Tucked away between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican is a centuries-old cemetery filled with gorgeous greenery and beautiful Catholic art called the Teutonic Cemetery.

Some of the grave markers in the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Lauren Cater/Catholic News Agency

Some of the grave markers in the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Lauren Cater/Catholic News Agency

Named for the Teutons, an archaic term for Germanic peoples, the cemetery grounds used to be the site of the Circus of Nero, where many early Christians were martyred – some by crucifixion.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, the cemetery was founded around the year 799, when Pope Leo IV presented the land to Charlemagne, the first western Emperor after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

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In 1450, many pilgrims flocked to Rome for the Holy Year jubilee. Although the grounds were in bad shape at the time, German members of the Curia formed the confraternity of the cemetery in 1454 in order to preserve it.

In the late 15th century a Germanic style Church was erected on the grounds, and in 1597 the confraternity became known as the “Archconfraternity of Our Lady,” which still owns the cemetery foundation today.

In 1876 a residence was built on the grounds for the college of priests studying Christian archaeology, church history and other similar fields. In 1888 the Roman Institute of the Goerres Society took up residence there with a library of around 35,000 books. Priests still study at the college today and the library is one of the most impressive in Rome, with an estimated 50,000 volumes.

The walls surrounding the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Petrik Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

The walls surrounding the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Petrik Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

Although it is a coveted burial place due to its proximity to St. Peter’s, burial in the cemetery is reserved for members of the confraternity, and for others belonging to German religious houses such as the Santa Maria del Anima of which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a member.

In a video by Rome Reports, the current rector of the confraternity and the cemetery Fr Hans-Peter Fischer said before he was elected Pope, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass every morning with the Santa Maria community.

Cemetery Rector, Father Hans Peter Fischer. Credit: Petrick Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

Cemetery Rector, Father Hans Peter Fischer. Credit: Petrick Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

Other famous members of German religious houses buried in the cemetery include:

Josef Anton Koch, landscape painter (+ 1839)

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Ludwig Curtius, archaeologist (+ 1954)

Johann Baptist Anzer, first missionary bishop of the Divine Word Missionaries (+ 1903)

Joseph Spithöver, key promoter of German culture in Rome during the 19th century (+ 1870)

Stefan Andrei, writer (+ 1970)

Johann Martin von Wagner, archaeologist and artist (+ 1858)

Anton de Waal, first rector of the College (+ 1917)

Engelbert Kirschbaum, S.J., Archaeologist, key colleague in the discovery of Peter’s tomb (+ 1970)

Card. Gustavo von Hohenlohe (+ 1896)

Augustin Theiner, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives (+ 1874).

Looking down into the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Petrik Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

Looking down into the Teutonic cemetery. Credit: Petrik Bohumil/Catholic News Agency.

The cemetery underwent renovations for much of the 20th century and is open daily to the public for prayer. It serves as a reminder to Germanic pilgrims of their long-held ties with the Holy See. In November, the Church especially prays for those who have died, and from November 1-8 faithful can gain one plenary indulgence each day for souls in purgatory by prayerfully visiting a cemetery.

Let us pray for those buried in the Teutonic cemetery, and for all the faithful departed, that their souls through the mercy of God may rest in peace.