Sacredness



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BIBLIOGRAPHY


© 1998 (text only) Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe

An exploration of how and why places become invested with SACREDNESS and how the SACRED is embodied or made manifest through ART and ARCHITECTURE


SAINT PETER'S BASILICA, ITALY

The Basilica of St. Peter is traditionally believed to have been erected over the spot where St. Peter was buried after his martyrdom in Rome around 64 CE. That he was indeed martyred, that it took place in Rome, and where it took place, remain controversial questions. Some scholars support the tradition that St. Peter was buried Ad Catacumbas (i.e. at the catacombs of San Sebastiano) on the Via Appia.

Over two hundred years later, in the early 4th century, Emperor Constantine (died 337 CE) erected a basilica dedicated to St. Peter on the Vatican Hill on the south side of the Tiber River. The basilica was erected with difficulty on the sloping side of Vatican Hill, the floor built out from the hill and over an earlier Roman cemetery. The fact that this awkward site was chosen, instead of level ground to the south, has convinced some that it was Constantine's intention to mark the site of the apostle's tomb. However, the site may also have been chosen to both mark the cemetery which may otherwise have been a sacred place, and, in more practical terms, to remove the building from the poorly-drained, swampy ground near the river.

Excavations undertaken in 1939 underneath the floor of St. Peter's uncovered a Roman cemetery. At a spot located directly beneath the main altar of the basilica was discovered a small shrine. Although there was no indication other than location, it was claimed by some that the shrine was dedicated to St. Peter.

Besides trying to identify the presumed burial spot, or shrine, of St. Peter under the basilica, it was the burden of the excavators also to prove that Constantine himself was not mistaken about the location of St. Peter's tomb.

The Roman cemetery on Vatican Hill was evidently located next to the Circus of Nero. It is conjectured by some that St. Peter was first martyred (by being crucified upside down) in the circus, and then buried in the neighboring cemetery.

Constantine's basilica was demolished in the 16th century and the present church was built on the same site. The Basilica of St. Peter is the 'mother-church' of the Roman Catholic faith and has remained a sacred site and a place of pilgrimage for many hundreds of years.

Bibliography:

  • Peter J. Toynbee and J. Ward Perkins, The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations, New York: Pantheon Books, 1957.


SACRED PLACES is written and produced by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, Professor, Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia, 24595 USA

Lascaux
France

Giza Plateau
Egypt

Stonehenge
England

Newgrange
Ireland

Abu Simbel
Egypt

Delphi
Greece

Athenian Acropolis
Greece

Holy Sepulchre
Israel

Dome of the Rock
Israel

Chartres
France

Lourdes
France

Shrine at Ise
Japan

Bodh Gaya
India

Teotihuacán
Mexico

St. Peter's Basilica
Italy

Mecca
Saudi Arabia

Mosque of Córdoba
Spain

Kata Tjuta
Australia