ornate tomb made from precious marbles, was replaced with a new
big sarcophagus. Inscribed on it, were two Latin distichs dictated
by the Emperor's friend, Abbot Gerbert, the future Pope Sylvester
II. The gigantic porphyry lid came, according to tradition, from
the tomb of Emperor Hadrian in his grandiose mausoleum (present-day
Castel S. Angelo). On its sides were screens decorated with porphyry
and serpentino panels. In 1610, during the demolition of the portico,
the sepulcher was opened and the remains were placed in a recently
excavated strigilled sarcophagus, where they rest to this day. A
marble disc was added at the center with the inscription: OTTO /
SECVNDVS / IMPERATOR / AVGVSTVS - Otto II, Emperor August.
For a few decades,
the porphyry lid remained in the grottoes until the artist Carlo
Fontana found a new prestigious use for it: as the new baptismal
font of St Peter's, inaugurated in 1694.
Above the sarcophagus
is a vast mosaic representing Christ Enthroned between Sts Peter
and Paul that was located above the emperor's original tomb in the
atrium of the basilica. The original 10th century style of the mosaic
was altered during restorations. The two Apostles are dressed in
white Roman togas with a border, following the ancient fashion.
Present in the iconography are several symbolic indications of Peter's
primacy in his basilica: the majestic Christ raises His right hand
in a gesture of a teacher, while with His left arm He is embracing
Peter. In his right hand, attached to a ring, Peter is holding not
2 but 3 keys indicating the power given by Christ to him and his
successors, over the peregrine, purifying and celestial church.
On the sides
of the mosaic are two fragments of inscriptions. To the left is
a long medieval list of relics of saints, salvaged in 1610 during
the demolition of a small oratory in the atrium of the basilica,
close to the tomb of Otto II. Immured to the right is a fragment
of an inscription from 1103 reproducing a document concerning the
donation made by Matilda of Canossa to Pope Gregory VII, whose name
is legible in one of the surviving fragments: GREGORIO PP OMNIA
BONA MEA - to Pope Gregory all my possessions.