St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

The largest and most important basilica of Catholic Christendom has been built in the place where, according to tradition, Peter the Apostle died his martyr's death and was buried: Nero's Circus on the ager vaticanus (Vatican fields) on the right bank of the Tiber. The first church was erected there around 320 AD under the emperor Constantine. Pope Sylvester I (314-335 AD) consecrated it on November 18, 326. In order to build this enormous basilica in early Christian style with five naves exactly above St. Peter's tomb, it was constructed on the steep slope of the hill and not at the basin of the valley of the Vatican fields, thus causing many technical problems and high costs.

In the 15th century the popes decided to build a new basilica because the old one had become too dilapidated over the years. The construction work took more than a century, under 18 popes and 12 different supervisors (among whom Bramante, Raphael, Sangallo, Michelangelo, Vignola, Fontana, Maderno and Bernini). On the 1300th anniversary of the first basilica's consecration, November 18th 1626, Pope Urbanus VIII consecrated the new basilica.

The immense interior, with marks on the marble floor in the middle nave indicating the length of other important cathedrals for a comparison, contains more art treasures than many museums. The art of sculpture is especially well represented, with unique works such as Michelangelo's Pietà and the many funeral monuments by important artists like Antonio Canova, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Guglielmo della Porta, Pietro Bracci, and above all Lorenzo Bernini.

In the center of the visitor's attention, directly under the grand dome designed by Michelangelo, stands the Altar of Confession crowned by Bernini's bronze canopy, the Baldacchino, which has been manufactured by melting bronze plates from the Pantheon. Behind it is the monument in the apse, the Cathedra Petri designed by Bernini, with the beautiful alabaster window and four saints supporting a throne that contains fragments once thought to be relics of the chair from which St. Peter delivered his first sermon.

The most important monument for the pilgrims, however, is St. Peter's tomb in front of the central altar, surrounded by 99 eternal lights, while the most popular is a bronze statue of St. Peter which probably dates back to the 13th century and may have been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Its right foot is completely worn out and polished by all the faithful who touch it and kiss it and invoke help from the Prince of Apostles to whom the basilica is dedicated.