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The last television programme of the course is about the excavations carried out under the great church of St. Peter in Rome during the 1940's and 50' s. Only a small part of the Roman necropolis, ...the city of the dead, which covers the slopes of the Vatican hill has been excavated. It is one of the most exciting and, at the same time, least known of the archaeological sites in Rome. It can never be opened to the general public because of the confined space among the tombs and delicacy of the paintings, mosaics and stucco work. The ancient tradition says that the bones of St. Peter lie buried on the Vatican hill and it was to enshrine St. Peter's grave that the Emperor Constantine erected the first great basilica there. The aim of the archaeologists was to carry out the first scientific excavation of the area beneath the High Altar and to find out what lay behind this traditional belief. What they found is to be seen in this programme. In the first part of the programme Dr. Clark concentrates on the pagan tombs of the second and third centuries, which provide valuable evidence as to the burial customs and the religious beliefs of the ordinary people in that period. The tombs are often exquisitely decorated and, together with the sarcophagi and other objects which have been found, are of great interest to the art historian. They also provide a few but significant indications of the gradual penetration of Christianity into the Roman world. Set in the midst of the jumble of ancient tombs and later masonry is the fascinating archaeological riddle of the Shrine of St. Peter, Dr. Ward-Perkins, who is the author of a well known book on this subject, describes what has been found under the High Altar. This is a highly complex site which has been altered and built over several times during the last 1600 years. Dr. Ward Perkins description, aided by plans and animations, is a model of lucid exposition. His interpretation of the evidence and final conclusion makes it a fascinating story. This programme will be of interest to students of the Roman Empire and of the history of the Early Church. It should also appeal to a general audience.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: A291, The early Roman empire and the rise of Christianity
Item code: A291; 08
First transmission date: 02-10-1974
Published: 1974
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:25:00
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Producer: Mary Hoskins
Contributors: Francis Clark; John Ward-Perkins
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Archaeology; Roman necropolis
Footage description: Moving shot of white line in centre of roadway, tilting up to St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. Titles over. Francis Clark introduces the programme summarizing the history of the church building on the site. Montage of aerial and ground shots of St. Peters and surrounding areas. A diagram shows the awkward, sloping terrain on which the present Basilica is built. Shots of Isola Sacra cemetery near the port of Rome illustrate the kind of existing cemetery which was covered by the works. Next sequence shows the excavations that have revealed the concrete necropolis below the level of the crypt beneath St. Peter's High Altar. Shots and detail of tombs lining the buried street. Detail of Tomb of Fannia, and the tomb of Valerii, showing a mixture of cremation and inhumation of remains. Clark discusses the prevailing religions ideas of the second century, particularly the Dionysiac cult. Detail of the Tomb of the Egyptians. Comment on the religion of Horus. Detail of tombs of Caetinii and Gorgonia, showing the influence of Christianity in later burials. Finally the Mausoleum of Jonah, redecorated in the third century with Christian mosaics. Clark stands in the passageway known as the Clivus, leading from the necropolis to the focal point of the basilica thirty feet below the High Altar. He talks to Dr. John Ward Perkins about the shrine that was found. Diagrams show the archaeological plan and a reconstruction of the Aedicula around which Constantine's shrine was built. Circumstantial evidence for the presence of a tomb dating from within 100 years of Peter's death is presented. Francis Clark sums up. Further shots of Isola Sacra and of St. Peters. Closing bars of Mahler's 8th symphony.
Master spool number: 6HT/71510
Production number: 00525_3108
Videofinder number: 598
Available to public: no