Monday, March 06, 2006

What Lies Beneath

The Scavi of St. Peter's and the Grittiness of Catholicism

by George Weigel, from Chapter 2 of Letters to a Young Catholic:
The remarkable sites beneath St. Peter's are known today as the scavi (excavations). A walk through them is a walk into some important truths about what it means to be a Catholic...

Digging under the papal high altar of the basilica was something like peeling an onion or opening one of those nested Russian matrushka dolls. Eventually the excavators found a shrine, the Tropaion (the Greek word for trophy or victory monument): a classic structure with columns supporting what may have been an altar, surmounted by a pediment. The floor of the Tropaion, which has an opening delineating the boundaries of the grave over which the monument was built, defined the level of the floor of Constantine's basilica. At the back of the Tropaion was a red wall; exposed to the elements, it began to crack, necessitating the construction of a buttressing wall to support the whole structure. When archaeologists unearthed the buttressing wall, they found it covered with graffiti. And it contained a secret, marble-lined repository. One piece of graffiti, decoded, seemed to say, "Peter is [here!]"
I long to visit Rome and the Scavi one day...

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