.- Pope Francis made a private visit to the tomb of St. Peter on the afternoon of Easter Monday to spend time in prayer before the remains of the first pontiff.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, his secretary Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, and two archeologists responsible for the excavations accompanied the Pope to St. Peter’s tomb in the Necropolis, a series of burial sites beneath the basilica.
St. Peter headed the Christian Church after Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Peter was martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero in the year 64 on Rome’s Vatican hill. He was crucified upside down at his own request because he said he was not worthy to die as Jesus did.
In 1965 archaeologists working on the Necropolis said they found the bones of St. Peter near an ancient Greek inscription that said “Peter is here.”
Monday marked Pope Francis’ second visit to St. Peter’s tomb, and according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi it was the first time a Pope visited the excavations.
After visiting the place where St. Peter is buried, Pope Francis went to the Clementine Chapel, the place closest to the burial site, where he spent time in silent prayer and a “deep and moving moment of reflection,” Fr. Lombardi said.
The tombs of many of the Popes from the 20th century are located in a crypt on the level above the excavations, so he also paid his respects there before leaving.
The entire visit, which began at 5:00 p.m., lasted about 45 minutes.
As he left the excavation, Pope Francis greeted the personnel on duty and return to his apartment at St. Martha’s House on foot.
Updated at 12:40 p.m. Rome time. Adds details about group accompanying Pope, comments from Fr. Lombardi.