Sunday, February 9, 2014

St. Peter's, Rome

St. Peter's has a long history in Rome. The church is built over the Circus of Nero where Peter was crucified. He was buried nearby. The first shrine was built on St. Peter's tomb in the second century. Emperor Constantine built a large basilica in AD 349. By the 1400s, the basilica was falling apart. In 1506, Pope Julius II began a new basilica which took over a hundred years to build.

St. Peter's

The porch has several large bronze doors, including the Porta Santa, or Holy Door, which is only opened on Holy Years by the Pope. He uses a small bronze hammer to knock on it. It remains open for the entire year and people may enter through it. Other doors include the center door that was made in the 1450s for the original basilica and the Door of the Sacraments that was made in the 1950s.

Central Door

Detail from the Door of the Sacraments

Detail from the porch ceiling

The nave is 615 feet long with a large number of altars and chapels down the sides. The scope is quite breathtaking.


One side altar

A transept

The Papal Altar dates from 1600s and was built over the tomb of Peter. The Baldacchino is an amazing bronze canopy designed by Bernini in the 1600s.

Main altar and baldacchino

The baldacchino (as close as we could get)

The top of the baldacchino and medallion of an evangelist

The main altar is also surrounded by four niches that house relics from Christ's Passion. The relic of the True Cross has a statue of St. Helena (Emperor Constantine's mother and the discoverer of the relic).

St. Helena by A. Bolgi

The Dome of St. Peter's was designed by Michelangelo and is an incredible sight both inside and outside. Sadly, I did not get a good angle on the inside. Also by Michelangelo is the Pieta, one of his most famous statues and an early work for him (completed when he was 25 in 1499). It is located in one of the front chapels and protected behind a wall of glass since one visitor damaged it in 1972.


Another famous work in St. Peter's is Raphael's last painting, The Transfiguration. It depicts Christ on Mount Tabor, flanked by Moses and Elijah while Peter, James, and John are awestruck.

Raphael's Transfiguration

The statue of St. Peter near the main altar dates from the 1200s and was made by Arnolfo di Cambio. It is a popular stop for people visiting the church. Visitors rub Peter's foot for good luck. The foot is starting to wear away. Alas, the preparations for New Years Day Mass put the statue out of reach for us.

St. Peter (losing his toes!)

In addition to St. Peter, many other popes are buried in the basilica. A list is kept in a side room (with plenty of space for newcomers).

The Latin at the top says, "Supreme Pontiffs buried in this Basilica"

Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689) flanked by Faith and Fortitude

Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)

Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585)

Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846)

Pope Innocent XII (1691-1700) flanked by Charity and Justice

Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), who worked for peace during World War I

Pope Saint Pius X (1904-1914)

Pope Pius VII (1800-1823)

One of the non-papal monuments is to the Monument to the Stuarts. The monument is dedicated to James III, son of King James II who was the last Stuart to reign in England. James III lived in exile after his father was deposed in 1688. Invading Prince William of Orange was declared King of England in James II's absence. Also buried in this tomb are James III's sons Bonnie Prince Charlie and Henry (who by all rights should have been King Henry IX(!), though he was a Catholic bishop so the house of Stuart would have ended with him) are also buried in this tomb.

Monument to the Stuarts

Being Christmas time when we visited, St. Peter's had a nativity inside.

Nativity from the right


Nativity from the left

There are tons of other things to see in the church. Also, the view from the dome is quite spectacular in good weather. The weather wasn't so good when we visited and J and L were unlikely to climb all the way to the top, so we opted for other sightseeing in Rome.

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