VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis took an emotional, close-up look at the tomb of Peter, the church’s first pontiff, buried beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican said.
By doing so, Francis became the first pontiff to visit the necropolis, where pagans and early Christians were buried, since extensive archaeological excavations were conducted at the ancient site decades ago, the Vatican said.
The 45-minute “visit of devotion to the tomb of St. Peter” on Monday was private, the Vatican said, but it later released a video of it.
The basilica was built over the location where early Christians would gather in secret, at a time of persecution in ancient Rome, to pray at an unmarked tomb believed to be that of Peter, the apostle Jesus chose to lead his church.
The Vatican first said Francis would pray at Peter’s tomb, but later said he prayed instead in the basilica.
The new pope ‘‘paused in silent prayer, in profound and emotional meditation” in the Clementine Chapel in the vast basilica that is ‘‘the closest place (in the basilica) to the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles,” it said.