Rome is renowned as the “city of a thousand churches”. The first among them, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican (Basilica Papali di San Pietro Vaticano), the acknowledged focus of Christianity worldwide was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) 395 years ago on November 18, 1626.
That day marked the 1300th anniversary of dedication of the old S. Peter’s Basilica (Constantine’s Basilica) on November 18, 326 by Pope Sylvester I (285-335). This basilica was the centre of Christian worship and focus of pilgrims from around the globe until the new S. Peter’s was raised on its very spot.
Ancient writings has described how the body of Simon Peter of Galilee, Prince of the Apostles, was exhumed from his simple earthen grave at this time and re-interred in a shrine of silver, enclosed in a sarcophagus of gilt bronze upon which was laid the great cross of gold – a gift of Constantine the Great (c. 272-337) and his mother S. Helena.
The rebuilding of the basilica was first planned during the pontificate of Nicholas V (1397-1455) who rebuilt the Vatican, restored St. Peter’s, and the Vatican Library during his pontificate. However, the work of the new basilica did not materialise till the time of the great Renaissance Pope Julius II (1443-1513). In April 1506, Julius II began the new S. Peter’s from designs of Donato Bramante (1444-1514). The first stone for this most beautiful and the most sublime edifice was laid on the spot where the present statue of S. Veronica (by sculptor Francesco Mochi, 1580-1654) is located.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) wanted the cupola to be immense so that it would “embrace all those in Christian faith around the earth”. Left unfinished by Michelangelo, it was completed by Giacomo della Porta (1541-1604) and Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) in 1590.
The two semi-circular colonnades of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) were added by Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) in 1667. The enormous Baldacchino or canopy over the high altar made of bronze and adorned with gilt ornaments is the work of Bernini who completed it in 1633. The enormous talent involved in its creation and preservation has made St. Peter’s Basilica a sanctified ornament of the earth. Jo
(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)