial, so it's probably a matter of opinion whether it's convincing or not:

  • The bones that are thought to be St. Peter's were found near a grave under the current high alter of the Basilica - a location that's long been considered St. Peter's grave.

  • There are written records that indicate that ~160 AD there was a shrine erected in the Vatican area over Peter's grave.

  • Excavations below the current high altar revealed the remains of the ~160 AD shrine and some evidence of an even earlier one (~70 AD).

  • Constantine was certainly convinced of the location of the grave when he built the first St. Peter's. In order to position the centre of the apse in the right place, a large area of the Vatican hill had to be flattened.

  • It's been quite a while since I've read any of the books about this... the bones thought to be St. Peter's weren't found in the grave, they were found in a niche in a wall next to the grave, a wall that has ancient graffiti carved into it that says something like "Peter is here."

  • The bones that were found in the grave were identified as being from an elderly man, heavily built. There was dirt on the bones that matched the dirt in the grave and the theory is that the bones were moved to protect them since drainage and flooding of the lower levels of the Basilica was a concern.

Unfortunately, I think the details that would make this closer to the "perfect answer" you asked for run afoul of one of the StackExchange guidelines for what not to ask:

"Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much."

Among the books that cover this are:

http://www.amazon.com/Bones-Peter-John-Evangelist-Walsh/dp/1933184752 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2438024.The_Tomb_of_St_Peter http://www.amazon.com/Saint-Peters-James-Lees-Milne/dp/1199553344

The texts of (and some pictures from) these 3 books can be found on this site.

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  • Thank you. +1 so far. I did also ask for a brief history of of how the bones were found and were they have been until this recent public showing. If you can cover that reasonably I will select.
    – fгedsbend
    Nov 25 '13 at 17:44
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TWhat is the evidence that the bones found under St. Peter's Basilica are actually St. Peter's bones?

The bones of St. Peter show the following points of interest:

  • discovered in a marble-lined repository, covered with a gold and purple cloth
  • belonging to a man around 5′ 6″ tall
  • likely died between the ages of 65 and 70
  • were, in the judgment of “the talented and prudent people” in charge of the dig, indeed St. Peter’s.

In December 1950 Pope Pius XII announced that bones discovered during the excavation could not conclusively be said to be Peter’s. Two decades later, in 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that other bones unearthed beneath the basilica—discovered in a marble-lined repository, covered with a gold and purple cloth and belonging to a man around 5′ 6″ tall who had likely died between the ages of 65 and 70—were, in the judgment of “the talented and prudent people” in charge of the dig, indeed St. Peter’s.

Deep in the earth below the great basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome the clink of pickaxes and the scrape of shovels in the hands of workmen have been echoing dimly for 10 years. In the utmost secrecy, they have penetrated into a pagan cemetery buried for 16 centuries. Architects feared they might disturb the foundations on which rests the world’s largest church. But the workmen, with careful hands, pushed forward finally to the area where, according to a basic tenet of the Catholic Church, the bones of St. Peter were buried about A.D. 66.

The Church has always held that Peter was buried in a pagan cemetery on Vatican Hill. Now, for the first time, there is archaeological evidence to support this: the newly discovered tombs, which LIFE shows [in these exclusive pictures].

The greatest secret of all—whether the relics of the Chief Apostle himself were actually found —s one which the Vatican reserves for itself, although there have been rumors that the discovery of the relics will be announced at an appropriate time during the Holy Year. - LIFE at the Vatican: Unearthing History Beneath St. Peter’s

The oldest burial chamber found during the excavation beneath St. Peter’s in Rome, 1950.

The oldest burial chamber found during the excavation beneath St. Peter’s in Rome, 1950.

An inscription revealed during the excavation beneath St. Peter’s in Rome, 1950.

An inscription revealed during the excavation beneath St. Peter’s in Rome, 1950.

It is no coincidence that Constantine built the first St. Peter's Basilica in 330, on Vatican Hill. Saint Peter's tomb is a site under St. Peter's Basilica that includes several graves and a structure said by Vatican authorities to have been built to memorialize the location of Saint Peter's grave. St. Peter's tomb is near the west end of a complex of mausoleums that date between about AD 130 and AD 300. The complex was partially torn down and filled with earth to provide a foundation for the building of the first St. Peter's Basilica during the reign of Constantine.

What might seem more than just a simple coincidence is that Our Lord said to St. Peter that he is the rock upon which He was to build His Church. When Pope Pius XI died (February 10, 1939), his successor Pope Pius XII ordered that a place be made available to put the body of his predecessor in the lower crypt area in the Vatican Basilica. In doing so workers discovered the ancient necropolis of Vatican Hill.

What they found during these excavations, which for many years was done in almost total secret, partly because of the World War II, was utterly amazing.

During excavations under St Peter’s Basilica that began after the Second World War, archaeologists discovered a funerary monument with a casket built in honour of Peter and an engraving in Greek that read "Petros eni", or "Peter is here". - Bones attributed to St Peter found by chance in 1,000-year-old church in Rome

For those interested in visiting the Vatican Necropolis, it should be noted that visitors are permitted to visit the necropolis, or as it is officially known at the Vatican as La Scavi!

Only a small portion of the bones of St. Peter have been removed. The rest lay where they were originally found. Do not take my word for it. Go and look yourself. I did!

Vatican Necropolis

Vatican Necropolis

Excavations office

Visits to the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis under the Vatican Basilica

Special visits to the necropolis underneath the Basilica, where the tomb of St. Peter is located, are only possible following special permission granted from time to time by the “Fabbrica di San Pietro”. Visits are organized according to the schedule set by the Excavations Office.

  • In order to preserve this exceptional historical, archaeological site and due to the limited premises around the venerated tomb of the Apostle Peter, only around 250 visitors per day are permitted to enter.

  • Groups are composed of approximately 12 people and according to language.

  • Only those who are 15 years or older will be admitted – no exceptions will be made.

  • Each group is accompanied by a guide especially trained by our office.

The guided visit lasts about an hour and a half. We kindly inform all visitors to the necropolis that environmental conditions will be different underground, with possible increase of temperature and humidity. Those who suffer specific and serious physical problems that could be effected by these conditions, including claustrophobia, should not visit.

Note: Due to the Coronavirus outbreak all Roman Catacombs are temporally closed.

During excavations under St Peter’s Basilica that began after the Second World War, archaeologists discovered a funerary monument with a casket built in honour of Peter and an engraving in Greek that read "Petros eni”, or "Peter is here". - Bones attributed to St Peter found by chance in 1,000-year-old church in Rome

The following may also be of interest:

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  • Awesome pictures! Seriously, the Old World has all the cool stuff.
    – fгedsbend
    Jan 24 at 21:14
  • Isn't it odd that the apostle who, by tradition, was crucified upside down so as to not die in the same manner as his Lord was found in a marble-lined repository, covered with a gold and purple cloth? These are the accoutrements of royalty... hard to imagine he would approve. Jan 29 at 1:03
  • @Mike Borden No, because this only part of the equation. The Scavy holds all sorts of evidences of pilgrimages by the faithful to the tombs of the Martyrs in the catacombs, including to the Prince of the Apostles. The graffiti wall is clearly reminiscent of this. The graffiti was written by believers! St. Peter had no say in the matter how others would honour him.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 29 at 2:44

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