Roman Catholic tradition maintains that Peter is buried beneath the magnificent structure in Rome which bears his name-Saint Peter’s Basilica. Although the New Testament does not report a visit of Peter to Rome, there is historical evidence that he spent at least part of the latter portion of his life there. There are also extra-biblical references (such as the Acts of Peter) and numerous references in the writings of second and third-century church scholars which confirm that Peter died in Rome. Eusebius gives A.D. 68 as the approximate date of Peter’s death. The early Christian apologists Tertullian and Origen state that Peter was executed by crucifixion head-downwards in Rome. They say that he was one of thousands of Christians who died under Emperor Nero’s persecution. In all probability, Peter was executed at the Neronian Gardens, where the estate of the Vatican is now located. According to Tertullian and Origen, Peter was buried nearby at that foot of Vatican Hill. Gaius of Rome (third century A.D.) mentions this grave.
It is said that Peter’s remains were taken to a vault on the Appian Way when Emperor Valerian began his persecution of the Christians (A.D. 258). There his bones rested with those of Paul, safe from the emperor’s threatened desecration of Christian burial grounds. Later, Peter’s remains were returned to their original grave, and in about A.D. 325 Constantine erected a magnificent basilica over the location at the foot of Vatican Hill. This basilica was replaced by the present Saint Peter’s Basilica in the sixteenth century.
For many centuries, Saint Peter’s Basilica has been the most highly revered shrine in the Western world. Thousands of worshipers journey to Rome each year to pray over the spot where Peter is said to be buried. However, in recent years scholars have challenged the claim that Peter is buried beneath the basilica. Vatican archaeologists made several excavations in the early 1960s to investigate the centuries-old claim. They found a first-century Roman cemetery with one hastily dug grave that might have been Peter’s. The Vatican researchers felt this was a reasonable conclusion.
Gaius wrote that the tombs of the apostles were close to the Vatican, cn the road to Ostia; this suggests another possible site.