The Scavi: discovering the tomb of the Rock

I am currently in Rome on pilgrimage, which is always a bit of a homecoming, since I was blessed to have the opportunity to study in the city twice.  I’m often asked by people traveling to the Eternal City what they should absolutely see when they’re there. (This is often asked by people who have not dedicated enough time to the city; trying to see Rome in a day or two is impossible.)

It’s a difficult question for me to answer—the places I would list would either be the obvious ones you’ll find on most tourist lists (the four major basilicas, the Vatican Museums, the Flavian Amphitheater) or places that I would want to take you myself, so I could show you what you needed to see.

Actually, any place I tell you to go in Rome I would want to take you myself, because it’s too easy to miss something (table of the Last Supper, anyone? How many people miss that in the Basilica of John Lateran?) or because you’ll probably have some silly guide who tells you something absurd, like that no martyrs died in the Colosseum.

There is one place, however, I would always recommend to someone visiting the Rome—something that often escapes the tourist lists, and a place where most of the guides are pretty legit (I’ve only had one bad one, and that was almost ten years ago).

The Scavi.

The Scavi refers to the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica. Only about 200 people get to go down there each day, so I recommend emailing the office a few months in advance and then praying like crazy.

While I can’t go into every detail about the Scavi, I highly recommend John Walsh’s book The Bones of Peter, which is the definitive book on the gripping story surrounding the excavations.  George Weigel also dedicated a chapter in his book Letters to a Young Catholic to a portion of the story (reprinted here: The Scavi of St. Peter’s and the Grittiness of Catholicism). Continue reading

  • Joannie Watson is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville.
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