This reliquary contains nine fragments of St. Peter's bones. It was kept in the pope's private chapel, but Pope Francis has decided to give it to the main leader of the Orthodox Church, to improve ecumenical relations.
The pope explains his reasoning for the gift in this letter that he sent Patriarch Bartholomew.
As he knows the importance of relics to the Orthodox Church, he clarified the fragments' origins.
He recalled that in 1939, Pius XII authorized a dig under St. Peter's Basilica, to locate the original tomb of Peter.
Archaeologists found it under the main altar. A few years later, the pope writes, they also identified in the same area, a niche with some remains of bones that 'can reasonably be considered Peter.'
In that niche there are still other fragments of St. Peter's bone relics. Laura Donato is one of the guides that shows pilgrims this place every day.
Archeological Guide St. Peter's Tomb
“The relics have this importance, the possibility to show that we are talking about the real and historical faith. Faith has its roots in history. We don't talk about mythological tales, but real historical events and the showing of the bones is the proof of this historical evidence.”
As the Orthodox Patriarch already holds the relics of St. Andrew, Peter's brother, the pope tells him that 'the joining of the relics of the two brother Apostles can also serve as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission.'