Thursday, November 28, 2013

The search and rescue of St. Peter's bones


Eight bone fragments from the body of St. Peter were held aloft by Pope Francis at mass on Sunday—the first time the relics have been shown to the public.

Until last century, St. Peter's bones
were thought to have been lost forever!

After Roman authorities executed St. Peter for being an enemy of the state, he was denied a proper burial and his friends were not allowed to recover his body.


For centuries, tradition held that to honor and preserve the mortal remains of this true Prince of the Apostles, the emperor Constantine erected old St. Peter's Basilica right over what was reputed to be St. Peter's grave, dumping a million cubic feet of dirt over the site to make the hillside flat.

A thousand years later, Pope Julius II replaced Constantine's Basilica with the present St. Peter's Basilica . . .

. . . placing millions of tons of marble over the million cubic feet of dirt that already covered the claimed resting place of St. Peter's bones!

Stories about those bones continued to circulate for centuries.  Then, in 1939, shovels of workmen preparing a burial place for Pope Pius XI in the grotto under St. Peter's accidentally broke through to a previously unknown mausoleum there.  Probing further, they found under the dirt a complete street of second-, third-, and fourth-century burial vaults.

The chase was on!

Researchers, scholars, and scientists won permission from Pope Pius XII to begin sustained, systematic efforts to discover whether, as legend claimed, the bones of St. Peter lay somewhere among those tombs.

For more than 30 years and in utmost secrecy, they worked in this incredibly cramped subterranean space, unearthing ancient structures . . .

. . . uncovering and twisting through dark passageways, and tunneling under ancient walls.  Slowly, patiently, deliberately, they unraveled the secrets surrounding the burial of St. Peter.

On June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI joyfully announced the results of 30 years of work that had enlisted scores of archaeologists, historians, forensic detectives, medical researchers, graffiti experts and others: the bones of St. Peter had been found!

John Walsh's book, The Bones of St. Peter, tells the engrossing true story of how these determined researchers finally solved the puzzle of St. Peter's burial and rescued his bodily remains from centuries of oblivion.

The Catholic Herald says that The Bones of St. Peter "reads like an Agatha Christie thriller, as clue after clue is found and solved."

Biblical Archaeology Review calls it "a marvelously interesting tale."

But it's more than an archaeological detective tale: in order to tell its story, The Bones of St. Peter takes us back to Rome in the time of Peter himself when Nero was still persecuting Christians, acquaints us with Constantine and the building of the first St. Peter's, and brings us forward to the Renaissance when, in the face of great opposition, Pope Julius II commissioned the glorious Basilica that stands to this day.

The Bones of St. Peter
256 Pages - $18.95
(Includes more than 50 photographs and diagrams to clarify the steps in the complex excavations.)

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Here’s an unabashedly Catholic history that documents scores of sustained and unprecedented assaults on our Catholic Faith these past five centuries and delineates our Church’s brave response to each one.

For five hundred years, from Luther to Marx, through Darwin, Hitler, and Rousseau, wave after wave of cynical anti-Catholic men and movements have wrought havoc even worse than that of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, leaving our once noble Christendom a ruined city, devastated politically and spiritually, morally and intellectually.

They’ve ripped the heart from our culture’s chest: the Catholic Faith that once gave life and strength to her body. They’ve wounded even the Church herself.

Celebrated Catholic historian Diane Moczar counters here with an unflinching sketch of these five woeful centuries with sound reasons for hope. For, as she demonstrates, even after five hundred years of sustained persecution, our Church has not merely survived but continues in many places to flourish.

Almost two thousand years ago, Tertullian noted that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” a truth borne out these past five hundred years.

Time after time, as Moczar shows, persecution has not snuffed out the Faith but has brought forth great saints whose holy deeds and brave examples frustrated their persecutors by communicating to the besieged Church a vigor greater than that of her persecutors.
These pages will renew your confidence that the Church is indeed Christ acting in the world and that no matter how strong or ruthless or vicious her opponents, she will not be vanquished but will endure to the end of time.
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