We’re enjoying our last full day in Rome for this stretch our time in Italy. We check out of the Palazzo Cardinal Cesi tomorrow. I went on a great 5 mile run along the Tiber before heading back, showering, and meeting MaryKate and heading to Saint Peter’s Basilica for Vatican City’s Scavi Tour.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is visited by thousands daily, but the Scavi Tour takes very small groups—ours was only eight, including our tour guide—through the archeologically excavated areas underneath Saint Peter’s. What you visit are not catacombs, but in fact is a necropolis—in the time of Saint Peter, the area consisted of above-ground mausoleums and burial sites along the Via Corelia, immediately adjacent to the Circus Nero upon which the Vatican was built starting around the time of Constantine the Great. We were not permitted to take photos during the tour, but the Vatican’s Scavi Tour website includes this photo:
Although this all lies underneath the Vatican today, as you’re walking along the footpath you’re walking along what was an outdoor path at the time of Saint Peter. The Roman pagans would visit these mausoleums, these homes of their dead, throughout the year as part of the Roman religious customs. The Romans would hold festivals in honor and memory of their beloved dead—if you were to enter through the portico of one of these family mausoleums, you would notice that they were built so that those living could conduct their feasts and festivities “with” the dead, as it were, with the living upstairs and the dead below. There were even holes in the ground, for the purpose of the living pouring out wine and even food according to the Roman religion’s spiritual conviction that the living owed the dead both this honor and, in some sense, the actual nourishment of these gifts.
We stopped at one point along the path at what was the site of a fresh water well, which itself went quite deep. As we progressed, the ground level changed and certain tombs were pointed out that bore the clandestine marks of early Christianity. As we approached the tomb of Saint Peter, we learned of the the signs and evidence for his tomb—which lies directly beneath the high altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
We were so blessed by this tour, by the chance to visit the tomb of Saint Peter and to pray for his intercession before his very bones and amidst excavated-tombs of Roman pagans and early Christian brothers and sisters alike.
It has been hot like this the whole week that we’ve been here, and it made the running water fountain pictured above—the one surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers—a God-sent gift at the turnaround point on my run along the Tiber earlier today.