Saint Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City.
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as the Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica , is located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world, holding 60,000 people. It is the symbolic "Mother church" of the Catholic Church and is regarded as one of the holiest Christian sites.
It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom". In Catholic tradition, it is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter , who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to tradition, first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession.
Tradition and some historical evidence hold that Saint Peter's tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at Saint Peter's since the Early Christian period. Construction of the present basilica , over the old Constantinian basilica, began on April 18, 1506 and was completed on November 18, 1626.
Saint Peter's is famous as a place of pilgrimage, for its liturgical functions and for its historical associations. It is associated with the papacy, with the Counter-reformation and with numerous artists, most significantly Michelangelo. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age. Contrary to popular misconception, Saint Peter's is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. It is properly termed a papal basilica . Like all of the earliest churches in Rome, it has the entrance to the east and the apse at the west end of the building.
The Saint Peter's Basilica is one of four Papal Basilicas or Major Basilicas of Rome the others being the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul outside the Walls. It is the most prominent building inside the Vatican City. Its dome is a dominant feature of the skyline of Rome. Probably the largest church in Christianity, it covers an area of 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres) and has a capacity of over 60,000 people. One of the holiest sites of Christendom in the Catholic Tradition, it is traditionally the burial site of its titular Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Roman Catholic Tradition, also the first Bishop of Antioch, and later first Bishop of Rome , the first Pope . Although the New Testament does not mention Peter's martyrdom in Rome, Catholic tradition holds that his tomb is below the baldachin and altar; for this reason, many Popes , starting with the first ones, have been buried there.
St Peter's Basilica is neither the Pope's official seat nor first in rank among the Major Basilicas of Rome . This honour is held by the Pope's cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. However, it is most certainly the Pope's principal church, as most Papal ceremonies take place at Saint Peter's due to its size, proximity to the Papal residence, and location within the Vatican City walls. In the apse of the basilica is Bernini's monument enclosing the "Chair of Saint Peter " or cathedra, sometimes presumed to have been used by Saint Peter himself, but which was a gift from Charles the Bald and used by various popes.
Old Saint Peter's Basilica was the fourth-century church begun by the Emperor Constantine between 326 and 333 AD. It was of typical basilical Latin Cross form with an apsidal end at the chancel, a wide nave and two aisles on either side. It was over 103.6 metres (340 ft) long, and the entrance was preceded by a large colonnaded atrium. This church had been built over the small shrine believed to mark the burial place of Saint Peter . It contained a very large number of burials and memorials, including those of most of the popes from Saint Peter to the 15th century. Since the construction of the current basilica, the name Old Saint Peter's Basilica has been used for its predecessor to distinguish the two buildings.
The dome of Saint Peter's rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. Its internal diameter is 41.47 metres (136.1 ft), being just slightly smaller than two of the three other huge domes that preceded it, those of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome and Florence Cathedral of the Early Renaissance.
On December 7, 2007, a fragment of a red chalk drawing of a section of the dome of Saint Peter's , almost certainly by the hand of Michelangelo was discovered in the Vatican archives. The drawing shows a small precisely drafted section of the plan of the entabulature above two of the radial columns of the cupola drum. Michelangelo is known to have destroyed thousands of his drawings before his death. The rare survival of this example is probably due to its fragmentary state and the fact that detailed mathematical calculations had been made over the top of the drawing.
Bernini's first work at Saint Peter's was to design the baldacchino, a pavilion-like structure 30 metres (98 ft) tall and claimed to be the largest piece of bronze in the world, which stands beneath the dome and above the altar. Its design is based on the ciborium, of which there are many in the churches of Rome, serving to create a sort of holy space above and around the table on which the Sacrament is laid for the Eucharist and emphasizing the significance of this ritual. These ciborium are generally of white marble, with inlaid coloured stone. Bernini's concept was for something very different. He took his inspiration in part from the baldachin or canopy carried above the head of the pope in processions, and in part from eight ancient columns that had formed part of a screen in the old basilica. Their twisted barley-sugar shape had a special significance as the column to which Jesus was bound before his crucifixion was believed to be of that shape. Based on these columns, Bernini created four huge columns of bronze, twisted and decorated with olive leaves and bees, which were the emblem of Pope Urban.