Santa Maria in Capella

The Church of Santa Maria in Cappella in Rome where the finds were discovered. PICTURE: Wikipedia

Bone fragments which may have belonged to the apostle Peter have reportedly been founded in a Rome church during restoration works.

The Telegraph reports that the bones were found in clay pots inside the 1,000-year-old Church of Santa Maria in Cappella in the district of Trastevere. They were discovered when a worker lifted up a marble slab near the medieval-era altar of the church.

He found two Roman-era pots which reportedly had inscriptions on their lids indicating they contained the bones of St Peter, regarded as the first Roman Catholic pope, as well as those of three other early popes - Cornelius, Callixtus and Felix. They also contained the bones of four early Christian martyrs.

The remains have been handed in to the Vatican for further study. The Vatican has reportedly said it is too early to comment on the find.

Tradition holds that St Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome in the first century AD and his remains then buried in a tomb on Vatican Hill where St Peter's Basilica now stands.

In the middle of the 20th century, archaeologists found a casket under St Peter's bearing the name Peter which contained human remains. Tests conducted in the 1960s said they were the remains of a man in his early 60s who lived in the first century AD - a finding which led Pope Paul VI in 1968 to say they were identified as St Peter's "in a way that we can consider convincing".

These nine pieces of bone fragments were publicly displayed by Pope Francis in Mass at the Vatican in 2013.

It has been suggested that at least some of St Peter's remains may have been shifted to the Church of Santa Maria in Cappella, which was consecrated in 1090, by Pope Urban II who may have been looking for a secure place to hide St Peter's bones at a time when his papacy was under threat.