St Peter’s Basilica

(continuer en français) – Published: February 22, 2022

St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

With its huge dome overlooking the Roman landscape, St Peter’s Basilica is the heart of the Catholic religion, both as the Pope’s church and as the largest building in Catholicism. It is located where, according to tradition, St. Peter was martyred around 65, under the Emperor Nero, and then buried. The central altar stands above the tomb of the first bishop of Rome and thus the predecessor of all popes.

The construction site was launched in 1505 by Pope Julius II, and for 120 years the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance contributed to making it a grandiose monument. The first architect was Bramante, whose initial plan was transformed many times.

The façade

The façade on St. Peter’s Square is the work of Carlo Maderno. Despite its large size, it does not appear imposing thanks to its harmonious proportions. Doors and windows complement each other well, but when compared to the human size, one realizes how gigantic they are.

The front of the basilica even manages to be wider than the nave, with the two end entrances opening onto the side passages. The attic is criticized for being too high, hiding the view of the dome from part of the square. The balustrade is punctuated by statues of Christ and the apostles.

The nave

Originally conceived in the form of a Greek cross, without a nave, Bramante’s and then Raphael’s plans evolved, giving more and more space to the nave, until they ended up in the Latin cross assumed and completed by Carlo Maderno. The massive pillars support a rounded and richly decorated vault. Once again, the balance of the proportions makes one lose the sense of dimensions, one must compare with the size of the visitors to realise this.

The dome

The dome is Michelangelo’s masterpiece. He was called in 1547, already over seventy years old, to complete what the bold plans of Bramante and then Raphael had foreseen but failed to achieve. It rises to a height of more than 130 metres and a diameter of more than 40 metres, dimensions that have never been reached.

The baldachino

It was in 1633, during the pontificate of Urban VIII, that Bernini was commissioned to design this impressive baldachino, which had no precedent. Faced with the immensity of the nave, it was necessary to focus attention on the central point of the basilica, the altar above the tomb of Saint Peter.

To erect the four twisted bronze columns, the pope ordered the doors of the Pantheon, which dated from before the Christian era, to be melted down, something for which he was greatly reproached. Reaching a height of 29 metres, the whole thing weighs 60 tons.

The crypt

Partly hidden behind a statue at the foot of a pillar, a discreet staircase leads down to the crypt, with the appearance of a secret passage. Several signs ask not to take photos, believing them to be limited to the place of their presence, I only understood later that the whole crypt is concerned. Given the evolution of techniques and the natural act of taking photos, this ancient instruction under the pretext of respect seems a little outdated.

Many popes have chosen to be buried there, as well as other sovereigns. If some tombs have beautiful recumbents, the decoration of the place remains sober compared to the magnificence of the basilica.

The works of art

Back in the nave, it is tempting to go around again, paying attention to the many monumental sculptures decorating the walls. Curiously, there are few paintings; it is mainly the marbles that impress.

The most precious, protected by a safety glass, is Michelangelo’s Pietà from 1499. This work was reworked many times by later artists. Bernini also continued his work by arranging the chapel in the apse behind the choir.

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  1. What lovely memories these photos brought back. My last foreign holiday before Covid lockdown was to Rome and I went with a friend who’d never been there before so I saw it all afresh through her eyes. It was one of my most memorable holidays, but then I love Rome anyway and always enjoy time there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you, there is nothing worse than getting used to something to prevent you from appreciating a beautiful place. Sometimes you have to step away for a while before you get some freshness of mind. That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling since the beginning of my new stay in Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

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