covered in graffiti? Why had the official report of 1950 said that inside that Graffiti Wall’s marble-lined repository practically nothing had been found? After two meetings with Pope Paul VI in early 1964, Dr. Guarducci obtained permission for tests to establish: (1) the type of the soil encrusted in the bones, and (2) whether the cloth found with the bones contained threads of real gold and true Roman imperial purple. The first test showed that the soil encrusted with the bones matched exactly that to be found in the original central grave (a soil called ‘sandy marl’, a soil clearly distinguishable from ‘blue clay’ or ‘yellow sand’ found over most of the Vatican area.) The second test confirmed that the bones had been wrapped in cloth dyed in true Roman imperial purple and threaded with real gold. (Roman imperial purple was a very special dye kept under firm state control. Its method for making had been a state secret and has only been rediscovered in recent times: it was made from an extract from the Mediterranean shellfish, murex brandaris or murex trunculus. Worn only by governors and kings, it was the colour of imperial and royal power.) These bones therefore had definitely been in the original central grave and had been treated with the highest reverence. But why were they not in the original grave? Why had they been hidden in a nearby wall built in the 250’s? 9
The graves of St. Peter and St. Paul had at first always been safe because Roman law had always protected burial places as sacred. In the persecution of 258 however, the Emperor Valerian had ordered the confiscation of all Church properties, including her burial places. Being therefore in danger of being seized and destroyed, the bones of St. Peter and St. Paul were taken and hidden elsewhere. The locality used for the hiding place was later, in memory of its distinguished ‘visitors’, occupied by a church called the Basilica Apostolorum (‘Basilica of the Apostles’) and is today the Church of St. Sebastian’s. In 260, with the defeat and capture of Valerian by the Persians, the persecution ended. Some 18 months then after their removal into hiding, the bones of Saints Peter and Paul were returned to their respective shrines. For extra security, however, St. Peter’s bones were placed in a marble-lined repository in a new wall (soon covered with ‘graffiti’) built at the time to jut out from the Red Wall and hard by St. Peter’s 2nd century ‘trophy’. Below the high altar of St. Peter’s the bones now lay some two feet to one side and five feet above the original grave and there they remained – until 1942. But what had happened in 1942? How come the four official archaeologists had found hardly anything in the marble repository in the Graffiti Wall? 10
In his notarised affidavit of 7 January 1965, the foreman Giovanni Segoni described what had happened. Very early in 1942, a day or so after the archaeologists had first uncovered the Graffiti Wall, Segoni had accompanied Msgr. Kaas on his routine evening round of inspection prior to locking the site up for the night. They saw the newly uncovered opening to the marble-lined repository, and Kaas asked Segoni if he could see anything inside. Segoni stooped
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...