03 February 2008

S & S Exclusive

If you have ever been to the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome you have undoubtedly heard several well-meaning but ill-informed tour guides inform their entourage that within the gilt box in the niche pictured below are the bones of Saint Peter himself.

This part of the Basilica is called the Confessio and it is situated very near to the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. Within the Confessio is – or at least was until very recently - housed the golden box given by Pope Benedict XIV in which to keep not the bones of the Apostle Peter but the pallia given to Metropolitan Archbishops.

On the order of Pope Benedict XVI, the box containing the pallia is now housed in the Treasury of Saint Peter’s because of the great confusion surrounding it.

This information was shared with me during my recent Scavi (excavation) tour to the tomb of Saint Peter beneath the Basilica. On the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the day when the pallia are distributed, the box will be returned to the Confessio so that the pallia, made from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes, may lay near the tomb of the Peter.

The confusion as to the contents of the box in question is caused in part by an inscription within the Confessio that reads, “The Sepulchre of the Apostle Saint Peter.”

Given the proximity of the inscription to the special box, it is not too surprising that mistakes are so often made as to the explanation of what is present there (there very basic research – as can be found in any decent guide book - would prove the claims false). Hopefully the Holy Father’s decision to have the box removed will clear up the confusion.

The inscription causing the confusion refers not to the gilded box but to what lies beneath the box: the resting place of Saint Peter. If you were to take a plum line and drop it from the center of the dome of the Basilica, it would pass through the center of the Papal Altar, through the Confessio, to the very tomb of Peter himself.

For a very fine reflection on the pallium, be sure to read Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural homily.

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