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Jesuit Archaeologist Dies at 102

May 27, 2003

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Antonio Ferrua, a Jesuit archaeologist who headed the excavation that uncovered what the Vatican declared to be the tomb and bones of St. Peter, the first pope, has died. He was 102.

Ferrua died Sunday in Rome, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said Tuesday.

Excavation in the grottoes under St. Peter’s Basilica, ordered by Pope Pius XII, started in 1940 and went on for about a decade.

The work uncovered an ancient necropolis, and a tomb found at the site was declared to be that of St. Peter.

Years later, Pope Paul VI, whose papacy spanned 1963 to 1978, declared that bones of an elderly man found at the site were those of Peter.

The Vatican announcement at the time was met with some skepticism.

The Italian Catholic newspaper L’Avvenire, in an article written when Ferrua turned 100, said the Jesuit himself repeatedly said he was ``not convinced″ they were the saint’s bones.

L’Avvenire described Ferrua as a ``scholar of great rigor, who has never been touched by any ideological interference.″

Ferrua was also considered a leading scholar in epigraphy, the study of ancient Christian inscriptions. He shed light on thousands of inscriptions, and scores of books with his findings were published.

Born in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, Ferrua joined the Jesuits in 1918 began studies in epigraphy, Latin literature and archaeology.

After the war, in 1947, he became secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, a post that allowed him to explore many sites, in particular, ancient cemeteries and catacombs. He kept the job for 24 years.

Between 1973 and 1979 he was the rector of the Pontifical Institute for Christian Archaeology.

Ferrua, a university professor, was awarded many prizes throughout his long career. He kept up his writing until about a decade ago.

At his funeral Tuesday, churchmen hailed his archaeological accomplishments.

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