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St Peter's Basilica History, Vatican City in Rome, the history of the construction, expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter

St Peter’s Basilica History | Vatican City in Rome

St Peter's Basilica History, Vatican City in Rome, the history of the construction, expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter
St Peter’s Basilica History, Vatican City in Rome, the history of the construction, expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter

St Peter’s Basilica History | Vatican City in Rome

St. Peter through history
The history of the construction and expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter is marked by the will of the popes to offer pilgrims a glorious place in which to honor the apostle’s holiness.

ABOUT THE YEAR 333, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote: “Simon, called Peter, left Capernaum, a city of Galilee, brought the light of divine knowledge into the soul of many men and made himself known throughout the world up to the lands of ‘West. And the memory of him persists even today in the Romans, more vivid than that of all those who preceded him; to the point that he obtained the honor of having a magnificent tomb in front of the city, a tomb to which countless crowds from all over the Roman Empire flock, as if to a sanctuary and a temple of God.

Pauline of Nola
THE PILGRIMS ABOUT Eusebius rushed towards the basilica built by the emperor Constantine on the modest tomb of the apostle.
The movement did not stop growing over the centuries. History has handed down to us the enthusiastic memory of the pilgrimages of St. Paulinus of Nola in 399, of St. Hilary of Arles in 408. “The apostles – said St. Leo the Great – have raised Rome to such glory that it has become a holy nation, a chosen people, a priestly and royal city, and the capital of the world, thanks to the Seat of Peter.»

St Peter’s Basilica History | Vatican City in Rome

Theodoret of Ciro
ACCORDING TO THE EXPRESSION of Theodoret of Ciro (393 ca.-466 ca.): «Peter and Paul, inspired by God, arose from the East and spread their rays everywhere; they have set in the West; from there they light up the world “. And in his poetic style, Prudentius wrote at the end of the fifth century: «Where do we run in dense ranks with this air of celebration? Tell me, my friend, whatever happened to make the streets of Rome full of such a crowd shouting for joy? “Today is the anniversary of the triumph of the apostles, that is, the day ennobled by the glorious blood of Peter and Paul”».

The “Confession” of Peter

St Peter's Basilica History, Vatican City in Rome, the history of the construction, expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter
St Peter’s Basilica History, Vatican City in Rome, the history of the construction, expansion of the basilica dedicated to the apostle Peter

PETER AND PAUL, AS can be seen, are never dissociated in the pilgrimage to Rome. For Peter, the emperor Constantine built the first basilica, whose high altar, according to Roman custom, stood on the very tomb of the martyred apostle.
The tomb was transformed into a kind of semi-underground sanctuary that the Greeks called martýrion, where the remains of martyrs lay.
The Romans adopted the word “confession,” which has the same meaning: there rests the body of the one who “confessed”, professed the faith, until the shedding of his blood and death in witness of Jesus Christ. The basilica that rose above the “Confession” of pure Roman style included five naves, divided by four rows of twenty-four columns.

The triumphal arch with which the central nave ended was covered with mosaics. Glorious Christ dominated the liturgical assembly. Pope Sergius I (687-701) replaced the Christ who had canceled himself with the symbolic representation, the immolated Lamb of which the Apocalypse speaks. Moreover, he introduced the recitation of the Agnus Dei prayer into the Eucharistic celebration. The last transformation in chronological order was carried out by Cardinal Giacomo Caetani Stefaneschi from the family of Bonifacio VIII. Giotto interprets the famous Gospel scene of St. Peter’s boat, the “spacecraft”. Peter the intrepid, the man of little faith, totters on the stormy sea. Jesus reassures him, with his hand firmly extended. Moved and remodeled several times, the famous mosaic adorns the narthex of the basilica.

St Peter’s Basilica History | Vatican City Tous in Rome

The Constantinian basilica

THE IMMENSE BUILDING, TO WHICH the pilgrim accessed by porphyry and marble steps, over the centuries would have been enriched with considerable treasures, despite invasions, looting, and fires. The basilica, stripped of its precious ornaments by the Visigoths and Vandals, was restored each time by the pietas of the popes, in particular: Pelagius II at the end of the sixth century, Gregory the Great, and then Leo IV around 850, after the sack of the Saracens. The last embellishments were made by Callisto II (1119-1124) and by Innocent III (1198-1216).

The Renaissance

WITH NICHOL V (1447-1455), the last page of the history of the Constantinian basilica was definitively turned, the first stone of which was placed on November 18, 326 by Pope Sylvester I. The solidity of the building, after so many alterations, procured severe concerns. And, in the climate of the Renaissance, the idea of ​​building a new basilica made its way, in a gesture of renewed homage to the prince of the apostles. There must have been many obstacles to overcome, you can guess.
It took the impetuous Julius II to make the decision and five popes to carry out the work, with the help of five architects, Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo Della Porta, Carlo Maderno, Bernini, collaborators of Julius II, then of Paul III, Sixtus V, Paul V and finally Urban VIII. It was the latter who consecrated the new Vatican basilica on November 18, 1626, exactly thirteen centuries after the first. The original conception dates back to Donato Bramante, who laid the first foundations in 1513. But, subsequently, the successive popes, together with their architects, continue to modify the project. By order of Paul V, the nave is lengthened to allow for larger ceremonies and from a Greek cross, it becomes a Latin cross. Two men of genius, Julius II and Bramante, are at the starting point of the colossal work begun in 1506, with the help of 2000 workers. But the two protagonists die a few months apart from each other, in 1513. Times are difficult. Despite Luther’s accusations, archival documents show that the construction was carried out solely thanks to donations from the faithful. The sack of Rome in 1527 made heaps of ruins. Clement VII, locked in Castel Sant’Angelo, managed to obtain freedom only at the price of 400,000 gold ducats. It was Paul III Farnese, elected in 1534, who, during his fifteen-year pontificate, ensured peace, restored finances, convened the Council of Trent, initiated the Catholic reform, and resumed the work of St. Peter.

St Peter’s Basilica History | Vatican City in Rome


PAUL III, AFTER THE DEATH of Sangallo, ended up convincing Michelangelo to finish the construction. The irascible Florentine accepted the formal condition of working only for God ». Without fees, the brilliant artist intended to work even without directives. Chief architect with full powers from 1 January 1547, Buonarroti began by demolishing everything that his predecessors had built, thirty years of expenses thus nullified. There was a fight on the construction site, a master builder was stabbed there, cardinals went into a rage. Michelangelo, supported by Paul III, stood up to the hurricane, mercilessly demolished works for more than 100,000 scudi, to return to Bramante’s initial plan. At least, he bragged about it. Because his genius was busy building a more majestic dome than Brunelleschi’s in S. Maria in Florence. After the death of Paul III, the popes Julius III, Marcellus II, Paul IV, and Pius IV held him as the first architect but without giving him the necessary means. In 1564, on his death, the drum was still finished. Pius V had to do with the Protestants and the Turks. Gregory XIII lavishly built the Gregorian chapel.

It was Sixtus V who with his energy made it possible to complete these labors of Hercules in five years: finish the dome, move the obelisk, bring water from Lake Bracciano to the fountains in the square, 23 km away, build the Palazzo del Laterano, open long arteries in the city of Rome. Both engineer and architect, Fontana was the man capable of carrying out these ambitious projects. “Legend has it that, in anticipation of the fiasco, the Pope had a gallows erected” … and that the architect always kept two saddled horses to escape as soon as possible! It was a success. The pontiff thundered the cannons of Castel Sant’Angelo, flagged and illuminated the city. The architect received the title of Roman noble and was rewarded with a bag of gold. Paul V would have continued the gigantic work, with the help of Carlo Maderno, grandson of Domenico Fontana, who completed the work under Gregory XV and died at the age of seventy-three under the pontificate of Urban VIII. He was buried in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini.

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