Restored Mamertine Prison opens to the public

Source: FSSPX News

After a year of excavations, the oldest Roman dungeon, dug into the hill of the Capitol and on which the church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters [San Giuseppe dei Falegnami] stands, is once again open to the public. The archeologists, led by Patrizia Fortini, uncovered frescos of Jesus and Saint Peter from the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. By removing pieces of wood and brick from the floor, the archeologists deduced that the site had been used as a sacred place in pre-Christian and pagan Rome.

Also called Tullianum, the Mamertine Prison, adjacent to the ancient Roman Forum, was dug into the rock at the foot of the Capitol. Built between 640 and 616 B.C. by the fourth Roman king, Ancus Martius, it was enlarged by the addition of a second, narrower and more humid dungeon without light by the sixth Roman king, Servius Tullius, in the sixth century B.C. Consisting of one room above another, the Mamartine was used during the Republic and the Empire as a prison and scene for executions. The lower room, Robur Tullianum, is accessed through a hole in the floor of the upper cell.

This was the cell in which the Gallic chief Vercingétorix was imprisoned from 52 to 46 B.C. and subsequently strangled after the triumph of Julius Caesar, and where the Numidian king Jugurtha was left without food and starved to death. In the first century B.C. the Roman historian Sallust described the place as follows: “[It] is sunk about twelve feet under ground. Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness, and stench.”

Saint Peter and Saint Paul were imprisoned by Emperor Nero in the lower room for eight months, from October 65 to June 66. There they converted their guards Processus and Martinianus. When the two Roman soldiers asked to be baptized, Saint Peter struck the floor with his staff, and a spring of water gushed from the rock so that he could administer the sacrament.

Saint Peter succeeded in escaping from the prison. But after he encountered Christ carrying his cross on the Appian Way (“Quo vadis, Domine, where are you going, Lord?”), he retraced his steps and voluntarily accepted death by crucifixion in the Circus of Nero, on the Vatican hill. Saint Paul, accused after the fire of 64 of being one of the leaders of the rebellion, was condemned to death and was beheaded outside the Aurelian wall, on the Via Ostiensis.

The Roman office of the superintendant of archaeology announced that the excavations brought to light vestiges of frescos attesting to the transformation of the place into a church, at the same time as other buildings of the Forum. These excavations made it possible to retrace the different stages of the site, from ancient rock quarry to prison, and the “truly rapid transformation” into a center of Petrine devotion.  (Sources : apic/imedia/zenit/vaticanva - DICI no. 223 dated October 16, 2010)