From the Holy Grail to the Holy City
(With 2018 update)
There is only one way to make sure we are not on a wild goose chase, we must leave the Pyrenees behind and visit the Lion's Den, the Vatican, to check if Peter's skull and crossbones are missing from his tomb. A difficult task it would seem, because scholars agree there aren't any historical records of Peter's martyrdom and burial in Rome. Only a fool would search for facts in matters of faith, but it doesn't really matter for fools like us if these are Peter's bones, in the cave and at the Vatican, because we are after the grail secrets! Foreign visitors to our website need to be informed that it's a tradition in the West that St Peter's Basilica was built over his remains. It's one of the reasons why the Vatican is in Rome – and not in Jerusalem! Here's an update of its official position (1) as stated in 2003:
"You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community" (Mt 16:18). Peter is the rock on which Christ established his Church... In the Vatican Grottoes, on a perfect axis with the papal altar of the basilica above, lies the tomb of Peter. The tomb is itself a symbol of the Rock on which the Church is built, a Church symbolized by the basilica that rises above the Tomb of the Apostle and encloses it like a precious casket..."
Anyone familiar with the subject notices how this version downplays Peter's tomb because the entire basilica is now his "precious casket"! Is this the first clue that we are on the right track? Foreign visitors might think it would be difficult to question the raison d'être of the Vatican – but it's surprisingly easy! By starting with Michael Winter's book St Peter and the Popes in the 1980's it took a few hours at the library to get results and anyone can google this today in a matter of minutes! Yes, we are free today to do what used to guarantee the ultimate penalty! Take the unfortunate Giordano Bruno, for example, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and had to suffer a fiery death at the stake in Rome on February 17, 1600. Kepler's letters express his shock – and Pujades seems to have gotten even more motivated!
Today, the information is widely available that extensive excavations under St Peter's Basilica were conducted by pope Pius XII in the 1940's – which he probably cherished as a distraction from the holocaust and the nasty business of war. But the results caused him some chagrin, at least, because Toynbee and Perkins revealed in 1956 (2):
Peter's tomb is empty!
But some "reburied bones" were found nearby, "of a person of
advanced age and a powerful physique; the skull is missing ".
The skull is missing? It looks like Pujades is right again, but it seems strange that the Vatican would admit this openly! If we consider that the "fisher of men" had evolved to "shepherds of flocks" and wear fancy garments to perform their ancient ceremonies and rituals, Pius XII had quite a challenge to integrate the Vatican into the 1940s. He faced a blood-thirsty Pagan cult with thousands of fanatics waving red flags in unison and worshiping an ancient cross during staged spectacles the Vatican could never match. Perhaps the admission that the "reliquiae insignes" of St Peter are no longer in Rome was meant to prepare for a move to another country? As odd as this may seem today, it could be an option the pope had to consider when he negotiated with the Nazis. But that's for future historians to sort out! We are amazed that Pujades knew this four hundred years ago, but our information about the empty tomb is only a quote from a quote and before we get too excited we better check the sources: The cheerful German Engelbert Kirschbaum S.J. (3), pictured at left, and the Italian Antonio Ferrua S.J. were the leading archeologists at the site. The close-up (below) is from Kirschbaum's book Die Gräber der Apostelfürsten and shows the triangular niche where he discovered the "reburied bones". The picture is deceiving because a few bones are exposed, but they were originally about 30 cm under the ground, deep enough to remain concealed for centuries. Due to the sensational nature of this find, and because the Vatican will deny it decades later, we need to study carefully what this Jesuit priest claimed over half a century ago:
"The empty chamber, as it now is, is the setting of a grave, the material remains of which have disappeared. This bare burial place is all that is left to us of the grave of the apostle Peter... A heap of bones was found, as if expressly concealed in the earth, beneath the Red Wall, at the spot where its foundations show a triangular break. They lay in a heap, and to a depth roughly, of 30 centimeters. These bones are not remains from different graves gathered together but, in the judgment of experts, they form the skeleton of a single man, and more precisely of an elderly but powerful man. (p.91)
...we know the situation of the grave more fully. A small heap of bones was discovered beneath the lowest niche of the Red Wall. They were therefore in the area of the ancient central grave, which we have identified as that of the apostle; only this position, which presupposes some human intervention, is somewhat higher than the grave itself must have been. In the entire area beneath the Pallia Niche there are no remains of human skeletons.
It might be surmised that scattered remains had at one time been collected and placed beneath the Red Wall. In that case, an anatomical investigation would have showed that they belonged to different skeletons. Medical examination, however, gave the contrary verdict, i.e., that all bones belonged to one and the same person. That person was further described as an elderly and vigorous man. The skull is missing.
...All we can say is that the bones were removed from a grave now recognized to have been that of St Peter, and that they are in fact the bones of an elderly man. At the time of his death, Peter was elderly." (p.195)
The translation is by John Murray, another Jesuit, and if you understand German you might prefer Kirschbaum's book from 1957, which is a bit more candid. We can image that the empty tomb was a shocking discovery for the Vatican and upper hierarchies of Catholic circles around the world. The news would have shaken the foundations of the Church in the Middle Ages, which worked so hard to establish the supremacy of the bishops of Rome as almighty popes. No doubt, Charlemagne would have torn off the crown that made him emperor and empowered the popes. It would have prevented the bloody Crusades, even the Albigensian ones against so-called "heretic" Christians and, of course, the fiery death of Giordano Bruno. No wonder Nietsche said Wissen ist Macht!
In the 20th century, the loss of Peter's relics had no longer the force of a major earthquake, especially if some brilliant minds are put to work for debriefing and damage control. They could easily diffuse the matter to a minor aftershock! The Vatican had become a rich and powerful city state, and its "community" obedient and faithful: A good Catholic seeks salvation in the word of God, the pope is mediator and without fault, and the exact number of bones in or near the tomb is no longer relevant. It's the tomb itself, empty or not, that matters now!
On the other hand, if we were to excavate our cave in the Pyrenees and retrieve Peter's skull and crossbones, the news would hit the Vatican like a bombshell and the celebrations last for decades. A good idea to pursue that trail a bit longer! How did the Vatican achieve this diplomatic U-turn? Here's an example: Lured by the advertised "recreation of St Peter's tomb" in 2003, this writer visited "Saint Peter and the Vatican, The Legacy of the Popes" in San Diego, California. Surprisingly, the "recreation" revealed nothing about Peter's remains and created the illusion that nothing has changed, without mentioning the missing skull or empty tomb. A large, illustrated book with 521 pages of the exhibit in splendid colors was for sale – including photos of the cap and cape of Pope Pius XII – but only the last sentence on p. 187 makes an obscure reference to the relics:
"Within the graffiti wall was a cavity where, according to Margherita Guarducci, the relics of Peter were kept after they had been removed from the grave below."
It's no longer the mysterious Red Wall of Kirschbaum's report, but a "graffiti wall" which implies lots of traffic, and the simple Peter minimizes even further. There is the casual mention that his relics were kept there "after they had been removed" and no mention of anything missing. Very interesting! The relics were in a grave and removed by whom to the cavity? The Vatican quotes here a distinguished scholar and is not taking an official position to make sure it is her opinion. No Chauvinism here!
Because the quote confirmed in 2003 that Peter's relics were once "removed", this writer had no other option but to visit the "Holy City" to find out what really happened to the missing skull and crossbones. He had a nice chat with the Swiss guard at the entry to the tomb, near Nero's circus at the left column where the obelisk used to be before it was moved to the center of Peter's square. Small, elect groups of 12 tourists assemble there now and then for a guided tour of the necropolis. Only if you have perfect timing, and make it past both Swiss guards, where it helps if you speak German, do you have a chance to overhear how experts of the "ufficio scavi" debrief the faithful – underplaying their lines like New York method actors before they take them underground. Half a century after the excavations, Peter's "empty tomb" is no longer an item, the whole basilica is now his casket! But if you act like a dumb tourist and throw the "reburied bones" into the briefing, as we did that day, there was a delayed reaction from the female guide, an Italian shrug and dismissive hand gesture, followed by comments like: "The pope had the relics for a while – in his private chapel – they were also taken home by the German Kaas in a paper bag – the workers handled them daily – they included animal bones, of a mouse and some pigs – even of a women."
Isn't that incredible? We would expect this kind of debriefing in a Hollywood movie – but at the Vatican? Bones of animals and a woman!? Are we at the right place? Isn't this the Holiest of Holies, the venerated Shrine of Saint Peter, the tomb of the Apostle upon whom the succession of every pope is based? The "rock" upon Jesus built his Church? What happened to Kirschbaum's report of half a century ago? Doesn't anyone remember that the bones "are not remains from different graves gathered together" and "belonged to the one and same person"?
You can google Margherita Guarducci and visit this modern Inferno of fact and fiction yourself. A good start is her comprehensive study at this link, but you'll have to face some tough questions, many of which you can only ask yourself. The Jesuits are soldiers of Christ who exchanged the sword for a pen, a noble idea basically that was born at Montserrat of all places! But it also means that they will write with a poisoned pen to protect their Lord and God! (We had a good example with Burke-Gaffney's attacks on Kepler). What it means is that Kirschbaum either "cleaned up" the archeological report with the best of intentions and plainly lied about everything – or that he was the last to tell the truth. We know since O.J. Simpson how easily the evidence at a "crime scene" is tainted! In the case of Peter's bones, every bit of information that was available after the "official report" tainted the excavations of the tomb over half a century ago: Several people handled the bones and stored them in different places, and they were carried in papewr bags. The pope was personally involved, and his close friend Msgr. Kaas on a regular basis. Then there was a confused worker who remembers white bones, like in our picture – yet all bones are dark now. Is this the "Kaaba effect" or were the Italian workers chain-smoking while handling Peter's relics? Not to speak of too many male bones for one person, making him an "octopus", with bones of a female and all those animal bones that suddenly surfaced! A reputable archeologist would throw his arms up and run away.
Interesting stuff, actually! It's like a magic show in Las Vegas, with a bit of mind control. Cirque du Soleil performed by pious padres, with lots of bone juggling, flying pigs, and a boney girl thrown in. So many bones are conjured up that we forget about the skull. Yes, the skull! Someone could have added a few, but didn't! Which tells us that an organization, which is known to be extremely secretive and absolutely brilliant in covering anything up, decided to leak all that scandalous trivia to diffuse the issue, to make us forget about the skull! For serious researchers they even have a "detour" to throw them off: They allegedly have "proof" that Paul's and Peter's skulls were at one time separated from their bones, but then lost track of them. An unbelievable "mistake" by churchmen who venerate single hairs and foreskins, and build majestic cathedrals over such items. If we check Petrusgrab on the German website of a retired Lutheran pastor, we learn how the confusion got started: Margherita Guarducci caused a sensation in 1965 by writing that Peter's relics are found at last! Yet when the anthropologist Venerando Correnti examined the bones, he identified them as remains of three individuals, including "in all probability" the bones of an older woman. But pope Paul VI proclaimed later, on June 26, 1968, that the relics of St Peter have been identified at last in a convincing manner, which suggests the findings of Correnti had been disproven. It is equally difficult to explain that Guarducci's description of the bones match the findings of Kirschbaum, which had been established twenty years earlier and published in 1957.
But why would the experts of the "ufficio scavi" continue to bring up other bones today, another fourty years later, and remain unchallenged? Our only explanation is that there is no longer an interest in this kind of stuff because modern Catholics don't really care anymore about old bones. They are unaffected!
The only reason we are still interested is our different agenda: We have proof that Peter's skull is in the Pyrenees, regardless if authentic or not, which would mean that the Roman bones are worthless because only the skull matters! According to our research we have a good idea where it is! What we don't know for sure is how the relics were lost and by whom? Chrétien's link of the Magic Sword to pope Alexander III after the "Peace of Venice" (1177) suggests that the loss of the relics and the centuries of searching in vain was dismissed to the realm of legends with great success. But when Pius XII made the painful discovery that the legends are true, the Vatican had no choice but to leak false information and diffuse the matter. It feared that the truth could, like Pandora's box, force the bishops of Rome to deal with heresies on larger scale. We can imagine Ratzinger's dilemma, a Bavarian like Wolfram and revered as Pope Benedict XVI. He would have had to deal with Wolfram, Chrétien, and the "estoire" of Robert, where the grail (a blood relic of Jesus) is taken to the farthest west, and guarded by a "suffering" Fisherking (Peter's skull and bones). The Vatican would have to admit that Peter's remains are linked to heresies it exterminated so brutally and actually acknowledge the grail mystery. In any event, we have to dig up that cave very soon! As you can well imagine, the early Church did not wrap those relics in cheap linen. According to Robert's riddle, there should be lots of treasure there, even booty from the Sack of Rome and Solomon's Temple.
You can continue the above with this link, or check the first updates:
The case of the missing skull and crossbones
Now that the Jesuits are saving the faith there is a revision of the Italian fiasco about St Peter's remains. According to Wikipedia: "On November 24, 2013, these relics were held by Pope Francis and displayed publicly for the first time after celebrating... the 'Year of Faith' Mass." This link shows once again that monks don't illuminate manuscripts anymore, but the Wikipedias of the world because the Vatican has re-educated its flock since Kirschbaum's report, which is omitted altogether, and simply transfer the discovery of Peter's bones to a later date. It's like a game of "cups and balls"! After sacrificing the German Jesuit, the experts could claim that Peter's tomb remained undisturbed, hence empty, since the time of Constantine. They admit that some valuable artifacts are missing from the necropolis, but eliminate earlier suspects by blaming it on the Saracens in 846 CE, although they were iconoclasts and wouldn't have dug up bones! The missing skull, which Kirschbaum features, is no longer an issue because it was supposedly at St John Lateran since the ninth century, right next to the skull of St Paul.
The current clean-up of the ambiguous sources is similar to the work of the Bollandists in the 17th century. We saw this with the Star of Bethlehem where the important contribution of Anthony J. Maas S. J. was eliminated like Kirschbaum's findings. The latter is supported by the fact that he participated in the excavations from 1940-1949, but excluded from 1953-57 (see German source), which may be why he wrote a book. Nevertheless, the Vatican celebrates Guarducci by attributing Kirschbaum's discovery to her. How nicely the story of Peter's lost relics flows now is shown below, and we challenge any daredevil among the Wikipedia "illuminators" to add references to Maas and Kirschbaum to see how long they will last!
Here is the latest about Peter's tomb, quoted from "Everything you want to know about the Catholic Church ... but are afraid to ask" an informative P.R. project with 10 free videos by Rev. William P. Saunders of Virginia (USA), a catholic priest, scholar, and apologist:
"Does the church possess the actual bones of St. Peter?
Indeed, at the closing Mass for the Year of Faith (Nov. 24, 2013), Pope Francis venerated the relics of St. Peter and displayed them for public veneration during the singing of the Nicene Creed. Here was a great gesture of faith: Pope Francis, the 265th successor of St. Peter, holding the relics of the first pope and vicar of Christ, St. Peter, during the holy sacrifice of the Mass that unites the faithful throughout the world in the timeless sacrifice of Our Lord.
Such a gesture moves us to remember the earliest days of the church and our first pope. After the Council of Jerusalem in AD 49, St. Peter returned to Rome. There he served as the bishop of the small Christian community, holding Mass in homes. During this time, he also dictated the Gospel, ascribed by name to his secretary, St. Mark, and his two letters included in our New Testament (a dating confirmed by recent papyrologic and paleographic studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls).
In 64-65, Nero set fire to Rome so that he could build his new palace. Needing a scapegoat, he blamed the Christians, as recorded by Tacitus in his Annales. A horrific persecution ensued. St. Peter himself was arrested and condemned to death. He was taken to the Vatican Hill to the Circus of Caligula (also known as the Circus Nero), a chariot race course. Interestingly, the Egyptian obelisk that stands in the center of St. Peter’s square today (although repositioned) marked the center of the race course. Tradition holds that St. Peter protested that he was not worthy to die as the Lord and so was crucified upside down. Seneca in his essay To Marcia, On Consolation described this upside-down crucifixion as one of the gorier forms of punishment and torture. After his death, the faithful recovered St. Peter’s body and buried it in a necropolis northwest of the circus (at the present site of St. Peter’s Basilica). The faithful secretly venerated the grave and protected it from pagan desecration. Pope Anicetus (155-66) built a memorial or “tropaion” to mark the grave, and other popes were buried nearby.
In 330, Emperor Constantine, who had legalized Christianity in 313, began building a huge basilica at the grave site to honor the first pope. The builders had to level the land, thereby filling in the necropolis. They purposefully positioned the altar over the burial site of St. Peter. When Pope Julius began construction on the present St. Peter’s Basilica in 1506 to replace the decaying original basilica, the high altar purposefully remained over the burial site. Centuries passed. When Pope Pius XI had died, in February 1939, workers started digging a new tomb in the sacred grottoes, the level beneath the main floor of the basilica. They uncovered the necropolis, finding both pagan and Christian mausoleums. Pope Pius XII gave permission to excavate the necropolis including the area under St. Peter’s high altar. The work progressed slowly.
By 1950, archeologists concluded they had found the grave of St. Peter. Greek graffiti on an adjacent wall to the tropaion marked the spot: Petros eni, or “Peter is within” (“eni” being a contraction for “eneoti”). Other graffiti asked St. Peter to pray to Christ for deceased people, and others were common Christian symbols, like the alpha and omega, or the chi and rho.
A variety of bones were also found. One set, which originally had been buried in the earth, were found in a secret marble repository in the graffiti wall. These bones had been wrapped in a purple fabric with gold threads. Were these St. Peter’s bones? In the early 1960s, anthropologists studied the bones. The bones were mostly fragments, with only a few being about 6 inches. They included pieces of the cranium and jaw (including a tooth), vertebrae, pelvis, legs, arms and hands. The anthropologists concluded the bones belonged to a man, between 60 and 70 years of age; about 5 feet, 7 inches tall; and of robust constitution — an apt description of the fisherman, St. Peter. The bones had been discolored by the earth (the same earth as in the grave). The purple and gold thread cloth (dated to the ancient Roman weaving techniques) was an extremely expensive cloth reserved for imperial honors, thereby befitting the first pope.
Some interesting questions had to be addressed: First, why no feet bones? Since St. Peter was hung upside down as a criminal, he was not entitled to a proper burial. The body of a criminal would have been dumped. The faithful must have bribed the executioners, who simply severed the body from the feet nailed to the cross and gave it to them. Such a practice was not uncommon.
Second, why were the bones removed from the grave and placed in the secret repository? The brick work of the repository dated to the reign of the Emperor Valerian (253-60). Valerian intensified the persecution of the church. Sealing the bones inside the marble graffiti wall secured them from desecration.
Third, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, for at least 1,000 years has kept the relic of the skull of St. Peter. Were they of the same bones? When comparison tests were done, the anthropologists concluded nothing in the Lateran reliquary interfered with the Vatican bones. They speculated that the skull had been removed from the rest of the bones to preserve it.
Given this evidence, in February 1968, an official report was presented to Pope Paul VI who concluded that the bones had been “identified in a way which we can hold to be convincing.” Today, they are secured in 19 plexiglass boxes in the same repository where they had been found. As the Council of Trent taught, “The sacred bodies of the holy martyrs and of the other saints living with Christ, which have been living members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and which are destined to be raised and glorified by Him unto life eternal, should also be venerated by the faithful. Through them, many benefits are granted to men by God.
John Evangelist Walsh in his The Bones of St. Peter provides detailed information of the discovery and the research of the excavations. Also, if ever visiting Rome, the scavi tour takes visitors into the excavations of the necropolis and to the tomb of St. Peter.
The recommended book of Walsh (1927-2015) was published in 1982 and is also available on-line. It offers indeed a detailed account of the excavations, but also contradicts some of Saunders' claims. Walsh deals with the controversies like a reporter, narrates Kirschbaum's efforts as leading digger like a novelist, and even drops a few "bomb shells" here and there without comment. This has great entertainment value for friends of detective stories and adds suspense to the final chapter about "The Ancient Silence" where Walsh pretends to support the Vatican's claim that Peter's relics remained hidden in the ground since before the 4th century. It is consistent with his approach that he lets Guarducci represent herself and remains silent about the political career of Monsignor Kaas and intimate friendship with nuncio Pacelli, later pope Pius XII. He supported Pacelli in Germany and arranged the Reichskondordat that facilitated Hitler's rise to power. Three of the protagonists were present at its signing at the Vatican, with Kaas at the far left, the future pope Pius XII in the center, and the future pope Paul VI waiting in the wings at the far right.
If we follow up with the clues of Walsh, our detective story begins at the old St Peter Basilica, which emperor Constantine had built from about 318 to 350 CE. Over the centuries, the basilica gained importance and became eventually a major place of pilgrimage in Rome. Papal coronations were held there and in 800 Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Some circumstantial evidence
According to Walsh, building a basilica over Peter's grave was quite a challenge for Constantine: "The ancient architects, studying the topography... concluded that the lower tombs need not be demolished, but might simply be buried whole beneath the floor of the basilica. Peter's shrine could then be made to stand above the pavement over the grave, at the place of honor. In addition, if the roofs of the tombs were removed, and the interiors packed with earth, the resulting box-like network of stout walls would serve as extra foundations, helping to prevent slippage of soil on the hillside... In order to create a broad, flat surface over the face of the sloping hill for the marble pavement of the basilica, at the level of Peter's grave, the builders had found it necessary to construct an artificial platform of prodigious size. Approximately half of it, the half to the south, rested on the natural hillside, but the other half was carried on three enormous foundation walls, running the entire length of the church... With level ground available a few hundred feet to the south, invitingly free of obstruction, why had Constantine gone to such prodigious lengths, borne such great expense, taken the trouble to abrogate rigid laws, in the process alienating many Romans, just to position his basilica in one particular spot on this inconvenient hillside?"
This led Walsh to the key question: "Did Constantine have the grave opened, did he personally look on the body of Peter? Nothing of this is known with certainty, yet there is evidence - disputed though it may be - that he not only opened the grave but also provided a sumptuous new sarcophagus of bronze, probably lined with gold, for the remains."
Careful not to offend devout Christians, Walsh deals with this question with other bits of news here and there. First, he mentions that Constantine "took a symbolic part in the work, going so far as to carry on his shoulders twelve baskets of earth-fill, one for each of the apostles
", and that
"when first erected in the fourth century, the monument received from St. Helena, mother of Constantine, a sumptuous gift consisting of a kingly crown and an oversize cross, both made of pure gold. In the early days the crown had been suspended directly above the shrine's center." He supports this with "a fifthcentury reliquary known as the Samagher Casket, then stored in the Lateran Museum in Rome", which depicts Peter's shrine in its original appearance."
Although Walsh argues in chapter 12 that the "reburied bones" were undisturbed since before Constantine built the basilica, he had stated earlier: "Further, the repository itself, despite the lining of marble slabs, was nothing but a miserable hole in a nondescript wall. Was this poor, makeshift cavity the best that Constantine could do for the precious remains, when he had lavished so much effort and expense on the richly decorated housing shrine and magnificent basilica towering over it? For any logical mind, sensitive to the fitness of things, the disparity was glaring.
It is glaring indeed! Thanks to the logical mind of Walsh and talent as a novelist, he can argue passionately in defense of the official consensus and challenge it with brief, logical questions in other chapters. One way to get to the bottom of his clever rhetoric is to download and print out his book, cut up each page, and sort the fragments by subject matter. Once they are checked from a secular point of view, and a few of his clues googled on-line, it becomes clear that two claims hold the key to the enigma: The "reburied" bones and the "sack" of the tomb.
1. The reburied bones
It's irrelevant for our study if these are really Peter's bones because their veneration since early Christianity speaks for itself. But the words of wisdom by Hartmann Grisar S. J. (4) are most persuasive, who said a century ago "A grave of Peter in Rome, if it was there, would not have been forgotten, and if it wasn't there, would not have been invented!" Kirschbaum's findings have since been confirmed, the reburied bones are indeed of a man of "sixty to seventy years of age" with a powerful physique, which is difficult to dismiss as a coincidence! However, that the most venerated part of a relic is missing, the skull, is a major problem that may be explained with the second claim.
2. The sack of the tomb.
Consistent with the Vatican's position, Walsh features repeatedly the sack of the tomb by the Saracens in 846 (5), but ignores an earlier event that shook the foundations of Christendom. A first clue is that a major reconstruction under pope Gregory around 603 CE is being ignored, when the chamber was opened and would have revealed the tomb. Hence, the pope could have shipped the relics to his friend Leander to safe-guard them in Seville. According to the chronicle of St Pere de Rodes, the ship took refuge near the Pyrenees and the relics were hidden in a cave. Unless, perhaps, Gregory noticed that Peter's relics and Helena's golden cross are missing, and he sent that ship to retrieve them! Grail romance implies that the relics were removed during the infamous Sack of Rome in 410 CE. That's when Alaric's troops sacked the city and took the emperors's sister Galla Placidia hostage, which is well-recorded. But he may have added the above "treasure" as booty to make sure the Romans will keep their promise and allow a Visigothic kingdom in southwestern Gaul. Years later, when she was returned to Rome empty-handed, the fifth-century Samagher Casket could probably symbolize the missing relics by depicting Galla and her son at Peter's shrine!
The plot thickens
Walsh reports an accident in 1594 "while some reconstruction was in progress near the high altar. A large piece of masonry broke from the top of a pillar, plummeted down, and smashed against an undetermined part of the shrine (the documents merely mention a vague 'floor'). The impact produced a jagged crack, and some workmen gazing in wonder through the slim opening were dazzled, as they later claimed, by the sight of a golden cross. Pope Clement, hastily informed of the damage to the shrine, immediately ordered the crack closed with cement. Further work in the vicinity was forbidden. No proof exists that the men actually saw a golden cross, but that the shrine once included such a rare ornament was a tradition well known to the excavators."
"The second glimpse into the tomb took place at the end of the nineteenth century when the Jesuit Hartmann Grisar, prompted by the development of the electric light, was permitted to try an experiment." Grisar (1845-1932) was a celebrated Luther expert and an "Indiana Jones" among the Jesuits. At the chapel of the Lateran, where the popes used to reside before moving to the Vatican, he had discovered the hidden "santa santorum", a wooden chest and some shelves with ancient relics. As it is the place where the skulls of Peter and Paul were allegedly kept, we can easily imagine what attracted him to Peter's grave.
According to Walsh, he discovered in a little niche below the altar of St Peter Basilica a "tiny hinged door which opened on a small vertical shaft" and "Grisar let down a feeble electric light. At a depth of about fifteen feet the light stopped... No object was discernible in the dim circle of light, no gleam of metal. What the chamber might contain, what part of the original grave it represented, or if indeed it bore any connection with the grave at all, Grisar had found it impossible to say."
Enter the "Rheinländer" and the Görres Gesellschaft: The Grisars hailed from Koblenz like Görres, Kaas from Trier, and Kirschbaum from Cologne, major settlements in the Rhineland since Roman times...
As soon as Pacelli was elected pope Pius XII, he had his friend Kaas assemble a group of trustworthy archeologists to "officially" prepare the burial of Pius XI. Secretly, they were to continue what Grisar had started, and search for Helena's golden cross and the bronze casket with Peter's remains. Or as Walsh explains: "The Pope made one firm stipulation: until the work was complete, and a full official report ready for publication, no breath of the results, whatever they might be, should reach the public. All must be accomplished in private and in secret. Readily accepting this condition - not unreasonable under the circumstances - Monsignor Kaas and his four colleagues set to work, never guessing that they were committing themselves to a decade of silence."
According to Walsh, "Monsignor Kaas, who had long studied the question, was inclined to favor the tradition, at least in its essentials. He confidently expected to find a bronze casket, large or small, of whatever design, in or under the pile of masonry." His darkest hour followed it 1941, when Kaas had to inform the pope that there is no casket, merely an empty tomb and some reburied bones. But the secrecy was important because it protected the shocking truth that the only important part of the relic, the skull, is missing. Without informing the archeologists, Kaas removed all bones from the site, including the reburied ones, and took them to the pope's apartment where he locked them into a store-room behind his private chapel. Walsh claims diplomatically that the presence of Kaas was no longer tolerated by the two Jesuits, but he continued to check their progress every night and even had the lights turned off to prevent any clandestine digging.
Then the unexpected happened: the greatest secret of the Vatican was leaked to the correspondent of the NY Times, the controversial Camille M. Cianfarra (6), and published in New York on August 22, 1949. Walsh writes that "his story, centering on the relics, made frontpage headlines around the world. Except for a passing reference to one of the excavators, Enrico Josi, the sources were carefully concealed. In a pageone headline the New York Times declared: BONES OF ST. PETER FOUND UNDER ALTAR, VATICAN BELIEVES
...The bones had been found, said the account, in a 'subterranean cell' about twenty feet down beneath the high altar, where they had lain in a 'terracotta urn.' All those concerned in the project, the article explained, had for the time being been sworn to secrecy."
We should add that Cianfarra's book "The Vatican and the War" is an entertaining eyewitness report from inside the Vatican, which shows how well he was connected to the inner circles of the papacy, and probably disliked what he saw. That the news broke in 1949, when Cianfarra was stationed in far-away Madrid, could imply that the leak was politically motivated. It seemed that the Jesuits were the culprits, because they were removed from the project and their final report delivered to the pope in 1951.
Kaas died in 1952 and was replaced to every churchman's surprise by a woman: Margherita Guarducci was suddenly in charge of Peter's Tomb. Hence, only Guarducci and the pope would have known the hiding place of Peter's relics, and probably Giovanni Montini, the future pope Paul VI. He was not only involved with the Reichskondordat as shown on the above photograph, but met with the pope every morning and described their relationship as follows: "It is true, my service to the pope was not limited to the political or extra-ordinary affairs according to Vatican language. The goodness of Pope Pius XII opened to me the opportunity to look into the thoughts even into the soul of this great pontiff". This indicates he knew about the hidden relics and had relations with members of prominent Roman families like the Guarduccis, close friends of the Montinis, and perhaps even the Cianfarras.
This raises the question why Guarducci kept Peter's bones locked away for years until Montini could take control as Paul VI? Meanwhile, rumors were spread to eliminate Kirschbaum's discovery and downplay the missing skull. Even the false information in the NY Times, which mentions a "terracotta urn" with Peter's bones, contributed to the confusion. Obviously, the worker who leaked the information knew only that Kaas had the box with Peter's relics marked "ossa-urna-graf" (bones-urn-graffiti). For years, Guarducci had Dr. Correnti examine boxes with the wrong bones, but overlooked one flaw in her scenario: Kirschbaum had taken a picture of the bones before Kaas removed them!
Unfortunately, Cianfarra took the name of his informant to a watery grave because he perished in the Andrea Doria disaster in July, 1956. The Italian luxury liner collided with a Swedish ship and sank shortly before reaching New York. In the same year, Toynbee and Ward Perkins were allowed to publish their detailed study, and Kirschbaum followed up with his book in 1957, where the heap of bones is shown. The English translation of 1959 offers a revised foreword where he concedes that the discovery of Peter's relics met from an "almost complete acceptance of the archeological findings and their interpretation to an almost complete rejection".
In spite of these publications, Peter's missing skull continued to be downplayed because it was allegedly at St. John Lateran since the 9th century. However, Walsh corrects Rev. Saunders claims even here: "The Lateran bones were submitted to radiocarbon dating and their absolute age was found to be a good deal less than the requisite nineteen hundred years. Dr. Guarducci hints at this outcome when she invites her readers to 'reflect' on the fact that the first traceable record of the Lateran skull dates to only the eleventh century".
It looks like Kirschbaum's discovery was also challenged by putting the so-called "graffiti wall" some "twenty metres" from Peter's empty tomb, according to the report of Fr. Georges de Nantes! The graffiti wall is a short reinforcement of the wall with the triangular opening where the bones were photographed, which indicates that the great distance comes only into play when accessed from behind. But more important: Walsh includes a detailed illustration of the remaining relics. Here is the pdf with the skeleton and a description of the bone fragments and other valuable information! Apparently, the bones of a few men, animals, and an older woman is no longer an issue because after years of "hesitation" Guarducci found allegedly the box with the right stuff. It would go down in history as her discovery if Kirschbaum had not photographed the bones! They are the dark marks on the skeleton, which raises the question why most bones are missing if they were untouched since Constantine? But how could Roman anthropologists and pathologists reconstruct the missing skull in the 1980s?
Isn't it miraculous how these experts can sift through dirt from the site fourty years later and separate 27 tiny pieces of bone from all other fragments to conjure up the above skull? In spite of such forensic magic to disprove the original reports of Kirschbaum, Toynbee, et al., any secular pathologist would confirm:
The Skull is still missing
Perhaps, some scholars should take another look at the manuscripts of Jeroni Pujades, who established four hundred years ago that Peter's skull and crossbones were removed from his tomb. This might actually explain why the remaining bones were "reburied" nearby and why pope Francis maintains they are Peter's relics. Because Pujades was always a reliable guide for our grail studies, the latest turn of events offers surprising support for his Latin chronicle, which relates how the relics were lost in a cave in the Pyrenees – including a cup with the blood of Christ.
We had interrupted our field research at San Pere de Rodes in 2007 to find out in Rome if Peter's skull is missing from his tomb, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. A decade after our first report and a major revision in 2014, an important question remains open:
What could explain the bizarre claim that Peter's holy relics were carried around in paper bags - and hidden in the pope's private chapel?
Although the reputation of Pius XII has been restored and shows he was a true anti-fascist and protector of Jews, he was apparently forced to restrict the shocking news of Peter's reburied bones and missing skull to an inner circle. This is supported by the account of the paper bags, which seems to come from the worker who leaked information to Cianfarra for the New York Times. It shows that clandestine activities were going on and suggests that the pope had close advisors like Kaas to anticipate the diverse outcomes of WWII, which would have included a permanent exile of the papacy – this time with Peter's relics.
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1. Allen Duston, O.P., and Roberto Zagnoli, Saint Peter and the Vatican, (Virginia, 2003), p. 92.
2. Michael M. Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, (Baltimore, 1960), p.104, quoting from Jocelyn Toynbee and John Ward Perkins, The Shrine of Saint Peter and the Vatican Excavations, (London, 1956).
3. Engelbert Kirschbaum S.J., The Tombs of St Peter and St Paul, tr. John Murray S.J., (London, 1959), from Die Gräber der Apostelfürsten (Frankfurt, 1957).
4. Hartmann Grisar S.J., Rom beim Ausgraben der antiken Welt, (Paderborn, 2015), Nachdruck from 1901 original, p. 234: "Hätte man die geschichtliche Frage stets ruhig betrachtet so würde man sich schon vor den kritischen Verhandlungen neurer Zeit gesagt haben: Ein Grab Petri in Rom konnte, wenn es vorhanden war, nicht vergessen werden, und wenn es nicht vorhanden war, nicht erfunden werden."
There is also the English version History of Rome and the popes in the Middle Ages, tr. Luigi Cappadelta, (New York, 1975).
5. According to Walsh "Conquering armies had plundered the city several times before, but the Saracens, ferocious haters of Christianity, were the first to vent their wrath on its holy places. Storming into St. Peter's, destroying and looting, they despoiled even the high altar. While the records of this melancholy event are fragmentary, one source employs a phrase of chilling implication when it asserts that the marauding troops in the basilica perpetrated 'unspeakable iniquities.' Whether this meant that they broke into the space below the shrine, laying impious hands on the grave itself, no one in later centuries could tell."
He had revealed a secret meeting of Pius XII and Ribbentrop a few years earlier to make a deal with the Nazis, see link, which became the source of Hochhuts slanderous play "The Deputy". See Camille M. Cianfarra, The Vatican and the war, (New York, 1944), pp. 209-10. Furthermore, we find it interesting that he witnessed the funeral of pope Pius XI and points out that a skull and crossbones were depicted on his casket. It would be interesting if scholars establish some day that the momento mori of funeral rites relate to Peter's lost relics.
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