This Sunday we are keeping the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul – formative leaders of the New Testament Church who were both martyred in Rome. You may have visited one or both of the great Basilicas in Rome – St. Peter at the Vatican or, perhaps, St. Paul Outside the Walls. Both basilicas were originally founded by the Emperor Constantine, but it is St. Peter’s Basilica that is the most remarkable from an archaeological perspective, in my opinion.
According to tradition, St. Peter was martyred during the reign of the Emperor Nero sometime between 64 and 67 AD at the Circus of Nero. Tradition also holds that he was crucified upside down. Next to the Circus was a Necropolis or ‘City of the Dead’ which contained many tombs for the people of Rome. Peter was buried there in a simple tomb with a little red wall next to it.
When Constantine built the first basilica, he did so in order that the tomb of Peter would be under the apse where the altar and the Bishop’s Chair and bench for the Deacons would have been found. The Necropolis was filled in and the Church built on top. Over the centuries the original basilica was replaced with larger buildings and a new crypt to be the burial place of the popes. Thereby comes the fascinating archaeological anomaly that lay hidden for centuries.
Between 1940 and 1949, during the Second World War, Pope Pius XII secretly authorized the excavation of the Necropolis beneath the Basilica. An extraordinary find was made – the streets of the old Necroplis, once above ground but now subterranean, had been preserved in perfect condition. They also discovered little houses with frescoes and mosaics, and the urns containing the ashes, and the sarcophagi containing the bodies of those long dead under Constantine’s altar. Now (curiously and almost unbelievably), hanging between the lower part of the current Basilica and the Necropolis is Peter’s tomb.
We know it is Peter’s tomb because of the graffiti that covers the little wall around it. Bones were found but they were clearly not Peter’s. However, nearby, in an opening, human bones were found with fragments of cloth with gold and purple thread, suggesting that this was an important person who had been buried. It is thought that Peter’s remains must have been removed for safe keeping. Could these be his remains? Another remarkable fact is that the bones are of a large man, but most striking is the fact that there are no bones beneath the ankle. There are many bones in the human ankle and the foot, so for there to have been no bones there is puzzling. That brings us back to Peter being crucified upside down and how a Roman soldier would get the corpse off such an upside-down cross by using his sword to cut down the body. Could these be the bones of Peter? My guide to the Necropolis many years ago smiled and then showed the small group I was with (only about a dozen people are allowed to enter this fragile archaeological site at any one time) the graffiti surrounding the tomb. The graffiti has the Greek letters Chi-Rho, a cypher for the name of CHRist. Attached to the Chi-Rho are the first letters of Peter’s name, and two words in Greek – ‘death’ and ‘life’. My guide smiled as he said, “We think that this graffiti means, ‘Do not be afraid of death; Peter will lead you to Christ, who is life.’ And isn’t that more important than if these are the bones of Peter?”
See you on Sunday,
Your Priest and Pastor
Pride March 2019
Please note that the Pride March route this year has been changed and there will be no access difficulties getting to Saint Thomas Church.
If you want to see the route, please follow this link.
Our Bishops and members of the Episcopal Diocese are gathering at the Church of the Transfiguration, 1 E. 29th St. New York, NY 10016 at 2pm before joining the march should any parishioners wish to participate.
Please note that the Parish Office will be closed on Thursday, July 4 and Friday, July 5. Shrine Prayers will be offered at 12 noon and there will be one celebration of the Eucharist each day at 12:10 pm. There will be no Bible Study on Friday, July 5.
On Sunday, July 7, we will sing the National Anthem at the end of the 11 am mass.
BBC Radio 3 Broadcast
We were delighted to discover that the BBC broadcast an archive recording of Choral Evensong from Saint Thomas Church on Wednesday, June 26 with Gerre Hancock directing the choir and Judith Hancock playing the Arents Organ. The recording was first broadcast on July 24, 1987 and you will hear the voice of Father John Andrew who led the service. The recording is available ‘on-demand’ for the next month and you can listen to it by following this link.