According to Catholic texts, after the crucifixion of Jesus, St. Peter travelled to Rome and was martyred by being crucified head down near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero. Shrines existed in the spot until St. Peter’s was consecrated in 329 under the Emperor Constantine. During the 16th century, Pope Julius II decided St. Peter’s needed to be rebuilt rather than restored, so he brought in Donato Bramante as architect and construction started in April 1506.
Upon Bramante’s death, the project changed architects several times until Pope Paul III turned over the reins to Michelangelo. Ultimately, it took 150 years to compete St. Peter’s and Michelangelo even died before the completion of the Dome.
Regardless of the history of the building, the result is amazing! As I said in the previous post, there is a dress code, so do try to remember to wear something that covers your knees and shoulders, and no hats! They had some services going on when we were inside and one man was wearing a hat and you could see the security who noticed itching to go say something, but he was ensuring no one entered the small chapel area where the service was being held.
Today, St. Peter’s Basilica is known in the art world for not only its architecture, but for three works it houses: The Pieta by Michelangelo, the baldacchino over the altarpiece and the altarpiece itself, both designed by Bernini. All three are amazing! I wanted to see the Pieta the most, but the altarpiece had to be my second favourite, particularly with the dove in the stained glass window at the top.
As for visiting St. Peter’s, there is substantial security. You go through security checkpoints almost like the airport before you ever enter. Then you climb up the stairs and enter through the main doors. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the sheer scale of what’s inside. It’s huge.
Directly to the right when you enter is the Pieta. Due to damage it sustained decades ago, it is protected behind glass and a protective railing that keeps the viewer much farther than I know I preferred. Mary is still just as serene though some of the smaller detailing is more difficult to see.
Once you pass the Pieta, it is simply a matter of walking around and just looking at all the statues, and paintings, and smaller chapels–not to mention the ceiling and the dome!! We started on that right side by the Pieta, and made a slow circle around the entirety. If you are a little photo happy like I am, be warned that sometimes if a chapel is having a service, they won’t let you photograph a sculpture or a painting in that chapel. We honestly had very few problems in St. Peter’s and my husband even managed to find a priest who took a photo of all of us together rather than us trying to take a selfie.
My biggest advice is that if you want to see St. Peter’s without a huge line/queue to get in, go within 30 minutes of it opening. When we went the Vatican the day before, the line for St. Peter’s was supposedly 2 hours. We really didn’t wait at all the next morning. According to the website, St. Peter’s opened at 7:30 and we were there by 8:00. We only had a few people before us at the security checkpoint. It was easy peasy.
There is a way to go up to the dome to see the inside, but my children were ready to walk around Rome rather than remain where we were, so we passed. Hopefully, we can go back so I can get up there!! The next day, someone told me how amazing it is. Oh well! Live and learn!
Next stop… Pantheon and a few other sites around Rome.
2 thoughts on “Rome: St. Peter’s Basilica”
Great advice about arriving just before it opens! Impressive and awe-inspiring! I can only imagine the photos you would have taken if you had gone up! Thank you!
Wow–amazing!!! I would love to see The Pieta; it’s one of my favorite works of art, and my mother had a replica that belonged to her great-grandfather, an art collector in our home as I grew up, and I was always fascinated by Mary’s serenity. When my parents went to Rome about 15 years ago, they brought each of us a small replica which I keep in our living room; I love it!!
I just finished re-reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, so seeing a bit of the Vatican and the Egyptian obelisk that figured to strongly in the plot really helps me to appreciate the scope and the history of the Vatican and its art!
Did you know that the largest collection of Christian art outside of the Vatican is at Bob Jones University in South Carolina? Some friends and I spent an entire afternoon exploring the museum, and it’s incredible!!
Thanks for your photos and the details of your tour, Leslie!! I am so enjoying these posts!