Saint Peter's tomb is a site believed by Roman Catholics to be the burial place of Saint Peter, beneath the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. Though many bones have been found at the site of the second-century shrine, as the result of two campaigns of archaeological excavation, Pope Pius XII stated in December 1950 that none could be confirmed to be Saint Peter's with absolute certainty.
Between 1939 and 1949 the Vatican-led archaeological team overseen by Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, who had overall authority over the project, had uncovered a complex of undoubtedly pagan mausoleums under the foundations of St. Peter's Basilica, dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Construction of Constantine's Old St. Peter's Basilica and of foundations for Bernini's Baldacchino destroyed most of the vaulting of these semi-subterranean burial chambers. Among them was the so-called "Tomb of the Julii" with mosaics that appeared to be Christian. No mausoleum had ever been built directly beneath the present high altar of St Peter's, which did however contain shallow burials, one dated by an impressed tile to the reign of Vespasian; they had been attended with care, as later burials clustered round but did not encroach upon the space. Most impressive was the small niched monument built into a wall of ca 160. The discoveries made the pages of Life Magazine.
You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time".
On the sloping, open site, ager publicus, official permission for a burial monument would have had to be sought. The site of Peter's grave will have been one of the earliest shrines to be built during the first expression of the cult of martyrs.
There has been controversy over the identity of the remains in the tomb. Several remains of barnyard animals were found in the tomb along with human remains. Attempts to identify the tomb require tracing the movement of relics over the millennia. Often stories refer to the saints in the plural, meaning both Apostles, Peter and Paul.
There might have been little difficulty in obtaining the body of the Apostle after his martyrdom. Catholic tradition states that the bereaved Christians seem to have followed their usual custom in burying him as near as possible to the scene of his suffering. According to Catholic lore, he was laid in ground that belonged to Christian proprietors, by the side of a well-known road leading out of the city, the Via Cornelia (site of a known pagan and Christian cemetery) on the hill called Vaticanus. The actual tomb seems to have been an underground vault, approached from the road by a descending staircase, and the body reposed in a sarcophagus of stone in the center of this vault.
There is evidence of the existence of the tomb (trophoea, i.e., trophies, as signs or memorials of victory) here at the beginning of the second century, in the words of the presbyter Caius refuting the Montanist traditions of a certain Proclus:
"But I can show you the trophies of the Apostles. For whether you go to the Vatican, or along the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who founded the Church of Rome
These tombs were the objects of pilgrimage during the ages of persecution, and it will be found recorded in the Acts of several of the martyrs that they were seized while praying at the tombs of the Apostles.
"In other words, about the year 200 A.D. Christians pointed to some tomb-memorial in the Vatican as Peter's grave," Roger T. O'Callaghan concluded from this passage.
At St. Peter's, the matter was complicated by the fact that Pope Anacletus, in the first century, had built an upper chamber or memoria above the vault. This upper chamber had become endeared to the Romans during the ages of persecution, and they were unwilling that it should be destroyed. In order to preserve it a singular and unique feature was given to the basilica in the raised platform of the apse and the Chapel of the Confession underneath. The reverence in which the place has always been held has resulted in these arrangements remaining almost unchanged to the present time, in spite of the rebuilding of the church. The actual vault in which the body lies has not been accessible since the ninth century.
After Kaas' death, Professor Margherita Guarducci discovered these relics by chance. She informed Pope Paul VI of her belief that these remains were those of St. Peter. Bone testing revealed that the remains belonged to a man in his sixties. On June 26th 1968 Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered.
"At almost the same time that the Pope announced to the world that he had found the tomb of St Peter in Rome, 1500 miles away there was another discovery of an ancient grave, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In 1953, two Franciscan monks were digging in a cave when they discovered hundreds of first century ossuaries - coffins from the time of Jesus and the Twelve Disciples. (...) These Catholic archaeologists believe they had found the earliest physical evidence of a Christian community in Jerusalem, including some very familiar Biblical names. (...) But one of them was a potentially explosive find. It read: "Shimon Bar Yonah" - Simon, the Son of Jonah: the original Biblical name of the Disciple Peter."
The 43 inscriptions discovered in the Dominus Flevit cemetery between May 1953 and June 1955 were published with photographs by P. B. Bagatti and J. T. Milik in 1958. The inscriptions on the ossuaries also included the names Jesus, Joseph, Judas, Mathew, Martha, Mary and Mariame - with the inscriptions of the latter two names being written in Greek.