In the last blog I described a secret way to go from the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum to St Peter’s Basilica without having to stand in line. Today I want to tell you about the basilica, because it is the greatest church in the world after all. I mean this in two meanings. First, it is physically the largest church, has the highest dome, and the third largest dome in the world. Second, it is religiously the most known, revered, sacred (after the Holy Sepulchre with Jesus’s tomb).
St Peter’s Basilica was built in the exact spot, because this is where St Peter was martyred. He is considered the very first Pope when Jesus said “upon this rock I will build the church”. From the time Peter was killed nearby and his body buried his tomb has been watched over and enshrined. As soon as Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, he built a basilica directly over the shire that had been erected around Peter’s tomb over the last 250 years. The first basilica was begun in 319 and was bigger than a football field. Unfortunately, over the centuries this church was neglected and in 1505 Pope Julius chose to have the old church destroyed and have it replaced with a monumental structure to show that this place was of the greatest importance (and of course to house his gigantic tomb). It took 120 years to complete.
Once you are inside St Peter’s Basilica is easy to lose prospective with how big this place truly is, because everything in side is built to the same scale. In fact, the Bernini pavilion built directly under the dome and above the alter stands almost 95 feet high. This is the focus point of the entire church because under the alter is the tomb of St Peter. Just so you know it is possible to visit St Peter’s tomb, you just have to arrange a guided tour on their website. You will find many tombs of Popes in the church along with countless sculpture. Each one has significance and I could not begin to list each one here. I recommend using an audio guide or a tour to gain a better understanding of the entire church.
For 6-8 euro (depends if you want to use the elevator or stairs for the first half) you can climb to the cupula at the top of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. I highly recommend doing this for many reasons. First, you can get a better look at the artwork on the inside of the dome. Second, you get a phenomenal view of St Peter’s Square, the gardens of Vatican City, and Rome itself, which is where we are heading in the next blog.