At 11 this morning, we found ourselves descending into the Scavi—the excavation chamber beneath the Basilica of St. Peter. It's the Pope's church and has been the site of the lead altar of the Catholic church since Peter himself kicked things off in the first century after Christ. Peter was an Apostle. He was the first Pope of the Roman Catholic church. He was crucified in Rome, and buried in the ground beneath what is now the famous Basilica that bears his name. (He was entombed later.)
Archaeologists have found bones that are believed to be S Peter's. We learned that although they have found an entire set of a single man's bones, the feet were not found. Peter was crucified upside down. The church believes his feet may have been cut off.
The 40 minutes we spent beneath the floor of the Basilica of St. Peter were filled with fascinating and spine-chilling facts. They were also filled with funky, musty air.
When Jo Ann and I saw Tom Hanks whisking down the stairs into the Scavi earlier this year in 'Angels and Demons,' we couldn't have known how humid and moldy it was down there. We also couldn't have imagined how cool it would be. From the late-'30s through the '50s, the Catholic archaeologists dug and dug and found a piece of history that, despite it being right under the most significant chiesa in all of Christianity, nobody knew was there. Turns out the Basilica's predecessors was built on the Vatican graveyard. It was literally filled in with dirt to make a flat surface to build the churches that preceded today's Basilica. I'm not sure how the Vatican history books didn't document this, but they didn't.
We saw family tombs dating back to the first and second centuries, when Catholicism was a minor force in the world. When people prayed to Gods and Goddesses and Muses—Copia, Terminus, Melpomene, Neptune, Janus and that ilk. We saw burial inscriptions that conveyed the humor of men. One guy was described as having always had something funny to say, and never said a bad word about anyone. Another person was a Roman tax collector in the territory of Belgium. His epitaph described how vicious he was. Brings things into perspective. We humans have changed in, say, the past 2,000 years, but not much elementally.
We saw something else—right when we got into the Scavi: the burial tomb of a boy. As our guide told us about high infant mortality rates in ancient times, we all stared at the tomb (which was open, lit and the remains removed) and thought of Pablo. Of course we did.
The tomb had a relief of the grieving mother on one end (you can see her in this photo). On the other end was the grieving father (and one behind the camera). Along the long sides were reliefs depicting a child's happy life.
I was so taken by this tomb, I broke the no photos rule to snap the above pic. I got busted. It embarrassed the hell out of Jo Ann and Grady. I apologized to them and our guide. They all forgave me. I forgave myself.
And I got my shot.