Friday, April 5, 2013

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica
Donato Bramante was the original architect but Michelangelo (at age 71)
was persuaded by the Pope to add the famous dome.

We didn't plan to be in Rome for Easter just sort of happened.  But apparently lots of folks did plan to see the Vatican and attend the first Easter mass given by the new Pope Francis.  Lines to visit St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum stretched for blocks.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Rick Steves for the recommendation in his Rome guidebook to make reservations ahead of time for the museum and the Sistine Chapel.  With reservations in hand, we bypassed everyone and went directly in. That was great - especially because it was raining!  Unfortunately, that option doesn't exist for visiting St. Peters Basilica and we opted for skipping the long lines waiting to enter with a plan to return early the next morning. It was a good plan.  There were few people at that time of day and we were able to see it at our leisure.  The choir was practicing and hearing their beautiful voices in the background enhanced the heavenly atmosphere of the enormous church.

St. Peter

St. Peter's was built in 313 when Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine. The church was built on the site where St. Peter was buried and his remains continue to rest some 23 feet under the main alter.  The St. Peter's you see today isn't the same one that was built in 313. It only lasted a mere 1200 years!  In 1500, construction began on the new basilica, the one we have today.

On each side of the main basilica curved porticoes were added 100 years later by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
There are 142 columns topped by 70 ten foot tall saints on each wing.
The obelisk is Egyptian and is 2000 years old. The spoils of war, it was brought to Rome by the Emperor Caligula.
It was later installed at St. Peter's square in 1586. 

The area of the church is equal to six acres (two football fields in length).
All the chairs you see have been added in preparation for Easter mass.
We've read that the church can accommodate 60,000 standing people.

One of the first things you see when you enter St. Peters is Michelangelo's Pieta.
He was 24 years old when he sculpted it and it is the only work that he ever signed.
Religious or not, art lover or not, this emotional sculpture will move you.

The dome Michaelangelo designed soars 448 feet from the floor.  

Bernini's bronze canopy over the marble alter used only by the pope.
The canopy is a deceiving seven stories in height.
 In the background is the dove window also designed by Bernini.

Alter of St. Jerome

Baptismal Font

We wish we could tell you more about the next few photos, but even a search of the Vatican's own website fails to identify much of the art and sculpture in St. Peters.

To give sense of scale, the letters in the gold band are seven feet tall.

Details from the dome in the photograph above.

The Swiss Guard's uniforms seem perfectly in style for the setting.



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