Associated Press in Vatican City
theguardian.com, Sunday 24 November 2013
The Vatican has publicly unveiled bone fragments purportedly belonging to Saint Peter, reviving the scientific debate and tantalising mystery over whether the relics found in a shoe box truly belong to the first pope.
The nine pieces of bone sat nestled like rings in a jewel box inside a bronze display case on the side of the altar during a mass commemorating the end of the Vatican’s year-long celebration of the Christian faith. It was the first time they had ever been exhibited in public.
Pope Francis prayed before the fragments at the start of Sunday’s service and clutched the case in his arms for several minutes after his homily.
No pope has ever definitively declared the fragments to belong to the apostle Peter, but Pope Paul VI in 1968 said fragments found in the necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica were “identified in a way that we can consider convincing”.
Some archaeologists dispute the finding.
The relics were discovered during excavations begun under St Peter’s Basilica in the years following the death in 1939 of Pope Pius XI, who had asked to be buried in the grottoes where dozens of popes are buried, according to the 2012 book by veteran Vatican correspondent Bruno Bartoloni, The Ears of the Vatican.
During the excavations, archaeologists discovered a funerary monument with a casket built in honour of Peter and an engraving in Greek that read “Petros eni”, or “Peter is here”.
The scholar of Greek antiquities Margherita Guarducci, who had deciphered the engraving, continued to investigate and learned that one of the basilica workers had been given the remains found inside the casket and stored them in a shoe box kept in a cupboard. She reported her findings to Paul VI, who later proclaimed there was a convincing argument that the bones belonged to Peter.
Leading Vatican Jesuits and other archaeologists strongly denied the claim, but had little recourse.
“No pope had ever permitted an exhaustive study, partly because a 1,000-year-old curse attested by secret and apocalyptic documents, threatened anyone who disturbed the peace of Peter’s tomb with the worst possible misfortune,” Bartoloni wrote.
The Vatican newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, published excerpts of the book last year, giving his account a degree of official sanction.
In 1971, Paul VI was given an urn containing the relics, which were kept inside the private papal chapel inside the apostolic palace and exhibited for the pope’s private veneration every 29 June, for the feast of saints Peter and Paul. Sunday marked the first time they were shown in public.