Was Peter Buried in Rome?

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


Was Peter buried in Rome?  Did Peter live in Rome?  Is his body in the basilica that bears his name in Vatican City?

Many have wondered about these matters.

Well, Peter traveled extensively, so he probably did not live in any area very long.

Peter originally lived near Galilee (Matthew 4:18). He was in or near Magdala of Galilee (Matthew 15:39;16:5) when Jesus spoke to him the famous passages in Matthew 16:16-19, where Jesus discussed building His church. So should this make Magdala the capital of the Christian church? Notice that Peter was not in Rome, and even if he ever was in Rome, it would have been over three decades later. After leaving Judea, Peter was busy helping build the church in Antioch and Asia Minor. He spent nearly all of his remaining time in the area from Judea to Asia Minor. And most of the time, he was shown to be with the Apostle John (Acts 3:1-11; 4:13; 8:14; Galatians 2:9; 2 Peter 1:17).

As shown before, Peter often came back and visited Jerusalem. He also preached in Samaria (Acts 10:14-15), in Joppa (Acts 10:5) and Caesarea (Acts 10:24).

He did visit Antioch as Paul in Galatians 2:11 stated:

And when Cephas was come to Antioch, I resisted him in face, because he was reprehensible.

Peter at a minimum, visited people from a church in Babylon:

The Church saluteth you, that is in Babylon, coelect: and Mark my son I Peter 5:13.

The ANNOTATIONS from Chapter 5 of the Rheims New Testament of 1582 on pages 513-514 states:

Oecumenius upon this place: and many more agree, that Rome is meant by the word Babylon, here also as in the 16 and 17 of the Apocalypse…Yet our Adversaries fearing hereby the sequel of Peters or the Popes supremacy at Rome, deny that ever he was there, or that this Epistle was written there, or that Babylon doth ere signify Rome. But they say that Peter wrote this Epistle at Babylon in Chaldea, though they never read either in Scriptures or other holy or profane history, that this Apostle was ever in that town.

Thus, many Roman Catholic scholars believe that the statement in I Peter 5:13 is proof that Peter was in Rome, though others are not convinced:

Horne, in his Introduction, vol. 4:p. 425, mentions four opinions on this subject. According to Bishop Pearson, Mill, and Le Clerc, it was Babylon in Egypt; according to Erasmus, Drusius, Beza, Dr. Lightfoot, Basnage, Beausobre, Dr. Cave, Wetstein, Drs. Benson and A. Clarke, it was Babylon in Assyria; according to Michaelis, it was Babylon in Mesopotamia; and according to Grotius, Drs. Whitby, Lardner, Macknight, and Hales, Bishop Tomline, and all the learned of the Romish communion, it is to be taken figuratively for Rome, according to what was done by John in Revelation 17:and 18:What renders the last opinion very improbable is, that to date an epistle at a place to which a figurative name is given, is without another instance in Scripture, and the thing itself seems quite absurd. The language of prophecy is quite a different matter. Paul wrote several of his epistles at Rome, and in no instance did he do anything of this kind. Such an opinion would have never gained ground, had there not been from early times a foolish attempt to connect Peter with Rome. (http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol45/htm/iv.htm 01/27/06)

Part of the reason for the confusion is that there were two-three towns named Babylon at that time, and that Roman Catholics believe that the Babylon in the Book of Revelation/Apocalypse refers to Rome, so the verse in 1 Peter probably does as well.

However, Catholics are correct that the Babylon in the Book of Revelation is Rome, as the following Catholic scholar wrote:

There was a strong anti-Roman tradition in the early Church. Rome was the harlot city soaked in the blood of the saints, the centre from which spread out wave after wave of persecution. The Book of Revelations’ gloating vision of the coming ruin of Rome, ‘Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great’ (Revelations 14:8), remained a persistent strand so long as the empire continued to persecute the church, and survived even into the Middle Ages (Duffy, Eamon. Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2002, pp.2,6).

But notice that there is a difference in the name of the Babylon in 1 Peter and Revelation. While 1 Peter 5:13 uses the term Babylon, which could obviously refer to the city with that name, Revelation 14:18 calls it “Babylon the Great” while Revelation 17:5 refers to it as “Mystery Babylon the Great”–hence in Revelation we clearly are seeing a reference to a city other than one name Babylon–and throughout history, most who professed Christ and looked into these passages in Revelation understood that Rome was “Babylon the Great” (the Bible, in Revelation 17:9, shows that Babylon the Great also sits on seven hills–and so does the city of Rome).

What about Peter’s death? Notice what the Rheims New Testament records that Peter wrote just prior to it:

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 truly 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 buring 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 Vatican hill, but in catacombs in the vicinity of 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.

Some articles 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?
Was Peter the Rock Who Alone Received the Keys of the Kingdom? How should Matthew 16:18-19 be understood?
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.
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view?  Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches?  Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
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?
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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