When we left off [see Part One], a secret investigation launched by Pope Pius XII had located what were widely regarded as Peter’s bones — in a deep necropolis beneath the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, proving out Christ’s words that “this is Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.”
If actually documented, the Apostle’s bones would provide compelling — in fact overwhelming — reason to consider Catholicism the root of Christianity. Were they?
News of the remains were reported in 1949, right after the “curse” of floodwaters nearly destroyed the burial ground beneath the basilica — graves that went back to the period even before Christ walked this earth.
But the “curse” — which through the centuries was said to have felled many who tried to find his bones — still seemed extant, for it was to be learned, by a brilliant archeologist and expert at inscription named Margherita Guarducci — that the bone fragments kept in secret lead-lined boxes at the papal apartments did not belong to Peter.
There always had been certain doubts, writes John O’Neill (in The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search.); Peter was said to have been buried under a golden Cross or some form of monument, but the bones in those lead-lined boxes had been in a simple dirt grave. There was no bronze casket and associated burial treasure, as recorded in the Book of Popes — which lists every single Pontiff going back to the great Apostle who was crucified upside-down in Rome.
Though a bit off center (as opposed to the bones found directly under the altar), Guarducci found that amid what previous investigators had took to be meaningless scratches in an ancient, buried structure called “Graffiti Wall” was an inscription — overlooked by the first team of archeologists — that said, “Christian men buried near your body.” Not just a necropolis, but a Christian one!
It almost immediately became more dramatic when Guarducci found a photograph of another ancient inscription on Graffiti Wall and saw these incredible words:
“Peter is here.”
Working day and night in the necropolis — and doing so for what would in the end be more than twenty-five years — Guarducci also had discovered a hole at the bottom of the Graffiti Wall.
It was an ancient, marble-lined wall niche and she learned that bones had been found in it and whisked away by the man who previously had headed the search and considered them meaningless, placing them in a simple wooden box in a storeroom.
It turned out these were the actual bones of the Apostle.
“Like the fictional storage of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Guarducci had stumbled upon the solution to the mystery of Peter, but it would be many years before she or anyone else realized it,” says O’Neill.
The evidence was all around them! Other inscriptions on the wall said things such as “Peter, pray for me” — and were dated to the late 100s A.D. In fact the Apostle’s name was inscribed deep down in this newly discovered necropolis more than twenty times!
Clearly, notes the author, “early Christians had prayed to Peter here, in the presence of the actual relics.” And the surroundings were precisely as expected by ancient descriptions of how he was buried.
Moreover, when forensic tests were conducted on pieces of cranium, jaw, tooth, vertebrae, pelvis, legs, arms, and hands, what was further learned was further astounding.
The bones, which were very close to that incredible inscription “Peter is here,” were of a sixty-to-seventy-year-old robust male — “approximately Peter’s supposed age when he died,” writes O’Neill.
More amazing, it was determined that they once had been reinterred and covered with an early purple and gold cloth “whose dye was of a type only used by Imperial Romans of the first to third centuries.”
The remains also were consistent with a person crucified upside-down. The feet had been viciously cut off — as Romans did because it was quicker than removing nails…
By this time Pius XII was dead, and the matter was in the hands of Pope Paul VI, who likewise was courageously in his pursuit of the truth, even if it led to proof that Peter was not under the basilica.
The inscriptions and bones proved it.
The announcement was made in 1968 — and ignored by much of the world, especially Protestants, who literally interpret Scripture and who would be troubled by the passage about Christ and how He would build His Church on the Rock of Peter.
Right there under the greatest church on earth.
Shortly after his election, Pope Francis visited the necropolis and prayed at the grave near Graffiti Wall. After yet another detailed review of evidence that had been gathered for nearly a century, the current Pontiff had the bones publicly displayed.
Clutching them to his chest, Francis declared that these were indeed Peter’s relics. He thus became the third Pope to affirm Peter’s burial on Vatican Hill, despite earlier Church skepticism.
Not only was Catholicism proved out, as well as the Pontificate, but there was one more more thing — and an electrifying one at that: one that Protestants should (must) also take note of, in the interest of honesty.
The inscriptions on Graffiti Wall, dating back to Peter’s time, showed, writes O’Neill, a lawyer, that “early Christians prayed to Christ and also invoked the aid of Mary, Peter, and other saints.”
[Highly recommended: The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search]