Skip to main content

Pope puts 'St. Peter's bones' on display at Vatican

By Bryony Jones, CNN
updated 1:36 PM EST, Sun November 24, 2013
Pope Francis blesses the remains of St Peter during a ceremony of Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King at St Peter's square on November 24, 2013 at the Vatican. Pope Francis blesses the remains of St Peter during a ceremony of Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King at St Peter's square on November 24, 2013 at the Vatican.
HIDE CAPTION
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
St. Peter's bones to go on display at Vatican
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bones believed to be those of St. Peter to be displayed in public for the first time
  • Remains were found during an archaeological dig at the Vatican in the 1940s
  • They will be shown during celebrations to mark the end of Catholic church's "Year of Faith"
  • St. Peter was the leader of the early Christian church, and the first Roman Catholic pope

London (CNN) -- After centuries buried beneath the Vatican, and decades hidden away inside the Holy See, the bones of a man long believed to be St. Peter, one of the founding fathers of the Christian church, are on display for the first time.

The controversial remains were revealed to the public on Sunday at a mass in St Peter's Square marking the conclusion of the Catholic church's "Year of Faith."

Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Rino Fisichella said the "relics which tradition recognizes as those of the apostle who gave his life for the Lord" would be exhibited as part of the service.

L'Osservatore Romano reports that 8.5 million pilgrims have venerated the relics over the course of the year.

St. Peter's bones unveiled by Vatican

But whether the bones, normally kept in an urn housed in the private chapel of the Pope's own Vatican apartments, really are those of St. Peter, the fisherman-turned-disciple who became the first pope, is open to question.

Who was St. Peter?

Christians believe that St. Peter was a fisherman from the shores of Lake Galilee (in modern day Israel) who became one of the earliest and closest disciples of Jesus Christ.

Originally named Simon, Jesus gave him the name Cephas, or Petros, meaning "the Rock."

According to the Bible, when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing him three times, but following Jesus' crucifixion, he was one of the first witnesses to the resurrection.

He led the early church, and is recognized as the first Pope in the Roman Catholic faith.

St Peter is believed to have been martyred -- by being crucified upside down -- in Rome in about A.D. 64. The main basilica in the Vatican is named in his honor.

Tradition has it that St. Peter was martyred -- by being crucified, upside down -- in Rome in A.D. 64. before being buried in the city.

In his book "The Vatican Diaries," John Thavis wrote that "St. Peter's tomb in the cemetery on the Vatican Hill became... a popular pilgrimage site," prompting the emperor Constantine to build a basilica in his honor in the 4th century.

The remains which will be revealed on Sunday were among those discovered during an archaeological dig begun on the site in 1939; in 1968 the then pope, Paul VI, declared that they had been identified "in a manner which we believe convincing."

But with no DNA evidence to conclusively prove their identity, whether they belong to St. Peter is likely to remain an enduring mystery.

CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen says that like so much concerning religion, the belief that the bones are those of the disciple comes down to faith.

"Like other famous relics, such as the Shroud of Turin or the Belt of Mary, they evoke awe and devotion regardless of their actual provenance," Allen writes in an Op-Ed for CNN. "Faith, as the Bible puts it, lies in 'the evidence of things not seen.'"

Read more: The bones of Peter and the eyes of faith
Read more: Would the Mafia target Pope Francis?
Read more: New, popular pope, but same old church?
Read more: Pope embraces severely disfigured man

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:21 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said.
updated 9:15 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen in August abandoned home after address made public.
updated 5:36 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
HBO -- backing a documentary based on "Going Clear," a book about Scientology and Hollywood -- isn't taking any chances with legal side.
updated 2:35 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Grandmaster Nguyen Van Chieu has devoted his adult life to spreading the word about Vietnames martial art, Vovinam.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
England cricketer Nick Compton shares insight into "drive and courage" it takes to face fears as top batsman.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 12:03 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT