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A burial chamber in the Via Triumphalis Necropolis at the Vatican (CNS/Pablo Esparza)

In the month Catholics traditionally honour the dead, the Vatican Museums opened a new entrance to an ancient necropolis where carved marble sarcophagi sit near open graves filled with bones. Source: CNS.

In the Via Triumphalis Necropolis, some of the tombs and cremation urns have the person’s name on them. Others also include the person’s age or occupation.

But when the only physical evidence of the person’s life and existence are skeletal remains, examining them and returning them to their final resting place is the best way to honour them, said Giandomenico Spinola, an archaeologist and deputy artistic-scientific director of the museums.

Vatican construction in the 1950s indicated there were graves in the area. But the necropolis, which is not connected to the ancient Christian burial ground under St Peter’s Basilica, really came to light in 2003 when the Vatican was digging for a new multilevel parking garage for employees.

With funding from the Canadian chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, it was opened to the public in 2013. But access was limited to groups taking a package tour of the museums.

Barbara Jatta, director of the museums, said increased interest in the necropolis along with an expected increase in visitors for the Holy Year 2025 led to the decision to allow visitors direct access to the burial grounds on Friday afternoons and all day on Saturdays. The new entrance is through the parking garage.

The burial ground was used from the first century BC to the fourth century AD. 

Ms Jatta told reporters the excavation is “unique” because “it tells the story of burials but also of lives,” especially of people in Rome’s lower and middle classes, which usually were not preserved. 


Honoring the dead: Vatican Museums expand access to necropolis (By Cindy Wooden, CNS via USCCB)