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Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world built within Vatican City in Italy. The church applies as the centre of Christianity among catholic religious believers. Saint Peter’s Basilica holds a special place among catholic faithful as one of the holiest places associated with the religion (Letarouilly 67).
The magnificent construction that constitutes the church has been in existence for over a decade following the enterprising efforts of the earliest architects from Italy. The church is located on Vatican Hill that stands across Tiber River, which has its source in the historic Rome center.
This site has a lot of symbolism in believes and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the location where Saint Peter, who was a principal follower of Jesus died as a sacrificial victim, and buried around 64 AD (Letarouilly 74). This is how the place got its name Saint Peter’s Basilica. Catholic doctrines consider Saint Peter as the primary Pope of the church, thus making it a centre for the religion worldwide.
Historical evidence indicates that the tomb used in burying Saint Peter lies unswervingly below the altar used at the Basilica. This explains the tradition in which the burial of several Popes takes place at Basilica since then (Letarouilly 81). Saint Peter’s Basilica holds numerous associations with the history of early Christianity, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, and architecture. The architectural work applied on the church makes it the supreme edifice of its epoch.
The catholic centre has influenced many people in their journey to spiritual growth and understanding life (Letarouilly 90). Saint Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest church with an affluent history of Christianity. It rises in the heart of Rome to offer an opportunity to indulge in the world of the past, the present and the future.
History of Saint Peter’s Basilica
Constantine, who was the first Christian emperor of Rome in the early fourth century, built the first Basilica on Vatican hill. Construction of the Basilica that marked the location of Saint Peter’s tomb was on track between 319 and 322 (Tronzo 123). However, the developer dedicated the Basilica to God in 326 AD, with its completion happening around 349 AD.
The central area of the church was 279 ft long with four passageways between seating areas, and a spacious entrance hall. The entrance hall had a bell tower at the front and a triple-arched porch through which people entered the church (Tronzo 129). It was out of this Basilica that the idea of the now Saint Peter’s Basilica developed.
This was after Pope Nicolas V, ordered its expansion in mid fifteenth century. However, the expansion plans stalled soon after for close to fifty years following the death of Pope Nicholas V. After all this years of little progress towards building a new Basilica, Pope Julius II resolved to fabricate a new church.
The Pope hired the services of Bramante an architect who designed a church plan with equal lengths. Pope Julius II initiated the foundation of the new basilica in 1506 by laying the first stone (Tronzo 135). The project received a blow eight years later following the death of Bramante.
Various architects who succeeded him made numerous changes to the original church blueprint. The most notable change was a dome conceived. The dome completion happened in 1590, and re-consecrated by Pope Urban VIII in 1626. Since then Saint Peter’s Basilica has attracted pilgrims and tourists from all over the world for its architectural design and symbolism in catholic religion (McDowell 25).
A common feature in the centre is Saint Peter’s Square. It is a flamboyant oval shaped walkway created by Lorenzo Bernini in mid 17th century. Considerable structures consisting of a row of evenly spaced columns that denote open arms border the square (McDowell 37).
The Architecture of Saint Peter’s Basilica
The architectural impression of Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the most impressive ones in the world up to today. The central area of the church that includes a lobby is 694 ft long. The church’s dome is the largest in the world with a diameter of 42 meters and a horizontal length of 434ft (Doyle 146).
A noticeable feature of the church design is the 149 ft tall front elevation. Carlo Maderno designed the facade from a slight alteration of an original design by Michelangelo. The original design intended to have colossal columns in front of the building, but the new design placed the columns adjacent to the walls (Doyle 148). The front elevation is further coroneted by statues representing Jesus, John the Baptist, and all his disciples with the exception of Saint Peter.
All sides have clocks held by statues that denote the angels. Another feature of the church is the portico at the west end with five entrances. At the portico, there are equestrian statues of Charles the great and Emperor Constantine. There is also a bronze door considered holy, and opened only once every quarter of a decade (Doyle 154).
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The interior of the church is large with a surface area of covering over 15,000 square meters. This area can accommodate up to over 58,000 people at a go. The ceiling to the floor consists of a large middle dome and a coffered cask catacomb. The first impression someone gets from the interior is that the church is wealthy, as manifested in the large monuments that decorate the church.
Another noticeable feature in the church interior is the tall statues denoting Saints Andrew, Veronica, Helena, and Longinus (Doyle 159). One of the renowned statues at Saint Peter’s Basilica is a marble sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. A twenty five year old man called Michelangelo, created the statue located at the first chapel, in 1499-1500.
The statue has a protection cover of bulletproof screen after visitors started destroying it through various violation attempts (Doyle 160). The paintings found in the church are replicas as the high humidity levels of the church ruined oil paintings. Saint Peter’s Basilica floor consists of a multihued limestone prototype. The crowning feature of Saint Peter’s Basilica is the grandiose auditorium planned by Michelangelo.
Pentagon pillars support the dome that has well designed windows supporting the corrugated burial chamber. A viewing podium at the church allows someone to have a wide view of Rome (Doyle 166). The viewing podium is at the top and can be accessed trough a staircase way or taking an elevators that are more expensive.
The architectural design of Saint Peter’s Basilica has had great influence on the designs taken up by churches all over the world. Most cathedrals all over the world have designs similar or close to that of Basilica (Doyle 169). The missionaries who introduced Christianity to various parts of the world influenced the adoption of the design, thus developed churches with relating architectural designs.
Facts about Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica is the ultimate symbol and centre of the Roman Catholic Church. There are a number of facts associated with this symbolic structure in Rome, with some very fascinating. Many have described the basilica as a beautiful piece of architecture, as well as a captivating one.
The first fact is that what currently exists as Saint Peter’s Basilica was the old Saint Peter’s Basilica (Colberg 200). There is very little left of the old Basilica today as the present Basilica developed afresh after its expansion plan stalled for nearly a half a decade. The second fact is that the Basilica has over one hundred tombs, most of which belong to Popes (Colberg 203).
Among the tombs, there is one for emperor Otto II and Christina, a Swedish queen famed for abdicating the throne to convert to the Roman Catholic Church. Another fact is that the statues in the Basilica representing the virgin Mary mourning over the dead body of Jesus has experienced a lot of abuse for the lengthy period it has been there.
During various movements around the church, some fingers broke and required some replacement (Colberg 129). Laszlo Toth, a geologist inflicted the worst ever abuse towards the statue when he entered the Basilica and attacked it with a hammer. From the attack, the Pieta lost one arm, parts of the nose, and damaged eyelids. Since then a bulletproof glass case has been protecting the Pieta.
Another fact is that at the Basilica there is a holy door that opens only once in a quarter of a decade (Colberg 211). The people who pass through the holy door receive a comprehensive immoderation, as taught in the Roman Catholic Church. The fifth fact is that there are over one hundred and forty statues denoting various saints found at the top of the arcade outside the Basilica.
Different artists designed all the statues over a period of 41 years, though the names of all the designers lack in the records. Another fact is that for someone to reach the dome using the staircase way, he/she has to climb a record 491 stairs (Colberg 214). Although taking an elevator is more appealing, the experience of using the stairs is a exhilarating one as some sections are narrow and incredibly slanted, thus increasing the thrill of using the path.
Another fact is that there is a statue of Saint Peter in the church made of bronze. The statue receives a lot of love because of a tradition in which people who pass by the statue have to osculate it or rub the feet. Another fact about the Basilica is the presence of portraits representing every Pope. Although records indicate that, there were empty portraits for upcoming pores, questions on how the Vatican knew the number of empty portraits to put up still remains a mystery to many.
Another fact is that Saint Peter’s Basilica is not a cathedral (Colberg 220). In the Roman Catholic Church, a cathedral applies as the principal Christian church building of a bishop’s diocese. This means that the Basilica is not the official seat of the pope, but a centre in which essential church ceremonies and activities take place due to its large size. Another fascinating fact is that Basilica lies on top of Saint Peter’s tomb.
Although it was hard to prove the ideal spot of Peter’s tomb, excavations found some bones at the spot believed to belong to Saint Peter. The final notable fact about the basilica is that the 96ft tall baldachin by Bernini was finished in 1633 (Colberg 223). The baldachin applied as the embodiment of wealth, and received a lot of criticism.
Much of the criticism came from the alleged source of the bronze used to produce the baldachin. Critics argued that the bronze used came from the roof of a monument commemorating the dead heroes of Italy, something that failed to delight Italians.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world.The magnificent construction that constitutes the church has been in existence for over a decade following the enterprising efforts of the earliest architects from Italy. Catholic doctrines consider Saint Peter as the primary pope of the church, thus making the church a centre for the religion worldwide (McDowell 40).
The architectural work applied on the church makes it the supreme edifice of its epoch. Constantine, who was the first Christian emperor of Rome in the early fourth century, built the first Basilica on Vatican hill. Construction of the Basilica applied numerous financing approaches that included giving way of inabilities to defy the pleasure of whims and desires, in return for any contributions made towards the construction.
Saint peter’s Basilica is the ultimate symbol and centre of the Roman Catholic Church (McDowell 62). Saint Peter’s Basilica rises in the heart of Rome to offer an opportunity to indulge in the world of the past, the present and the future.
Colberg, Kristin. Vatican I and Vatican II as Coherent Christian Discourse. California: University of Notre Dame, 2009. Print.
Doyle, Michael. Vatican: its History its Treasures 1914. New York: Kiesinger Publishing, 2003. Print.
Letarouilly, Paul. The Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica of Rome. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. Print.
McDowell, Bart. Inside the Vatican. Rome: National Geographic Society, 2005. Print.
Tronzo, William. St. Peter’s in the Vatican. London: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.