Italy played a pivotal role in the Renaissance Era when creativity grew in leaps and bounds. Architecture, Art, Sculpture all flourished in this Era which gave dawn to new styles and a break away from what Art Historians call the Dark Ages. One of the most beautiful churches in the world was constructed in this time under the guidance of some of the Art world’s greatest masters.
Although St. Peter’s is neither the Mother Church of the Catholic World, nor the cathedral to the Diocese of Rome, it holds great significance for all Christians worldwide. It is one of the largest churches in the world and is renowned for its magnificent architecture that took more than 100 years to complete. According to Catholic tradition, St. Peter was buried in the land below the Basilica and it is for this reason that many Popes over the years have been interred at the Church.
Beautifully described by one observer, “St. Peter’s Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the center of the civilized world. For religious, historical and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at its best.”
This observer sums up perfectly the sentiments a tourist would feel on viewing the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. It covers an area of 2.3 hectares and is entirely contained within the walls of the Vatican City, which is a country in itself. Although no visa is required to visit the Vatican, it is its own Sovereign state.
There was an Old Peter’s Basilica on the grounds before it was renovated and redesigned in the Renaissance Era which was constructed in the 4th Century. Containing the remains of many Popes dating from the time of St. Peter to the 15th Century, the new St. Peter’s Basilica was based on the design submitted by Donato Bramante. Seeing many Capomaestros change over the years as Popes changed, the responsibility to see the construction through finally fell on the shoulders of the seventy-year-old Michelangelo who was extremely reluctant to take up the challenge.
He inherited a number of plans designed by some of the greatest engineering and architectural minds of the 16th century. He did not dismiss the ideas of his predecessors; instead he drew from them to create a plan that produced the structure we admire today. The Greek Cross design and the inclusion of the dome ensures that Michelangelo’s work is best appreciated from afar where the entirety can be viewed. The Dome was inspired by the domes of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome and Florence Cathedral of the Early Renaissance to become part of the greatest symbol of Christendom.
The design of this church greatly influenced the designs of church architecture in the Western Christian World. The Church has been richly decorated with Masterpieces from the Art World, like the Cathedra Petri or ‘throne of Peter’ and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament created by Bernini.
Bernini’s baldacchino graces the altar, and the four piers that support the dome have niches that hold Saint Helena holding the True Cross and the Holy nails by Andrea Bolgi, St. Longinus holding the Spear that pierced Jesus’ side by Bernini, St. Andrew with St. Andrew’s Cross by Duquesnoy and St. Veronica holding the veil with Jesus’ image by Mochi.
Also housing Michelangelo’s Pieta, and other masterpieces by the Renaissance Masters, the Basilica truly is a treasure trove of art that would be a shame to miss if you’re visiting Italy.