St. Peter's in Vatican


Basilica of St. Peter's

Basilica of St. Peter's(Basilica di S. Pietro). According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said to a fisherman: "You are Peter and on this rock I shall build my Church". (Tu es Petro, et super hanc petram…).

The largest and most beautiful church in the world is built over St. Peter's tomb. It took 22 popes a century and a half to finish the current basilica with the help of 10 of the world's greatest artists and architects. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

"It doesn't seem very large" is a typical reaction when you get inside St. Peter's basilica - even though it is the length of two football fields (about 600 feet or 200 m).

The reason this church feels small is that its proportions are all harmonious. Michelangelo's plan gives unity to the church since each part was designed in exactly the same scale as the rest.

Michelangelo championed the concept of making the size of art works larger than life and since each part is in perfect proportion to the rest, the totality does not seem overwhelming (also note: his gigantic figures in the Sistine Chapel seem to be of normal size).

Basilica of St. Peter's


64 AD. The first Pope, Peter the Fisherman, is said to have been crucified by order of Emperor Nero at the edge of the nearby Circus of Caligula and Nero. (The obelisk that stood at the center of that ancient arena was moved to the center of St. Peter's square in 1586).

315. Constantine, first Roman emperor converted to Christianity, ordered the construction of a church on this spot, where Peter was assumed to have been buried.

15C. The basilica was falling apart.

1506. Pope Julius II della Rovere laid the corner stone of a new church. As first of the long line of Chief Architects he appointed Bramante (1444-1514) who spent the rest of his life tearing down the old basilica - earning him the nickname “Mr. Destroyer” (church services continued without interruption). Bramante's dream was to superimpose a Pantheon-like cupola over a central-plan church (with 4 arms of equal length like a Greek Cross), similar to his tiny but perfectly-proportioned Tempietto in the courtyard of St. Pietro in Montorio, the other spot where St. Peter was rumored to have been buried. Subsequent popes consulted Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo whose plans were never built. It was Raphael who proposed a basilica form (with one long nave like a Latin cross).

1547. Pope Paul III Farnese entrusted the design to 72 year old Michelangelo, who had turned down the job half a century earlier. Only the base of his monumental cupola was built when Michelangelo died, in 1564; it was completed by his successor, Giacomo della Porta, and there is still a raging controversy as to whether the dome's astounding size, over 35 stories high and almost as broad as the Pantheon, is greater than Michelangelo planned.

1605. Pope Paul V Borghese, elevated from Inquisitor to Pope (he censured Galileo for teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun), ordered Carlo Maderna to make a long nave so that more worshipers could be preached to, which was a Counter Reformation objective.
Maderna also designed the portico and the facade, which make this church resemble a Baroque palace. With the adoption of Raphael's Latin cross plan, Michelangelo and Bramante's dream of a central-plan church was sacrificed, and so was any chance of your seeing the magnificent dome from the basilica steps.

1626. Pope Urban VIII Barberini (who allowed his old friend Galileo to be arrested and condemned for "vehemently suspected heresy" by the Inquisition) consecrated this basilica on the 1300th anniversary of the first basilica.

1656. Bernini, who designed much of the dramatic interior decoration, was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII Chigi to frame the basilica with the monumental St. Peter's Square.

There are so many wonders both inside and outside St. Peter's that we will limit ourselves to the following highlights:


Statues of the PorticoThis long, covered entrance (Carlo Maderna, 1608) was finished by Bernini who designed the pavement, the relief sculpture of sheep over the central door, the statue of Constantine on the far right and the adjoining Scala Regia.

You will be prevented from mounting this grandiose staircase by the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms (couture by Michelangelo, supposedly).

There are five doors into the Basilica: the central bronze gate, from the original Basilica, is by Filarete (1433-45); furthest to the right is the Porta Santa, opened and closed by the Pope to mark the duration of Jubilee or Holy Years, but otherwise bricked up from within (the “putto” over the door is by Borromini).

On the left is a modern door by Giacomo Manzù (1963) representing Christ's descent from the Cross, the death of the Virgin Mary and, in the background, the people's Pope, John XXIII who commissioned this Door of Death.

Piazza San Pietro (Map B 3-4)