The Vatican Grottoes
The Vatican Grottoes is the vast underground graveyard below St. Peter’s Basilica. A grotto is basically a cave of artificial or natural origin that is used by people, usually for burial purposes. This is the place that houses the tombs of several popes and saints. In fact, the Vatican Grottoes is the burial place of 91 popes and some other church dignitaries such as cardinals dating back to the 10th century and onwards. In addition the grottoes also include some tombs of secular monarchs such as the tomb of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus, the tomb of the Stuarts, and the tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden. The grottoes are located above the necropolis where you can find the holy tomb of St Peter the fisherman, the first bishop of Rome (Pope).
Some of the tombs, rooms, chapels, and structures encompassed in the Vatican Grottoes include: The Chapel of St Peter (the Clementine Chapel) various Peribolos, the tomb of John Paul the II. Archeological Rooms, Madonna Dolorosa and the Doctors of the Church, the Funerary Monument of Calixtus III, and a Marble Statue of St Peter Enthroned, among hundreds of others. There is a fresco in one of the chapels close to the apse painted by the painter Pietro Cavallini in the 14th century. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata” ,the name refers to the Madonna's swollen face. According to an old story, a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls and as a result her face started to bleed.
There are more than one hundred tombs within St. Peter’s Basilica and most of these tombs are within the Vatican Grottoes (beneath St. Peter’s Basilica). Therefore the Vatican Grottoes are one of the most visited places of the Vatican City. Millions of tourists visit the Vatican Grottoes every year just to have a look at the papal tombs and chapels dedicated to different popes and saints. Seeing some of the Popes sarcophaguses you can actually imagine what they looked like. Some of the tombs are very interesting as we can learn from them a lot about the person buried inside and what his contemporaries thought about him. If you can tour the grottoes with someone who reads Latin this can prove very handy because it is also very interesting to read the inscriptions on the tombs.
Weaving through the Vatican Grottoes can take you the whole day. You can enter the grottoes near the elevator kiosks for the dome. There is an entry fee and if you happen to be there during the time of a conclave please note that the grottoes are closed to the public at this time. You can also take a guided tour where the guide will take you through the monuments and tombs with great detail. The place is full of fascinating tombs and sarcophagus, tunnels, chambers and Italian art. The Vatican Grottoes is one of the highlights of any Vatican tour and it will leave you yearning for another visit to the place.