Bones Attributed to St. Peter Found in 1000-Year-Old Roman Church

By Nancy Flory Published on September 13, 2017

Bones thought to be St. Peter’s have been found in clay pots during restoration work in a church in Rome.

The bones were found when a worker lifted a large marble slab located at the medieval altar of the 1,000-year-old Church of Santa Maria in Cappella, reported The Telegraph. That area of the church had been closed off from the public for 35 years due to structural problems.

The pots were found in a lead-lined box under a marble slab near the altar. It had been opened at least twice before but had been long forgotten. The pots had writing on their lids, stating that the relics inside were those of St. Peter as well as three other early popes — Cornelius, Callixtus and Felix — and four early Christian martyrs. Lead-alloy plaques inside the pots contained the same lists.

The Old Bones

The workman reported the findings to Deacon Massimiliano Floridi. “I’m not an archaeologist, but I understood immediately that they were very old. … Looking at them, I felt very emotional,” Floridi told Rai Uno, an Italian television channel.

It is not known how the bones arrived at the church in Cappella, consecrated in 1090. One thought is that Pope Urban II hid them there at the time of the schism of the Catholic Church between the pope and antipope Clement III. Clement had control of the Vatican where they may have been held.

The bones have now been handed over to the Vatican. “We’re waiting for a detailed study to be undertaken,” said Floridi. “A DNA comparison between these bones and those kept by the Vatican would shed light on the issue.”

The Original Discovery

The bones kept by the Vatican were discovered after World War II when archaeologists found a casket built in honor of St. Peter with a Greek inscription that read “Peter is here.” In the 1960s, forensic testing determined that the bones were of a man in his early sixties who lived in the first century A.D.

Pope Paul VI declared them to be the bones of St. Peter in 1968. In 2013 a later Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said that there was a “serious possibility” that the bones belonged to St. Peter, but “we don’t go beyond that.”

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