The Grotte Vaticane (“Vatican Grottoes”) are located below St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The grottoes contain a number of chapels dedicated to various saints. The main attractions, however, are the tombs of a number of kings, queens and popes. The entrance is near the high altar, inside the basilica itself.
Vatican Grottoes Rome
The Grotte Vaticane are open every day. The entrance is in the transept of the basilica itself. Opening hours April-September: 07:00 to 18:00. Opening hours October to March: 07:00 to 17:00.
History and description
The Grotte Vaticane are located about three metres below the floor of the current basilica. Actually, they are not caves but rather the former nave of the ancient, 4th century basilica.
They extend from the main altar to about halfway up the central nave. This is because the old basilica was naturally a lot smaller than the current version of the church.
What to see
Tomb of Saint Peter
The holiest place is the sepulchre of Saint Peter himself. Here there is an aedicula built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. In 1940, people started searching for the saint’s burial place. It was found in 1950, but it took years before people were convinced that the bones were really those of Saint Peter.
One of the side chapels surrounding the apse features a fresco created by 14th-century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. Because of a swelling on Mary’s face, the painting is called “Madonna della Bocciata”. According to tradition, a drunken soldier had thrown one of his bocce (balls used in the Italian version of pétanque) at the image, causing the swelling. Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have their tombs in this chapel.
One of the artistic highlights in the Grotte Vaticane is the Arnolfo di Cambio-made tomb of Pope Boniface VIII. This pope is famous for two reasons. He was the first pope (in the year 1300) to organise a Jubilee (“Holy Year”), and he was the victim of what has become known as the “Slap of Anagni“.