St. Peter’s Basilica rests in the center of Vatican City, easily one of Rome’s most recognizable buildings. The Basilica’s elaborate dome reigns over the Eternal City’s skyline – a compass for all who wander Rome’s streets. St. Peter’s Basilica’s stunning façade with its Renaissance architecture complements the building’s rich history and influence on modern Christendom.
The Creation Story of St. Peter’s Basilica
The roots of St. Peter’s Basilica’s story were planted in 64 A.D., when Saint Peter was martyred during Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome. Construction of the original Saint Peter’s Basilica was authorized by Emperor Constantine in 324 A.D. after he issued the 313 A.D. Edict of Milan, which allowed Christians to construct places of worship in Rome. The old St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the alleged location of the burial place of Saint Peter.
The Rebuilding and Rebirth of the Basilica
The old St. Peter’s Basilica began to fall into disrepair towards the end of the 15th century. The plans for the new iteration of Saint Peter’s Basilica were set into place when Pope Nicholas V commissioned the architect Bernardo Rosellino to design an entirely new Basilica. By 1455, a large number of stones preserved from the destruction of the Colosseum ordered by Nicholas V was used to build the foundations of the new basilica.
After Nicholas V’s death, Pope Julius II continued with the plans to finish construction of the new basilica. His work began with the demolition of the old St. Peter’s Basilica in 1505. He was succeeded by 21 popes over a span of 120 years whose collective work resulted in the completion of the present-day St. Peter’s Basilica.
Relevance to Protestantism
The building of the new St. Peter’s Basilica was funded mainly by the selling of indulgences, the purchase of reduced punishment for sins. This lead to protest from famed German priest Martin Luther, who argued against the sale of indulgences. His letters of protest to Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, one of the main proponents of raising funds through the selling of indulgences, included Luther’s Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. This document came to be known as The 95 Theses and laid the groundwork for beginning the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism.
St. Peter’s Basilica’s Design
The original design for the new basilica was created by Donato Bramante. Bramante’s drawings featured a floor plan shaped like an enormous cross and a Pantheon-inspired dome. Pope Julius II’s death in 1513 led to Bramante ultimately being replaced by Raphael in 1515. Raphael’s design featured reduced tower sizes which defined the squareness of the building’s exterior walls. Unfortunately, Raphael died in 1520 after only five years of planning the basilica’s design.
Michelangelo was appointed by Pope Paul III in 1547 to finish overseeing the design and construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Highly regarded as the basilica’s principal designer, Michelangelo was coerced into the job by Pope Paul. Michelangelo’s design paid reverence to the original aspects of Bramante’s design while reducing the definition of its geographic forms.
The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome was inspired by that of the Pantheon. Its structure was also inspired by Brunelleschi’s Duomo di Firenze. The dome of Saint Peter’s bears the distinction of being the tallest dome in the world. Its presence stands out amidst Rome’s skyline.
Bernini’s Baldacchino is a 66-ft tall bronze canopy that towers inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Baldacchino was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini with the purpose of marking the tomb of Saint Peter. This imposing sculpted canopy is one of the basilica’s most renowned works of art.
The Basilica’s Earthly Treasures
St. Peter’s Basilica is also home to the papal tombs, which hold the remains of 91 popes, including Pope John Paul II who was the Papal Tombs’ most recent interment, buried in 2005. Queen Christina of Sweden is also interred here. The basilica also contains a stunning array of artwork and sculptures including the Holy Door and Michelangelo’s Pietà.
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