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Tombe dei Papi

The Tombs of the Popes (Tombe dei Papi), lie beneath St Peter's Basilica. The entrance to the Sacred Vatican Grottoes is unobtrusive, hidden to the right of the central nave, on one of the corner's facing Bernini's enormous bronze canopy, the Baldocchino. To be fair, Bernini's 26-metre high Baroque extravaganza does rather draw the eye. A tiny flight of steps lead, through a small door, downstairs. This vast underground crypt is the final resting place to scores of pontiffs (others are buried elsewhere in St Peter's or in other churches around Rome).

The late John Paul II was interred here in 2005. His body lies in a simple cypress wood coffin inside two others - one zinc and one oak. This is very close to the Tomb of St Peter himself (tradition has it that the first pope was buried here, though a disinterment of bones found in the 1930s was inconclusive, to put it mildly). The last pope took the place of John XXIII, who was moved to a chapel in 2001, following his beatification. Nearby are other 20th century popes, including John Paul I, Paul VI, Pius XI, Pius XII and Benedict XV. Some European royals are also buried here, including Queen Cristina of Sweden.


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