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The Altar of the Confessio

Written and read by Pietro Zander

The Confessio is the sacred space that opens up in front of the main altar of the basilica, enabling the tomb of Saint Peter to be seen from above.

The term “Confessio” evokes the martyrdom of Peter on the Vatican Hill, bathed in the blood of the early Roman martyrs at the time of the persecutions of the emperor Nero.

Under the papal altar, surmounted by the bronze baldachin on whose sky the dove of the Holy Spirit is depicted, the tomb of Peter is recognizable in the so-called “Niche of the Pallia”, thus named because on the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the “pallia”, the white wool stoles with a black cross consigned by the Pope to the metropolitan archbishops, are laid on the surface of this niche. Its importance is highlighted by the gilded bronze statues of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the work of Ambrogio Buonvicino of 1617, at its sides.

The “Niche of the Pallia” corresponds to the aedicule erected in the second century over the tomb of Peter. What we admire today is the funerary aedicule that, despite some transformations and mosaic coverings, has remained almost intact for nearly eighteen centuries.

Among the lateral mosaics of the apostles Peter and Paul, at the centre of the “Niche of the Pallia”, there is a mosaic depiction of the Saviour holding the open book of the Gospel bearing the text: “ego sym via veritas et vita/qvi credit in me vivet” (I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; whoever believes in me shall live, Jn 14: 6, 11: 25).

Before the Confessio, Pope Leo († 461) affirmed: “[...] just as what Peter believed in Christ endures, so what Christ instituted in the person of Peter endures [...] Throughout the Church, Peter proclaims every day: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (De Natale ipsius, III, SCh 200, pp. 256, 258).

© Fabric of Saint Peter