It was a very busy day today with a visit to the Church of St. Ignatius, the Rooms of Ignatius, The Scavi (excavations) underneath St. Peter’s, then Church of the Gesu and the Jesuit Curia.
Kevin Fitzgerald, S.J., celebrated Mass for us in the room where Saint Ignatius died after we toured the four rooms of his residence and where he worked.
We had the privilege of visiting the Scavi in three small groups. What we know today as St. Peter’s Basilica was, in the time of Ignatius, referred to as the “New St. Peter’s” to distinguish it from the old basilica (also called St. Peter’s), built by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, over what people at the time were convinced was the site where Peter was buried. By the mid-fifteenth century, the old St. Peter’s was in a sorry state of repair and the decision was made to build a new basilica. The new building would take 120 years to finish, would need the attention of 20 popes and 10 different architects, would include the world’s largest dome and necessitate very, very strong foundations.
In 1939, when preparations were being made to bury Pope Pius XI in the crypt under St. Peter’s, workmen discovered some tombs that, upon further investigation, seemed to be part of a larger necropolis “city of the dead.” Pope Pius XII authorized the start of a full-scale archaeological excavation which continued for many decades.
It was discovered that there had been a vast pagan burial ground on Vatican Hill and, at some point in time, Christians began to be buried there as well. More importantly, the excavations initiated a search for evidence that St. Peter was buried there, too. Archaeological findings yield probabilities rather than certainties but reputable scientific opinion today holds that the excavations do hold evidence of the mortal remains of the first pope, the apostle Peter.
Ignatius would envy us this opportunity because he had a special devotion to St. Peter and as a very young man had composed a poem in honor of St. Peter.
At the Jesuit Curia we met Fr. Ina Echarte, S.J., Secretary General of the Society of Jesus and Fr. Lisbert D’Souza, S.J., who is the assistant to Father General for South Asia who presented a global overview of Jesuit works and priorities. We were given a special tour of the community chapel and an opportunity to view the city of Rome from the roof top. As we were leaving, we had a chance meeting with the Superior General of the Society, Father Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., who was returning from a day of meetings.
Fr. Ina Echarte, S.J., showing us the new mosaic in the community chapel at the Jesuit Curia. This depiction of the Annunciation was created by distinguished Jesuit mosaic artist Marko Rupnik, S.J. He is best know for creating the mosaics in the Vatican Chapel for Pope John Paul II.