Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano and commonly known as St. Peter's Basilica, occupies a "unique position" as one of the holiest sites 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, was the first Bishop of Antioch, and later first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession.
Catholic tradition holds that Saint Peter's tomb is below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Pope, starting with the first ones, have been buried there. There has been a church on this site since the 4th century. Construction on the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on April 18, 1506, and was completed in 1626.
The interior of the Basilica. It's the largest church in Christendom, and covers over 5 acres. While it seems almost overwhelmingly huge when you step in, as you walk around, the time and distance seem to pass quickly. I made a lap around the Basilica, taking pictures and soaking it all in, and when I looked at my watch I was shocked to see that 40 minutes had passed.
When you enter the Basilica, immediately to your right is Michelangelo's Pieta. From wiki:
The statue was commissioned for a french cardinal who was a representative in Rome. The statue was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century.
This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixtion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unique to the precedents. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. The statue is one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo.
Me again: the statute is very beautiful, and Mary's face is especially moving. It is, all at once, grief-stricken, calm, proud, and resigned. The statute is now behind a glass partition, although only a few years ago it was open to the public. Until some crazy guy with a hammer attacked it. Marble from the back was used to repair the damage to the front. Sometimes people really suck.
As you walk to the front of the Basilica, you see the altar (in the foreground) with its original Byzantine curly columns. Two stories underneath the base of the altar is the tomb of St. Peter.
Moving past the altar, you come to the really amazing part. Christ's throne. I'm serious...the chair underneath the large bronze sculpture is Christ's throne when he returns for the Last Judgment. It was designed by the master-sculptor, Bernini.
From wiki: Bernini's first work at St. 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. Baldachins are generally of white marble, with inlaid coloured stone. Bernini's concept was for something very different. He took his inspiration 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.
The baldacchino is surmounted not with an architectural pediment, like most baldacchino, but with curved Baroque brackets supporting a draped canopy, like the brocade canopies carried in processions above precious iconic images. In this case, the draped canopy is of bronze, and all the details, including the olive leaves, bees, and the portrait heads of Urban's niece in childbirth and her newborn son, are picked out in gold leaf.
Here's a closer look; it's stunning. In person, it's almost impossible to comprehend the intricacy and complexity of the sculpture.
To the left of the altar is the tomb of Pope Alexander VII also created by Bernini. More wiki: It's called Lees-Milne "one of the greatest tombs of the Baroque Age". It occupies an awkward position, being set in a niche above a doorway into a small vestry, but Bernini has utilised the doorway in a symbolic manner. Pope Alexander kneels upon his tomb, facing outward. The tomb is supported on a large draped shroud patterned red marble, and is supported by four female figures, of whom only the two at the front are fully visible. They represent Charity and Truth.
The foot of Truth rests upon a globe of the world, her toe being pierced symbolically by the thorn of Protestant England. Because Pope Alexander VII was the Pope in charge when King Henry VIII broke with the Catholics to form the Church of England.
This picture was taken from the very front of the Basilica in front of the altar looking back at the entrance.
We're almost to the end of Rome, kids! Tomorrow I'll post my pics from our impromptu Rome at night tour that Chris and I embarked upon.