When it comes to magnificent churches, no other city in the world can compete with Rome. The Eternal City is filled with more than 900 churches and chapels and among these is the largest and most spectacular of all churches, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican. Built on what is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter, the Basilica is one of the holiest Catholic shrines and is visited by more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists every year.
St. Peter, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus, whom He ordained “the rock on which I will build my church” was martyred in the 1st century, during emperor Nero’s great Christian persecution. 4 centuries later, Constantine, the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, ordered the construction of a church, the Old St. Peter’s Basilica, on the burial place of St. Peter. The New St. Peter’s Basilica, the one we know today, was built in the 16th and 17th century to replace the former one, which disappeared with time. The construction of it was directed by the most famous artists of that period and it took more than 100 years to be completed.
Filled with the finest works of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo or Bernini, the interior of the Basilica is a masterpiece and will for sure leave you speechless. The church is immense, grandiose, breathtaking, superb, magnificent…. I could fill an entire post with epithets trying to describe how incredible St. Peter’s Basilica is, but as a picture is worth more than a thousand words, I prefer to take you on a photo journey through the church and its surroundings and show you what you shouldn’t miss when visiting the “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.
Colonnades of St. Peter’s Square
Designed by Bernini, the two colonnades surrounding the square symbolize “the maternal arms of Mother Church” embracing the visitors and are adorned with 140 statues of popes, martyrs and other saints.
The Egyptian Obelisk
Exactly in the middle of St. Peter’s Square you will find the only ancient Egyptian obelisk in Rome that has remained standing since Roman times.
The official residence of the Pope, the Apostolic Palace of Vatican, contain the Papal Apartments and can be spotted in the right side of St. Peter’s Basilica. However, Pope Francis refused to move in these apartments, preferring instead to stay in a Vatican guesthouse “to live in community with others”.
Depicting the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion, La Pietà is one of the most famous works of Michelangelo and the only one he signed. It is located on the right, near the entrance, behind bulletproof glass, as it was once damaged by a mentally disturbed geologist, who attacked it with a hammer.
Tomb of Pope John Paul II
After being beatified in 2011, the remains of Pope John Paul II were moved from the Grottos in the Chapel of St. Sebastian (from the entrance, it is the second one on the right), where it is visited daily by thousands of pilgrims. The beloved Pope was canonized in 2014 and is now considered a Saint.
Statue of St. Peter
In the right transept of the basilica, not far away from the Papal Altar, lays the Bronze Statue of St. Peter, which has both feet worn down by the touches of millions of pilgrims throughout the centuries.
Bernini’s Baldachin and Papal Altar
Designed by another great Renaissance artist, the baldachin was symbolically located exactly above St. Peter’s tomb. Inside the baldachin is the Papal Altar, where only the Pope can celebrate Masses.
The Chair of St. Peter
In the apse of the basilica, below the stained-glass image depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove, you will find the Chair of St. Peter. The wooden throne is believed to have been used by Apostle Peter, when he was Bishop of Rome. In order to be preserved for posterity, the relic was enclosed in a bronze casing designed by Bernini.
St. Peter’s Dome
The tallest dome in the world was designed by Michelangelo and is a masterpiece per se. Rising above the altar and baldachin, the impressive dome is adorned with mosaic so painstakingly created, that it leaves the impression of a painting.
Climbing St. Peter’s Cupola provides an up-close and breathtaking view of both the interior and exterior of the Dome.
A place of peace and meditation for the pope, the Vatican Gardens contain lush vegetation, fountains, monuments and grottoes and cover almost a third of the tiny state. The Gardens can be visited as part of a guided tour (tickets must be booked in advance here), or a splendid view of them can be enjoyed from atop the Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica is opened every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (April – September) and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (October – March). The entrance to the Basilica is free of charge, but if you want to climb to the Dome you will have to pay €6 or €8 depending if you chose to climb on foot all 551 stairs, or you prefer to take an elevator and climb on foot the remaining 320 stairs.