THE VATICAN NECROPOLIS UNDER ST. PETER'S BASILICA The site, by ancient tradition, is recognized as the burial place of the apostle Peter, who should have suffered martyrdom in the Horti of Nero.
The Vatican Necropolis, located under St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, below the level of the Vatican grottoes, in the nave of the basilica, is a cemetery of Roman epoch, placed near the Circus of Nero, where they coexist pagan and Christian tombs since remained in use from the second to the fourth century.
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The Vatican necropolis was orignally a burial ground built on the southern slope of the Vatican Hill, adjacent to a circus built by Emperor Caligula. In accordance with the Roman law, it was forbidden to bury the dead within the city walls. For this reason, burial grounds sprang up along the roads outside of the city cemeteries. One of these streets, the Via Cornelia, ran north along the Vatican hill.
According to tradition, the Apostle Peter was martyred in the year 64 or 67 during the reign of Emperor Nero. Peter is said to be buried in the necropolis because of its proximity to the Circus of Nero where he was martyred. After the Edict of Milan the Emperor Constantine began construction of the first St. Peter's Church, also known as Old St. Peter's Basilica. At this time, the Roman necropolis was still in use. This is known because a coin was found inside an urn dating from 318 CE. During this time, the necropolis was protected by law and was untouchable. However, Emperor Constantine I decided to build a basilica, which would be located just above the supposed grave of the Apostle Peter. To obtain the necessary amount of flat area for the planned construction, Emperor Constantine I excavated part of the necropolis of the Vatican hill, which can be seen in the figure.This caused the necropolis to be filled with soil and building debris, with the exception of St. Peter's tomb, which was preserved.
The field named P (Peter Campus) is the small area in which the suspected grave of the Apostle Peter is located. Peter was, according to tradition, after his martyrdom in the Circus Nero, buried here. Some 100 years after the death of Peter, a shrine was erected over his grave. This shrine is adjacent to the so-called Red Wall. Immediately adjacent to the suspected Peter grave, some other tombs were found. The arrangement of the graves suggests that the place of Peter's tomb was the site of some early veneration. The shrine, also called the "Trophy of Gaius", is named for the theologian Gaius of Rome who lived in Rome during the time of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217 CE).
The Greek term used by Gaius—tropaion—usually means a monument or a trophy of victory. Eusebius interpreted the quote 100 years later as an indication of honorific graves. On the right side of the "Trophy of Gaius" is attached at right angles, the so-called Graffiti Wall, named after the large number of Latin graffiti to be found there. During the excavations in the grave the mortal remains of the Apostle Peter were not found. There were, however, in a marble-lined hole of the graffiti wall, some human bones. The archaeologist Margherita Guarducci suggested that during the time of construction of the Constantinian basilica, the remains of the Apostle Peter were removed from his original grave and placed in the opening. The archaeologist pointed to inscriptions in the wall behind the pillar monument including the letters EN PETR ... I, as the designation of Peter relics. Other archaeological sites in Rome also have similar graffiti, suggesting that therein is a commemoration (by Christians) to Peter and Paul as martyrs.