St Peter’s; in the foreground is the Holy water stoups; in the back ground Bernini’s baldacchino and the chair of St Peter – photographed by the author

Rome sweet home (3) – St Peter’s, built in living stone.

St Peter’s Basilica is built within the walls of an independent nation called the Vatican. The Vatican gets its name from the Etruscan goddess or the guardian of the dead called Vatica. At one time the area which we now call the Vatican, was nothing more than a cemetery. The Vatican, built on one side of the river Tiber, overlooks the seven hills on which Rome was built. During the Roman era, this land was a marshy area and hence not populated. In time the the Circus of Nero was built here.

St Peter’s Basilica was built beside the Circus of Nero or Circus of Caligula. It is here that that Peter and the early Christians were martyred. Along side the circus was a cemetery where St. Peter was buried and a memorial was built. The circus itself was already abandoned by the middle of the second century AD and tombs were then built here.

Plan of Nero’s Circus and the present St Peter’s Basilica

The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, built the first St. Peter’s in the early 300 ADs over the place where it was rumoured by tradition, to be the tomb of St. Peter. He replaced the simple sanctuary of the Prince of the Apostles with a larger structure.

St. Peter’s is principally a house of worship but it means many things to many people. The structure itself is a masterpiece designed by some of the most famous names in history. The artifacts, both in the Basilica and the treasury museum, are unmatched. Its furnishings are priceless and its history embraces every floor and pillar of this place of worship.

The plan of the first St Peter’s Basilica

The old structure was torn down to build the new St. Peter’s and  construction began in 1506 and ended in 1612. It took 13 Popes and 14 architects to get this building up for worship. Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to build a new Basilica for it was his design that won Julius II’s competition. In 1506, Julius, before 35 cardinals, laid the foundations of this enormous structure. The present structure was designed over time, principally by four men, Donato Bramante, Michaelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernin, and epitomises Renaissance architecture.

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