A Roman Mystery: The Lost Tomb of St. Jerome

If there have to be reality TV shows or treasure hunt movies, I propose finding the tomb of St. Jerome (+420) in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

I may write a novel!  It would have vampires, I think, and maybe the Mossad.

For a couple years I have posted something about Jerome’s burial place.  Here it is again.

This is an interesting story and I dug into it a little. This is what I found.

We read in J.N.D. Kelly’s work Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Duckworth, 1975, p. 333 – emphasis mine) :

Apocryphal lives extolling [Jerome’s] sanctity, even his miracles, were quick to appear, and in the eighth century he was to be acclaimed, along with Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, as one of the four Doctors of the Church.[2] In the middle ages his works were eagerly copied, read, and pillaged; while towards the end of the thirteenth century the clergy of Santa Maria Maggiore, at Rome, were to persuade the public, perhaps themselves too, that his remains had been transported from Bethlehem to Italy, and could be venerated close to certain presumed fragments of the Saviour’s crib.[3]

Note 2: This was formally ratified by Pope Boniface VIII on 20 Sept. 1295: see Corpus iuris canonici II, 1059 (ed. E. Freidburg, Leipzig, 1879-81). The original number four (the list was later to be greatly expanded) was chosen so that the Doctors could match the Evangelists.

Note 3: The story of their alleged translation, in response to a visionary appearance of Jerome himself, is set out by J. Stilting in Acta Sanctorum XLVI, Sept. VIII, 636 (Antwerp, 1762); it is reprinted in PL 22, 237-40. Stilting also provides a discussion of its date, veracity, etc. on pp. 635-49.


In the Acta Sanctorum for 30 September, under the entry for St. Jerome, we find the following section with its articles:

LXV. Corpus Sancti ex Palestina Romam translatum, depositumque in basilica s. Mariae Majoris. The body of the saint was brought to Rome from Palestine, and put in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
LXVI. Inquiritur tempus quo Sancti corpus Romam delatum. An investigation is made into the time when the body of the saint was brought back to Rome.
LXVII. Corpus Sancti depositum prope aediculam Praesepis, conditum deinde ibidem altare, sub quo positum, ubi mansit usque ad pontificatum Sixti V, quando dicitur clanculum ablatum & absconditum. The body of the saint was placed near to the small chamber of the Crib, established then right at the same altar, under which it was placed, where it remained until the pontificate of Sixtus V, when it is said to have been secretly taken away and hidden.
LXVIII. Corpus Sancti clanculum ablatum & absconditum dicitur, ne transferretur alio a Sixto V: deinde frequenter frustra quaesitum. The body of the saint is said to have been secretly taken away and hidden lest it were to be transferred to another place by Sixtus V: aftward it is frequently sought in vain.
LXIX. An reliquae, sub altari principe S. Mariae Majoris inventae, videantur illae ipsae, quae ut corpus S. Hieronymi ad illam basilicam fuerunt translatae. Whether the relics found under the main altar of St. Mary Major which had been transferred to that Basilica seem to be the very same as the body of St. Jerome.
LXX. Admodum verisimile & probabile inventas esse S. Hieronymi. Clearly the [relics] found are most like and probably of Saint Jerome.
LXXI. Respondetur ad objectionem ex reliquiis Nepesinis: reliquiae, quae verisimiliter sunt S. Hieronymi sub mensa principis altaris depositae. An objection is answered about the relics at Nepi: relics placed under the main altar which more than likely are those of St. Jerome.
LXXII. Reliquiae Sancti in pluribus civitatibus Italiae, Galliae, Germaniae, Belgii, & aliis provinciis. The relics of the saint in more cities in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and other provinces.
LXXIII. Cultus S. Hieronymi: festivitates eius & Officia. The veneration of St. Jerome: his feasts and offices.

Here is the page where these articles begin. If you want to have a fuller experience of the joys (the chore) of reading the Acta Sanctorum for any length of time click here for a larger image.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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6 Responses to A Roman Mystery: The Lost Tomb of St. Jerome

  1. jameeka says:

    Yes, please write a novel!

  2. Boniface says:

    Great post! In several visits to Santa Maria Maggiore, I asked around, assuming it was known there where St. Hierom’s relics are located. To no avail, sadly. Now it all makes sense… It is often surprising how little interest there is in these things! I hope the relics are located and that veneration is made possible!

  3. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Why were they worried about Pope Sixtus V – because he edited the works of St. Ambrose? But he was also working on a new edition of St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation…

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Popes sometimes took it upon themselves to move relics or parts of relics from one Roman church to another, or even to send relics away from Rome, as a diplomatic/religious gift to other countries. It sounds like one of the parish workers decided to hide the relics in a Really Good Place to avoid this sort of relic transfer.

  5. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Optime Pater,

    In the fuller edition of his book “The Churches of Rome”, Mariano Armellini quotes a lengthy account of the digging around the tomb of St. Peter during the papacy of Urban VIII, written by a canon of St. Peter’s named Ubaldi. According to this doucment, at one point, the librarian of the Vatican, Niccolo’ Alamanni, presented to the Pope a series of reasons why they ought NOT to dig close to the tomb of St. Peter, where “every slight disorder was feared as a terrible danger, and every blow, however light, (feared) as a most grave sacrilege.” The foremost reason was “the danger of compromising (belief in) the existence of the body of St. Peter in Rome, if when digging close to the altar they should find no trace of a burial, as happened in the time of Sixtus V with the body of Saint Jerome, when it was not found at Santa Maria Maggiore in the place where it was reverenced.”

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. I feel a novel coming on.