THE BONES OF ST. PETER by Walsh John Evangelist


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A careful, lucid account of excavations beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome--though readers not addicted to archaeological mystery stories may find it slow going. Walsh is a senior editor at Reader's Digest with no special background in this field; but he's done an admirable job of boiling down a mass of technical reports and learned articles into a relatively simple narrative. Walsh argues that the body of St. Peter (crucified upside down during the reign of Nero) was buried in a pagan cemetery in a site that now lies directly beneath the high altar of the basilica. The precise spot where the bones were found was (literally) a hole in a wall. The skeleton was certified as belonging to a robust male of between 60 and 70 years, now dead for 17-19 centuries (no precise dating is possible), and lacking a head--which was fine as far as the devout excavators were concerned, since Peter's skull is believed to be in St. John Lateran, the pope's episcopal church. Along with the bones, fragments of rare purple cloth were found, testifying to quasi-royal honors accorded the dead man. The Vatican, leaning on the voluminous testimony of Dr. Margherita Guarducci, a Roman archaeologist, is convinced it's found the Prince of the Apostles, and so is Walsh. But doubts remain: the place where Peter's bones should have been, according to tradition, actually contained a jumble of human and animal bones, and so Walsh is forced to imagine that Pope Sylvester, who knew the real location, deceived Constantine--and in the long run everyone else--about it. Some may wonder why St. Peter's bones are so important to begin with--but given an enthusiasm akin to Walsh's, it makes for a curious tale indeed.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday