St Peter stands on the same site where the St Peter, the first pope was crucified and buried in the ground.
St Peter church is the largest and famous Catholic Church in the world situated in the city of Rome. Great architects and artists like Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and others had contributed in this beautiful building. The construction took place over many years during the 15th, 16th & 17th century. Though the original church was enacted by Emperor Constantine in 319 AD.
St Peter stands on the same site where the St Peter, the first pope was crucified and buried in the ground. St Peter’s tomb is in the church along with many other popes and fathers.
The current building construction started in 1506 under Pope Julius II and got completed in 1615 under pope Paul V. Bramante was the first architect while Michelangelo, who served as the main architect, built the dome and Bernini designed the great St Peter square.
What to See
The following description is a virtual tour that follows this basic path: views from afar; St. Peter’s Square; exterior of St. Peter’s Basilica; nave; right aisle and transept; dome area with baldacchino; cathedra of St. Peter; left transept and aisle; and crypt/grottoes. See our St. Peter’s Basilica Photo Gallery for a visual tour.
St. Peter’s Square
St Peter square is the marvelous structure built in front of the St Peter basilica between the year 1656 and 1667. This structure was designed by the famous architect Bernini. The centre piece is guarded by the two fountains. This centerpiece which is also known as obelisk is 40 meters tall including the cross that crowns it.
The square has a open walkway which welcomes the visitors when they visit the square. There are 140 statues in the square. These statues were sculptured by a number of different artists during the 17th century and depict Christian saints.
There are huge statues of St Peter and St Paul near the stairs ordered by Pope Pius IX on Easter 1847, who wanted to replace the existing smaller ones.
The façade of St. Peter’s Basilica was built by Carlo Maderno and stretches almost 120 meters. In the middle of the façade, one can see the classical central balcony. This balcony is called Loggia of the Blessings and is used for the announcement of the new pope. Underneath the balcony, visitors can spot a relief depicting Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.
The façade is crowned with 13 statues made in beautiful travertine. These statues depict Christ the Redeemer in the center, flanked by the twelve apostles.
The patron statues
By looking at either side of the façade, visitors will see two more statues, significantly larger than the ones on top of the façade. These statues represent the patron saints of Rome; St. Peter and St. Paul. These statues were built on order by Pope Pius IX in mid 19th century, who wanted to replace the existing smaller ones.
Many visitors are impressed with the beauty of the exterior of the St. Peter’s Basilica. However, many rate the interior even more beautiful. The building’s interior really displays the wealth of the Catholic Church in the 16th century. The interior, which includes 45 altars, is decorated by several famous artists. Some of the most important works is the Pietà by Michelangelo as well as the papal altar and the Throne of St. Peter by Bernini.
One can also find the tombs of several Popes inside the basilica. Tradition and some historical evidence hold that Saint Peter’s tomb has to be located directly below the main altar of the basilica. This is the reason why many Popes have been interred at St Peter’s ever since the Early Christian period. The majority of the tombs are found in the tomb which is well worth a visit as it also contains architectural fragments from the earlier churches.
A stunning site
Today, St. Peter’s Basilica is famous as a place of pilgrimage. It is visited by millions of people each year. The basilica is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is considered one of the greatest buildings ever built. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.
What a lot of people don’t actually know is that it is possible to access the main dome of the basilica. Visitors have the option of taking the elevator or the stairs, the latter being a bit cheaper. From the dome, one will have a magnificent view of Rome in general and of the Saint Peter’s square in particular.
The dome of St. Peter’s was designed by Michelangelo, who became chief architect in 1546. The dome was built between 1585 and 1590 by the architect Giacomodella Porta with the assistance of Domenico Fontana, who was probably the best engineer of those times. Fontana built the lantern the following year, and the ball was placed in 1593.
The great double dome is made of brick and is 42.3 meters in interior diameter, rising to 120 meters above the floor. In the early 18th century cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it. The four piers of the crossing that support the dome are each 60 feet (18 meters) across.
Uniquely, Michelangelo’s dome is not a hemisphere, but a parabola: it has a vertical thrust, which is made more emphatic by the bold ribbing that springs from the paired Corinthian columns, which appear to be part of the drum, but which stand away from it like buttresses, to absorb the outward thrust of the dome’s weight. Above, the vaulted dome rises to Fontana’s two-stage lantern, capped with a spire.
The grand front is 116 m wide and 53 m high. Built from 1608 to 1614, it was designed by Carlo Modeno. The central balcony is called the Loggia of the Blessings, and is used for the announcement of the new pope with “HabemusPapum” and his UrbietOrbi blessing.
The front wall
The facade is topped by 13 statues in travertine. From left, the statues represent: Thaddeus, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, James the Elder, John the Baptist, Christ the Redeemer (in the center), Andrew, John the Evangelist, James the Younger, Bartholomew, Simon and Matthias. St. Peter’s statue in this set is inside.
Two clocks are on either side; the one on the left is electrically operated since 1931, with its oldest bell dating to 1288. Stretching across the facade is the dedicatory inscription:
Between the façade and the interior is the portico. Mainly designed by Maderno, it contains an 18th century statue of Charlemagne by Cornacchini to the south, and an equestrian sculpture of Emperor Constantine by Bernini (1670) to the north.
The northernmost door is the Holy Door, in bronze by VicoConsorti (1950), which is by tradition only opened for great celebrations such as Jubilee years.
The Door of Death is on the left of the basilica and is name derives from its traditional use as the exit for funeral processions.