Vatican City based ‘St. Peter’s Basilica’ is the grandest & the most important church in the Christendom & is considered as one of the largest churches in the world. Designed by some of the legendary architects such as Michelangelo, Donato Bramante, Carlo Maderno & Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s Basilica displays the most spectacular dexterity of Renaissance architecture.
St. Peter’s Basilica is considered as one of the holiest Catholic sites, though it is neither Catholic Roman Rite Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, nor the mother church of the Catholic Church! The Basilica is renowned as the burial site of St. Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus & the first Pope & Bishop of Rome. Historical evidences have strongly suggested that the crypt of St. Peter lies right beneath the altar of this Basilica.
History in Brief:
Simon, a fisherman from Galilee & one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, became a leader of all the Jesus followers in the 2nd quarter of the 1st century AD after the crucifixion of Jesus. He played a vital role in the founding of the Christian Church & became popular as St. Peter.
In the year 64 AD, during the reign of Roman emperor Nero, St. Peter was crucified head downwards near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the ‘Circus of Nero’. The crypt of the Peter was marked initially by a humble red rock which was symbolic to his name as the name ‘Peter’ was derived from ‘petra’ which means ‘rock’ in Greek.
The first Christian emperor of Rome- ‘Constantine the Great’ constructed the basilica over the shrine of St. Peter. The construction began in 319 AD & lasted till 333 AD. The shrine of St. Peter is still the main attraction of this basilica.
By the end of 15th century, it was decided that the basilica needed a face-lift as the building was deteriorating. Pope Nicholas V took the initiatives & ordered architect Bernardo Rossellino to work upon the plan to repair the sabotage. However, the plan was scrapped later on & in the year 1506, Pope Julius II initiated the task to construct the basilica that stands today. The feat was accomplished during the reign of Pope Paul V in the year 1615. Several legendary architects & artists were involved in the designing & the construction of this early modern period marvel. Donato Bramante played the leading role in the architecture of this magnificent basilica, whereas Michelangelo served as the main architect while designing the splendid dome & Bernini played a vital role in designing the picturesque St. Peter’s Square!
The Technical Facets:
The baroque styledSt. Peter’s Basilica illuminates the skyline of Rome. The basilica is situated to the west of the river ‘Tiber’, near the ‘Hadrian’s Mausoleum’ & ‘Janiculum Hill’. This basilica is ranked among one of the largest Churches in the world. It is 220 meters (720 feet) in length & 150 m (500 feet) in width. Its maximum height including the dome is 138m (452 feet). The dome of the basilica is renowned as one of the largest double-brick dome in the world with the 42.3 m internal diameter. The domes are supported by four 60 feet tall massive piers.
Exterior of St. Peter’s Basilica:
St. Peter’s Basilica is cruciform in shape. The unique parabolic dome constructed under the vigilance of legendary Michelangelo is the most amazing part of this majestic monument. The grand façade of the basilica was designed by Carlo Mondeno & was built between 1608 & 1614. The façade is 116 m wide & 53 m in height & demonstrates amazing piece of architecture. The faced is crowned by 5.7 meter tall statues of Jesus & his apostles except St. Peter. Two huge clocks nestled on both the sides of façade were added in 19th century & are decorated with angels, ornaments & the papal crest.
St. Peter’s Square:
The humongous basilica is provided with equally beautiful & regal St. Peter’s square designed by Bernini & built between 1656 & 1667. Two sizzling fountains by Carlo Maderno & Bernini beautify the vicinity. An ancient Egyptian obelisk is situated right at the center of the square which was transported to Rome in 37 AD.
Artistic colonnade topped with 140 statues of saints & crafted between 1662 & 1703 by Bernini & his subordinates flanks the square. Colossal statues of St. Peter & St. Paul, the patron saints of Rome are present near the stairs of the basilica in front of the square.
Interior of St. Peter’s basilica:
Words are insufficient to describe the mesmerizing beauty of the interior of the basilica. An unexplainable presentation of the most extravagant artwork, finest piece of architecture & exceptional imagination can be seen on every bit of space inside the basilica. No place other than would the basilica be appropriate to view the best work of the all time great architects like Bernini & Michelangelo!
The Nave, the right aisle, the mammoth central dome & baldacchino, cathedra of Peter & the left aisle demonstrates the finest form of the art & glory that even money couldn’t buy. It has to be seen to be believed. The enormous Nave of the basilica makes everything look tiny. The basilica’s surface area is worth 15150 sq. meter, which can easily accommodate 60000 visitors at a time! The nave is divided into three bays & is supported by piers & is framed by wide aisles connecting to the various chapels in the basilica. Beneath the high altar, the ‘Confessio’ or ‘Chapel of the Confession’ is situated which has the connection with the confession of faith by St. Peter that laid to his martyrdom. Two marble carved staircases guides to this underground chapel at the Constantinian church level that resides immediately above the crypt of St. Peter.
‘Baldacchino’ is another such marvel created by Bernini & is situated at the center if the interior providing the shelter to the papal altar & holy relics of St. Peter. Additionally, it brilliantly fills the vertical space under the Michelangelo’s humongous dome. This masterpiece weighs around 927 tons & stands 90 feet tall. It is made up of dark bronze & is ornamented with gold vine leaves. The repeated use of Cherubs throughout the monument gives it an overall resemblance with the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.
The rest of the part of the basilica is decorated with lavish use of colorful marble floorings, amazing sculptures of holy saints & other influential personalities in Christianity, breathtaking carvings & elaborated paintings on the roof as well as on the sidewalls. The basilica also houses myriad tombs of popes & other notable people & most of the tombs demonstrate an astounding piece of artwork & a supreme level of skills. Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ is the most famous creation in the St. Peter’s basilica which is considered as the only sculpture which bears Michelangelo’s signature. This marble sculpture which was created between 1499 & 1500 consists of a young looking Mary holding the corpse of her son. The statue is now protected by the bullet-proof glass sheath.
St. Peter’s basilica has many strong historical connections- the papacy, the Early Christian Church, the protestant reformation, numerous legendary artists of the Renaissance period & many more. This magnificent piece of architecture draws audiences of more than 80000 people as the Pope supervises the myriad services through the balcony of this elegant basilica. This spectacular monument has become the eminent place of pilgrimage & it proudly holds the rank of Major Basilica in Rome.
As per Sir Charles Dickens, ‘St. Peter’s Basilica gives the sensation never to be forgotten!’. The church itself holds lot of Mysteries ‘The Secrets Beneath St. Peter’s Basilica’ will explore more.