Would you like to see St Peters tomb at the Vatican? Find out how to book this special archaeological tour of one of the most fascinating underground sites in Rome.
Are you wondering what I am talking about? Yes, you can book a special visit to the archeological site underneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. And on this tour, one of the things you will see is the (supposed) tomb of Saint Peter.
St. Peter was (said to be crucified) in Rome in 64 C.E., at the orders of the Emperor Nero. (Peter asked to be crucified upside-down, because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified right-side up as Jesus was.)
In the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Piazza del Popolo in Rome, you can visit the Cerasi chapel, where you can admire two stunning paintings by Caravaggio (among works by many other important artists).
In this painting, Saint Peter is shown being crucified upside-down.
You have to stand to the right and lean in to see it.
(The other Caravaggio painting in this chapel depicts the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Saints Peter and Paul are the patron saints of Rome.)
Saint Peter was crucified in an arena known as Caligula’s Circus. (Caligula was emperor before Nero, and had built a “circus”, which in ancient Rome referred to an open-air stadium or field where games were held. This particular arena is also called Nero's Circus.)
It's thought that St. Peter was buried near where he was martyred, in the necropolis on the Vatican Hill (it was called Vatican Hill before Christianity came along, although there is some discussion as to the exact origin of the name).
In the 4th century, when Constantine became the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, he had a church built on the site of Saint Peter's grave, and called it Saint Peter's Basilica.
This basilica, now referred to as Old Saint Peter's, does not exist any more, as it was replaced in the Renaissance by the basilica you see today:
Later, many popes chose to be buried in the Vatican grottoes, just underneath Michelangelo's dome.
Presumably they wanted to be near the tomb of Saint Peter. You can visit those tombs directly from inside the basilica, on a normal visit there.
Hmmmm, well I cannot answer this. If you look around on the internet, you will see arguments declaring these are REALLY St. Peter’s remains. 100%, no doubt.
And, you will see equally as many arguments that say no, they are not, or at least, we just cannot be sure.
I’ve done this tour 4 times (one was a long time ago so I don’t remember it too well. But the other times were in the last three years.)
On one tour, our guide was a seminarian at the Vatican. In his presentation, there was never once mention of any scholarly doubt on this subject. There was only an absolute statement that we were indeed in the presence of St. Peter’s remains.
On another visit, our guide seemed to be more of a student of theology and archeology, and her presentation was quite different. She did let us know that there is some question, at least on a scholarly level, as to whether these are indeed St. Peter’s remains. She was not negative, just speaking academically.
And on the most recent tour, the guide spoke of the remains but also stated all the arguments in favor of them really being St. Peter as fact, as if to reinforce this belief.
All the guides were fantastic, and your visit will be fascinating regardless of which guide you get.
My take is that each person who visits this holy site should absorb the information, and make their own decision as to what they believe.
Most definitely yes!
If you have the time to plan this in advance, you can see one of the most exclusive, special and sought-after sites in Rome.
I know, I said above that these may NOT be St. Peter’s remains. But, then again, they might. And 99% of the visit is about other stuff, mainly the necropolis under the basilica.
Are you interested in Ancient Roman history? This tour is for you. Are you interested in archeology? This tour is for you. Are you interested in this visit from a religious or faith point of view? If you want to see one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, this tour is for you.
No photos are allowed on this tour, so I don't have any of my own, except of the outside. Any photos on this page of the necropolis itself are from the Fabbrica di San Pietro, an official Vatican website.
When you visit St Peters tomb, you start out by viewing a wooden model of the basilica. This allows you to understand where you will be going underground.
From there, the guide will take you down to the underground excavations. Most of your tour is not actually about Saint Peter, and will be of the tombs in this necropolis . . . which are all in Greek! Ancient Greek. Yep!
It's absolutely fascinating. The guides are very good, as they know this area like the back of their hand. So you really get a sense of what life, and death, were like in Ancient Rome.
At the end of the tour, you will see the area where St Peters tomb is supposed to be. It's not very easy to see. In fact, you have to line up to view, one at a time, the little hole in the wall where the remains are.
Finally, your guide will leave you in the Vatican grottoes. You can walk around and view tombs of other popes (this is actually fascinating too). And from there, you can go up into St. Peter's basilica. This is a huge plus, as you avoid the long queues to get in at the main entry.
On the Vatican website, you can take a virtual tour of St Peters tomb on the Vatican website. The narration is in Italian, but the video speaks for itself! Once you arrive at the video of the necropolis, you can click around and see some of the tombs, and get a real sense for what you will see when you visit the site.
The guided tour takes around 1.5 hours. But you should factor in the time it will take you to find the entrance, and gather and show your tickets. Then, factor in time you may want to spend on your own in the grottoes, and of course, in St. Peter's basilica.
You could also climb the dome of the basilica, once you are inside. This will take another hour.
So your visit to St Peters tomb will last anywhere from 2-4 hours. And this does NOT include visiting the Vatican Museums.
In my opinion NO.
If you try to visit the Vatican museums on the same day that you have a scavi tour, it will be exhausting and you will have Vatican fatigue (I don’t know if that’s a thing but I’m telling you, you will).
But if you have limited time in Rome and want to try to fit these visits into the same day just make sure to plan for it time-wise.
Book your Scavi tickets first, because unless you book through a ticket agency, you have no control over the time (or date) they give you. Then, make sure you have about 4 hours between visits of the Necropolis and the Vatican Museums.
Want more help planning your Vatican visits, and fitting it all in? Visit my page about this.
There used to be only one way to get tickets to visit St Peters tomb - which was directly through the Scavi (excavations) office of the Vatican. You can still do this. You send them your request, and the dates you will be in Rome, and then you wait and hope.
Now, you can finally book this visit via a ticket agency. It's more expensive this way, but they take the wait/worry out, and, you have more control over when you go. And, by booking via a ticket agency, you can usually get tickets closer to the date you want to visit.
If you want to book via the Vatican Scavi office, send an email (English is fine) to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax: 011 39 06 6987-3017. You can also fill out the form on the official Vatican Excavations Office website.
You will need to provide the following:
If there is space available during the time frame you provide of your availability, the Scavi office will send a proposed date and time. If you accept, you write back and let them know, and they in turn will confirm the visit with a request for payment in advance. Tickets are 13€ per person. There are no discounts for anyone. (You must pay in advance to confirm the booking.)
In my experience, the Scavi office responds within 24 hours of your request, but if they don't, just be patient.
If your request is urgent, you can try phoning the Excavations office at the following number: 011 39 06 69 885 318.
Vox Mundi, the official Vatican tour agency, has made some time slots available to ticket resellers.
Space is very limited, and it does cost more than booking directly with the Scavi office, but it's a smoother and more immediate process.
If you just cannot get tickets, there are other things you can see that may be of interest, along a similar vein:
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