Clementine Chapel

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The Clementine Chapel also known as La Clementina is a particular enclosed Roman Catholic chapel located within the underground necropolitan grottoes of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. According to Catholic tradition, reinforced by the Vatican's interpretation of archaeological investigations in the 20th century, the area is the actual site where Saint Peter the Apostle was invertedly crucified and his blood was shed to the ground; Saint Peter's tomb is nearby.

Open today for pilgrims, the site is encased in the gilded altar decorated with lapis lazuli is the original pavonazzo marble chest which contained the bones believed to belong to Saint Peter. The chest no longer contains bones, but it is still considered by Catholic pilgrims to be the holiest part of the archeological basilica, formally excavated in the 1930s under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.


The altar structure of the chapel was formally consecrated in 1123 by Pope Callixtus II. The chapel is named in honor of Pope Clement VIII, who used the chapel as his oratory and donated funds to install various religious mosaics preserved today. It is one of the two main untouched areas of the original St. Peter's Basilica, along with the chapel of the Niche of the Pallia.[1] A notable feature of the chapel are the ornate bronze sculptures located in the chapel commemorating certain biblical scenes, along with its gilded cage in the central altar.

According to a direct tour and interview granted to History Channel by the Archpriest of the Basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the chapel is the holiest site in the basilica, and the prime reason why the basilica was constructed in the first place. The area was once called Vatican Hill in honor of the ancient Etruscan worship of the pagan deity Vatica, the goddess of the dead, as the area was once used as a Roman cemetery.[2]

The chapel itself was formally commissioned in 1939 when Pope Pius XII sought the burial place for Pope Pius XI. The workers appointed to excavate the burial found the area marked with graffiti dating from the early Apostolic Age, particularly a Greek inscription that reads Petros Eni (English: Here is Peter). A small niche was noted where the original purple and gold pouch containing the remains of a mid-60-year-old male is believed to be the bones of Saint Peter. Pope Paul VI publicly confirmed the authenticity of the site on Christmas day, 1968 after painstaking research and archaeological excavation. The chapel itself is adjacent to the present niche will houses and displays the bones of Saint Peter, thereby the site correlating to the main present altar of St. Peter's Basilica today.

Cardinal Archpriest Angelo Comastri noted in his interview that the original niche where the chest was found is not the Clementine chapel, but a separate underground floor in the Vatican Necropolis approximately 40 feet nearby the chapel itself, and is marked by Latin and Greek graffitis next to a small niche where the chest was originally discovered. The site is untouched to this day and is undergoing possible restoration. The Clementine Chapel supersedes the ancient underground grottoes which are above the Roman cemeteries where many early Christians were buried.[3]

Similarly, the bones believed to be those of Saint Peter are now presently enshrined at the underground balcony, below Gian Lorenzo Bernini's canopy, and under Michelangelo Buonarroti's dome. The present bones are not contained in the original stone chest and it is not the same as the Clementine chapel, but it is off-limits to the touring public, while the chapel itself remains open to visitors.


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  2. ^ Vatican Cardinal Angelo Comastri (2011). Secret Access: The Vatican [Citta del Vaticano] (Color, NTSC DVD) (Video) (in English and Italian). Vatican City, Rome, Italy: History Channel. Event occurs at 94 minutes. Retrieved June 2, 2012. This is the holiest site in the Basilica, where the Apostle Peter was crucified and his blood shed to the ground. 
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