The Papal Tombs are the official resting place of the Popes. They are located one floor beneath St. Peter's Basilica.
It is up to each Pope to be buried where he would like, although most have chosen to be buried in the tombs.
The tombs are the location of the grave of Saint Peter, who was buried on this site following his execution in the chariot racing track of Nero on Vatican Hill. Christians buried Peter in an adjacent cemetery on this hill and he would be followed by many Christians who wished to be near a man who walked with Jesus.
Christianity was legalised by the Roman Emperor Constantine 250 years after Peter's death and Constantine would build a church over the grave of the first apostle in 326 AD. From then the Popes, or Bishops of Rome, would be usually buried close to Peter's tomb to show the continuity of their office from the one they believe established by this fisherman from Galilee. Popes have also been buried in their local parish churches, the catacombs in Rome and a variety of locations.
By the middle ages Constantine's Basilica was decrepit and in constant need of repair. In 1506 work began on the current St. Peter's and it would not be completed until 120 years later in 1626. Carlo Maderno, the second last architect of the Basilica, created the area for the current Papal Tombs by raising the Basilica floor one storey.
The original ground level of Vatican Hill where Peter and the early Christians were buried is called the necropolis or city of the dead. This is two stories beneath the basilica floor and is only open to the public by special permission through the ufficio scavi. It is very difficult to get a viewing of this.
The papal tombs are directly above the necropolis and are the closest that the public can get to the grave of Peter without a specific permit. The tombs house the remains of over twenty Popes, Kings, Queens and Cardinals including Saint Peter, John Paul I, Paul VI, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, James Stuart (James III) of England and Queen Christina of Sweden among others. John Paul II was raised from the Papal Tombs to the Basilica floor following his beatification in May 2011. He was recognised as a saint recently. To read my blog article on his beatification click here.
Like any Catholic Church the papal tombs are free, but there is a line or queue for them.
The entrance is to the right of Saint Peter's Basilica, as you enter the main portico or porch take a right. There are two lines, one is for the dome and the other is for the tombs. As it is a holy place, effectively a graveyard, no photography whatsoever is allowed. The tombs are open until 5pm in the winter and 5.30pm during the warmer months. If you are exiting the Sistine Chapel on the way to the basilica the papal tombs are beneath you as you exit. In either case, follow the signs.
You can include a visit to the papal tombs on a tour provided by me by request. Click here to book a Vatican tour guide. If you book a tour through me you will experience no line for the tombs as you can skip the general entrance line for the basilica that feeds in to the line for the papal tombs.
My Tour reviews:
I don't know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. :-) Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly
Dara's Tour was Fantastic.
Dara's tour was fantastic. He made 2000 years of history much more fun than expected. I would certainly take his tour again when I next visit Rome. I learned so much and had a great time. Thanks!
5.0 Stars Melinda
Dara's knowledge was superb and was able to make the information very enjoyable. Hearing some other guides as we went round, his knowledge and expertise was a lot better and without this I think we would have skipped through a lot of the Museums and just gone to the Sistine Chapel as it was so busy.
5.0 Stars Laura Carter
Tour was good
Tour was good. Dara was informative and accomodating
5.0 Stars Nancy Stanton
Dara was excellent! Thank you for such a great tour!
5.0 Stars Ruth
The tour was good and Dara did a fine job explaining everything.
5.0 Stars Tom Johnson
It was an excellent tour. Would recommend it to anyone who was going to Rome.
5.0 Stars Paula Bawiec
A Wonderful Experience
A wonderful experience. Well worth the price. Excellent knowledge shown by Dara and any questions quickly answered. Would recommend strongly.
5.0 Stars Steven Trickitt
Dara did a fantastic job. His sense of humor was a definite plus and kept us all engaged.
5.0 Stars Roger Koppy
The tour was very good and Dara had the perfect combination of knowledge, respect and humour! It was good he had this as the tour is long but we knew it would be. The only aspect of the tour which saddened me and my friends (this has no reflection on Dara) when we entered the Sistine Chapel I could believe the noise, flash photography and uncovered arms!!) This is obviously a sign of the times but the Vatican should Not allow it. Vatican Tour was amazing and of course I will be recommending it.
5.0 Stars Anna Baker
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