Relics of The Fisherman unveiled: Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

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The nine pieces of bone sat nestled like rings in a jewel box inside a bronze display case on the side of the altar during a Mass commemorating the end of the Vatican’s yearlong celebration of the Christian faith. It was the first time they had ever been exhibited in public.

Pope Francis prayed before the fragments at the start of Sunday’s service and then clutched the case in his arms for several minutes after his homily. (AP)

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Editor’s note: For people of true faith, such evidence isn’t really necessary. For all the others, no amount of evidence is sufficient.

Suggested reading (FREE on-line): 

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The Bones of St. Peter
The First Full Account of the Search for the Apostle’s Body
by John Evangelist Walsh 

When the man named Simon Peter was brutally executed, some 1,915 years ago in Rome, there passed away one of that small band of historical personalities who deserve to rank as monumental. In history’s roll of the great in all fields – religionists, statesmen, philosophers, conquerors, educators, scientists – few others can have lived a life similarly fraught, for so long, with such constant, portentous drama. Beginning so obscurely, so humbly, was anyone before or since ever burdened with so weighty and improbable a task? Assuredly, no other has continued, ages after the earth closed over him, to command such deep regard among living multitudes, generation after endless generation.

In the minds – and hearts – of many people it is no small thing that some part of the mortal remains of this man, through whose living body there flowed the power from Jesus to heal the sick and raise the dead, may still be in existence. Even if he is viewed, as in this case he should be, not in a religious context but simply as the first leader of a movement which was to become a world-altering revolution, the question of the survival of his remains still exerts a powerful fascination. And for just over a decade now, precisely that claim has confronted the world.

In the summer of 1968 it was announced by Pope Paul VI that the skeletal remains of St. Peter had at last been found and satisfactorily identified. The revered bones had been unearthed some time before, he said, from the tangle of ancient structures that lay deep beneath the magnificent high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Paul was careful to explain that his statement rested on long and intensive study by experts, but then he deliberately went further, adding the weight of his own prestige. In light of the archaeological and scientific conclusions, he said, “the relics of St. Peter have been identified in a manner which we believe convincing … very patient and accurate investigations were made with a result which we believe positive.” Firmly persuaded as he was, he had felt it nothing less than a duty to make “this happy announcement” at the earliest possible moment.

The circumstance hat the bones were found under the basilica occasioned no great surprise, since the age-old tradition of the church had always located the original grave of the apostle just here. Yet to find that after so achingly long a time, and against all reasonable expectation, some part of this precious body should still be preserved, seemed incredible, a fit occasion for rejoicing. The day following the Pope’s announcement, in solemn ceremony led by Paul himself, the bones were restored to their ancient resting place. Since then, privileged visitors have regularly been allowed to enter the small, silent chamber beneath the high altar to pay homage to the Prince of the Apostles. Through a narrow opening in the repository, the bones themselves encased in several transparent receptacles, are just visible.

In releasing his statement, Paul had purposely kept to the essentials of the matter, leaving the details to be supplied to journalists and others by Vatican officials and those directly concerned in the discovery. When the full story reached print, however, in newspapers around the world, there was immediate and widespread puzzlement. In place of clarification there arose annoying clouds of confusion. At fault, to a large degree, was the intricate mass of archaeological data to be absorbed. But far more significant was a single hugely surprising fact: the bones had not been recently discovered, as the Pope had seemed to imply. On the contrary, they had first been found nearly thirty years before.

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Summer reading suggestion: The Bones of St. Peter-The First Full Account of the Search for the Apostle’s Body

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A reviewer at Amazon writes:

5.0 out of 5 stars A most exciting find for lovers of Christianity, April 23, 2008
I have taken a “Scavi” (excavation) tour of the necropolis under Saint Peter’s basilica. Relatively few tourists are afforded this pleasure, some might say “grace,” but it is one of the most staggering experiences of my life, and was over much too quickly. To tread the very soil that was Vatican Hill 2000 years ago was a privilege and awe-inspiring.

But once the tour is over, the doubts begin to arise. Just what did I see? How do we know that this is Saint Peter’s very tomb? Walsh’s book answers many of these questions, and more. Through the book, you will learn the history of the internment of Saint Peter, or at least what can be gleaned from the evidence. From a poorly-marked 1st-century criminal’s grave to a 2nd-century “trophy” or victory marker, to a more ornate altar structure once Christianity was legalized, the location of Saint Peter’s purported Have been tracked with some care since his martyr’s death circa 64 AD. The first basilica, raised in the 4th century over the site, filled in the Roman necropolis where he lay, sealing off the site for centuries. By the time this crumbling structure was razed and the current St. Peter’s was built in the 16th century, the existence of St. Peter’s tomb seemed little more than a legend. Walsh details the refinding of the necropolis in the late 1930s, and the digging that eventually uncovered the tomb and St. Peter’s remains. Walsh is at his most fascinating when describing the attempts of Professor Margherita Guarducci to decipher the graffiti scratched into a wall near the tomb. By carefully noting how certain letters ere written, written over, and connected with lines, she could unravel the accumulated messages left by pilgrims of the first centuries of the Christian Church. She identified several occurrences of graffiti in which the letter P was drawn with an E emerging from its upright — representing both the first letters of Peter (Latin, “Petrus”) and also resembling the key to the kingdom entrusted to him by the Lord.

A fascinating and informative look at a little known, very important and under-appreciated historical and religious site.

Buy it at Amazon, or click here to read it on line for free

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