Did Francis display relics of the Apostle Peter?

Peter’s Claimed Burial Site in St. Peter’s Basilica (photo by Joyce Thiel)


A while back, relics allegedly of the Apostle Peter were displayed:

November 24, 2013

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican publicly unveiled a handful of bone fragments purportedly belonging to St. Peter on Sunday, reviving the scientific debate and tantalizing mystery over whether the relics found in a shoe box truly belong to the first pope.

The nine pieces of bone sat nestled like rings in a jewel box inside a bronze display case on the side of the altar during a Mass commemorating the end of the Vatican’s yearlong celebration of the Christian faith. It was the first time they had ever been exhibited in public.

Pope Francis prayed before the fragments at the start of Sunday’s service and then clutched the case in his arms for several minutes after his homily.

Disputed claims
No pope has ever definitively declared the fragments to belong to the Apostle Peter, but Pope Paul VI in 1968 said fragments found in the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica were “identified in a way that we can consider convincing.”

Some archaeologists dispute the finding.

But last week, a top Vatican official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said it almost doesn’t matter if archaeologists one day definitively determine that the bones aren’t Peter’s, saying Christians have prayed at Peter’s tomb for two millennia and will continue to, regardless. http://www.nbcnews.com/science/pope-puts-st-peters-relics-display-reviving-scientific-debate-2D11650786

Were these truly relics of Peter?

According to various sources and records, it is pretty much impossible that those could be the bones of Peter.

It should be noted that the earliest records accepted by the Church of Rome showed that early Christians did not venerate relics.

As far as Peter goes, let’s first notice what the Rheims New Testament records that Peter wrote just prior to his death:

14. Being certain that the laying away of my tabernacle is at hand, according as our Lord JESUS Christ also signified to me.  15. And I will do my diligence, you to have often after my decease also, that you may keep a memory of these things. 16. For, not having followed unlearned fables, have we made the power and ‘presence’ of our Lord JESUS Christ known to you: but c made beholders of his greatness. 17. For, he receiving from God his father honour and glory, this manner of voice coming down to him from the magnifical glory, This is my beloved son in whom I have pleased myself, hear him. 18. And this voice we heard brought from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. (II Peter 1:14-18).

This is problematic as far as Rome is concerned. The reason is that the above passage seems to be teaching that John was still with Peter (John was part of the “we heard”). This is indirectly acknowledged by the ANNOTATIONS from Chapter 1 of I Peter from the Rheims New Testament of 1582 on page 515 as it states:

c By this it is plain, that either John, James, or Peter must be the author of this epistle, for these three only were present at the Transfiguration. Matt. 17:1

Since the particular above James is believed to have been killed by 39 A.D. in Judea (Acts 12:1), either Peter died near then (which he did not, he died around three or so decades later) or the Apostle John must have still been with Peter. And since there is no evidence that the Apostle John went to Rome in the 60s A.D. The available evidence, including from Roman Catholic sources, suggests that John was in Jerusalem or Asia Minor at that time. Plus, if John was in Jerusalem or Asia Minor then, since Peter seems to be claiming that John was with him, then Peter would have been in Jerusalem or Asia Minor just prior to his death. Hence, to claim that Peter spent much time in Rome or died in Rome seems to be inconsistent with the biblical record.

Some Catholic sources report that Clement allegedly was appointed to take over from Peter then:

St. Clement in his Epistles to St. James, our Lord’s brother, witnesseth, that St. Peter encouraging him to take after his decease the charge of the Apostolic Roman See, promised that after his departure he would not cease to pray for him and his flock, thereby to ease him of his Pastoral burden (Annotations, Rheims New Testament, p. 516).

However, the Vatican no longer accepts that Clement wrote that letter and instead claims that Peter somehow put Linus in charge (although other sources state that Paul did that) and thus it has various contradiction involving Peter, his sojourn, and his alleged “apostolic succession” (it would seem that if any one succeeded Peter, it would be the Apostle John as he outlived Peter for perhaps three decades or so.)

The place of Peter’s burial is also controversial.

Essentially according to the Quo Vadis legend, Peter was buried in Rome. However, that account was not written until over a century after Peter died.

But there was something else that some have pointed to:

It is not before around 160 CE that we see some kind of interest by Roman Christians in the site by the construction a simple monument that consisted of a niche and a courtyard (the Tropaion Gaii). The monument was probably used for gatherings, but not as a marker as an individual grave, since memory of Peter’s original burying place was lost by the time the Tropaion was erected. The existence of the Tropaion did not result in the development of a Christian burial site, but was integrated into a middle-class non-Christian burial street. Only in the age of Constantine the site was firmly and finally taken over by Christians, thereby obliterating all earlier traces of burial activity apart from the immediate space around the Tropaion. ( Zangenberg, Jürgen; Labahn, Michael. Christians as a religious minority in a multicultural city: modes of interaction and identity formation in early Imperial Rome : studies on the basis of a seminar at the second conference of the European Association for Biblical Studies (EABS) from July 8-12, 2001, in Rome. Volume 243 of Journal for the study of the New Testament Library of New Testament Studies, the Series European studies on Christian origins. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, p. 132)

Furthermore that site must not have been accepted originally as , according to the Liber Pontificalis (the Book of Popes) it was Roman bishop Cornelius who supposedly moved the body of Peter to its present location (nearly two centuries after Peter died). Here is one written account:

XXII Cornelius (Pope 251-253)…He during his pontificate at the request of a certain matron Lucina, took up the bodies of the apostles, blessed Peter and Paul up out of the catacombs by night; first the body of blessed Paul was received by the blessed Lucina] and laid in her own garden on the Via Ostiensis, near the place where he was beheaded; the body of the blessed Peter was received by the blessed Cornelius, the bishop, and laid near to the place where he was crucified, among the bodies of the holy bishops, in the shrine of Apollo, on the Mons Aureus, in the Batican, by the palace of Nero, on June 29. (Translated by Louise Ropes Loomis. The Book of the Popes (Liber Pontificalis. Originally published by Columbia University Press, NY 1916. 2006 edition by Evolution Publishing, Merchantville (NJ), pp. 25-26).

Hence, one of the earliest Catholic writings attempting to demonstrate that Rome had a series of early bishops/popes states that Peter was NOT originally buried in Rome. There would be no point in moving Peter’s body if people actually had believed that the Tropaion Gaii marked the spot.

Interestingly the conclusion of the one who supposedly identified the body of Peter in Vatican Hill was that he was not convinced it was Peter:

Antonio Ferrua …was the Jesuit archaeologist responsible for uncovering what is believed to be the tomb of St Peter in the grottoes under St Peter’s Basilica in Rome…Ferrua’s discovery came, however, quite by chance. In 1939 Pope Pius XI died and plans were made to bury him beside Pius X in the crypt below the basilica. But when workmen began to dig under St Peter’s they came upon the floor of Constantine’s original basilica, beneath which was a necropolis, a street of Roman tombs dating from the 2nd century AD…Under the supervision of Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, the Administrator of St Peter’s, the Vatican appointed four archaeologists, including Ferrua, to investigate the tombs…Ferrua’s discovery was shrouded in controversy; in 1953, after the death of Monsignor Kaas, it was revealed by a workman that he had discovered some other bones which Kaas had ordered to be removed from the repository and stored at the Vatican. When these were later identified as the remains of an elderly man, it was concluded that these were the bones of the saint. “The relics of St Peter,” announced Pope Paul VI on June 26 1968, “have been identified in a manner which we believe convincing”; the following day, after a ceremony in front of the aedicula, the remains were restored to the repository.

Ferrua was more circumspect. Aware of the scepticism that surrounded even the analysis of the Greek fragment – which others had read as Petros endei or “Peter is not here” – he recently told the Italian Catholic newspaper L’Avvenire that he was “not convinced” that the saint’s bones had been found…A man of deep faith, Ferrua was a rigorous scholar, much admired for his refusal to allow his beliefs to compromise his work (The Rev Antonio Ferrua. Telegraph, London – May 29, 2003 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1431338/The-Rev-Antonio-Ferrua.html viewed 07/20/09).

Thus, the one credited for finding Peter’s body was unconvinced by the evidence he had investigated.

It should be noted that there is also the view that Peter died in Judea and was interred in the Mount of Olives—an ossuary box bearing the inscription “Shimon Bar Jonah” has been found and some believe it may be referring to the Simon Bar-Jonah (Fingegan J. The Archaeology of the New Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, reprt 1979, pp. 359-375) that became the Apostle Peter as per Matthew 16:17—and although that is inconclusive, it is probably stronger contemporary “evidence” than Rome seems to have as Peter’s original burial site.

Here is some limited information about it written by F. Paul Peterson in 1960, edited by James Tabor, and somewhat shortened by me:

While visiting a friend in Switzerland, I heard of what seemed to me, one of the greatest discoveries since the time of Christ—that Peter was buried in Jerusalem and not in Rome…

After talking to many priests and investigating various sources of information, I finally was greatly rewarded by learning where I could buy the only known book on the subject, which was also written in Italian. It is called, “Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit”, printed in 1958 at the Tipografia del PP. Francescani, in Jerusalem. It was written by P. B. Bagatti and J. T. Milik, both Roman Catholic priests…

In Jerusalem I spoke to many Franciscan priests who all read, finally, though reluctantly, that the bones of Simon Bar Jona (St. Peter) were found in Jerusalem, on the Franciscan monastery site called, “Dominus Flevit” (where Jesus was supposed to have wept over Jerusalem), on the Mount of Olives…the names of Christian Biblical characters were found on the ossuaries (bone boxes). The names of Mary and Martha were found on one box and right next to it was one with the name of Lazarus, their brother. Other names of early Christians were found on other boxes. Of greatest interest, however, was that which was found within twelve feet from the place where the remains of Mary, Martha and Lazarus were found—the remains of St. Peter. They were found in an ossuary, on the outside of which was clearly and beautifully written in Aramaic, “Simon Bar Jona”…

Then I asked, “Does Father Bagatti (co-writer of the book in Italian on the subject, and archaeologist) really believe that those are the bones of St. Peter?” “Yes, he does,” was the reply. Then I asked, “But what does the Pope think of all this?” That was a thousand dollar question and he gave me a million dollar answer. “Well,” he confidentially answered in a hushed voice, “Father Bagatti told me personally that three years ago he went to the Pope (Pius XII) in Rome and showed him the evidence and the Pope said to him, ‘Well, we will have to make some changes, but for the time being, keep this thing quiet’.” In awe I asked also in a subdued voice, “So the Pope really believes that those are the bones of St. Peter?” “Yes,” was his answer. “The documentary evidence is there, he could not help but believe.” …

I did not have the opportunity to see priest Bagatti while in Jerusalem. I wrote to him, however, on March 15, 1960, as follows: “I have spoken with a number of Franciscan priests and monks and they have told me about you and the book of which you are a co-writer. I had hoped to see you and to compliment you on such a great discovery, but time would not permit. Having heard so much about you and that you are an archaeologist (with the evidence in hand), I was convinced, with you, concerning the ancient burial ground that the remains found in the ossuary with the name on it, ‘Simon Bar Jona’, written in Aramaic, were those of St. Peter.” It is remarkable that in his reply he did not contradict my statement, which he certainly would have done if he honestly could have done so. “I was very much convinced with you – … that the remains found in the ossuary … were those of St. Peter.” This confirms the talk I had with the Franciscan monk in Bethlehem and the story he told me of Priest Bagatti’s going to the Pope with the evidence concerning the bones of St. Peter in Jerusalem. In his letter one can see that he is careful because of the Pope’s admonition to keep this discovery quiet. (Peterson F. Paul. Saint Peter’s Tomb: The Discovery of Peter’s Tomb in Jerusalem in 1953. http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/2007/04/03/has-the-ossuary-of-simon-peter-aka-simeon-son-of-jonah-been-found/ viewed 02/17/11)

The Jerusalem burial of Peter is not currently taught by the Church of Rome. Thus, it appears to me, at least, that scholars (including Catholic ones) tend to understand that it is questionable if Peter was buried in Rome and if his body is actually in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (see also What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?).

Thus, it appears to me, at least, that scholars (including Catholic ones) tend to understand that it is questionable if Peter was buried in Rome and if his body is actually in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Some items of possibly related interest may include the following:

The Apostle Peter He was an original apostle and early Christian leader. Where was Peter buried? Where did Peter die?
What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons? Did Catholic and Orthodox “saints” endorse or condemn idols and icons for Christians?
Was Peter the Rock Who Alone Received the Keys of the Kingdom? How should Matthew 16:18-19 be understood?
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The Last Pope: Do Biblical and Catholic Prophecies Point to Pope Francis? Kindle This electronic version of the printed book which is available for only US$2.99. And you do not need an actual Kindle device to read it. Why? Amazon will allow you to download it to almost any device: Please click HERE to download one of Amazon s Free Reader Apps. After you go to for your free Kindle reader and then go to The Last Pope: Do Biblical and Catholic Prophecies Point to Pope Francis? Kindle.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
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Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church?
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The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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