Thursday, November 02, 2006

Papal Tombs

Earlier on this evening Pope Benedict XVI descended to the Grottoes beneath St Peter's Basilica to pray for those interred there and elsewhere in the Basilica, most of whom preceeded him as Pope.

However not all of those buried in the Basilica were the successors of St Peter. The great church also holds the tombs of a diverse range of people including members of Europe's royalty. Chief amongst these are two Queens - Charlotte of Cyprus and Christina of Sweden - the Emperor Otto II and a number of the descendants the last Stuart King of Great Britain, James II, who was deposed in 1688.

Of course most of those interred in St Peter's are clergymen. Notable amongst those who were not popes is Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val, who served as Secretary of State to Pope St Pius X. The Cardinal requested that he be buried close to his master and for some years his request was fulfilled until Pius' remains were relocated to the Presentation Chapel in the main basilica at the time of his canonisation in 1954.

Interesting also is the tomb of Monsignor Ludwig Kaas who served as a member of the Reichstag during the period of the Weimar Republic and who, as President of the Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum), was instrumental in supporting the passage of the March 1933 Enabling Act which gave the German Government (now headed by Adolf Hitler) the power to pass laws without the need for majority support in the Reichstag for four years.

Yet most visitors are drawn to the papal tombs. The basilica contains the tombs of all of the popes of what might be described as the modern period (1800-) except those of Pius IX, who is buried (properly, exposed in a glass altar) in the Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls and Leo XIII, who is buried in the Patriarchal Lateran Basilica which is the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome. Of most interest nowadays seem to be the tombs of John Paul II and John XXIII. John Paul II's resting place is in the same location as John XXIII's originally, except that the former is buried in the earth while the latter's remains were housed within a sarcophagus. A few months after his beatification in 2000, John XXIII's remains were rehoused in a new glass-fronted sarcophagus under the Altar of St Jerome in the main Basilica.

No comments: