Vatican banishes tourists from St Peter's tomb
Vatican officials have announced that the tomb of St Peter will be closed to visitors for the foreseeable future because of damage caused by humidity.
An estimated 30 million tourists and pilgrims have visited Rome during the Holy Year, which ends tomorrow. Almost all those who come to Rome visit St Peter's Basilica and many make their way down a curving flight of steps beneath the baldacchino, or canopy, designed by Bernini, into a sunken area known as the confessio, built over what is traditionally regarded as St Peter's last resting place.
St Peter is known to have been buried in AD 64 in the pagan cemetery near what was then Nero's Circus (now St Peter's Square), where he was crucified. A small marble monument was erected over the spot in the 2nd century, followed by a much larger marble and porphyry tomb when Emperor Constantine built the first St Peter's Basilica in the 4th century.
At the end of the Holy Year of 1950, the Pope announced the discovery of more than 20 painted tombs, including one believed to be that of St Peter.
Visitors have been able to peer through a gilded grille to the mosaic and bronze floor that lies over the tomb, with groups of 15 at a time entering the necropolis beneath. But Vatican officials say that not even selected visitors such as scholars will be allowed into the tombs in future because of the danger of damage through humidity, damp, saline encrustations and microbiological phenomena.