A Detailed Look at What's Inside St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is a brilliant example of the rich cultural heritage that exists in Italy. It is an important symbol for Catholicism and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1980 due to its incredible architecture and history. Inside St. Peter's Basilica, you will find some amazing sights such as the Tomb of St. Peter, the iconic Dome, Bernini's Baldacchino, and so much more. Keep reading to find out what's inside this iconic Basilica.
What is St. Peter's Basilica?
St. Peter's Basilica is one of the most important churches in Rome. It was built on the site where it is believed that St. Peter was killed and buried by Emperor Nero. The basilica's design incorporates both Byzantine and Roman architectural styles. Other than its most obvious features like the Dome, St. Peter's Tomb, and the Baldacchino, it is also famous for its marble mosaics, paintings, tapestries, and columns.
After its construction, St. Peter's Basilica soon became the hallmark of Renaissance architecture. With the vision of Pope Julius II and the creative minds of some of the best architects of the time, the basilica gained the name of being one of the best churches in the world. Every part of the basilica was crafted with a lot of thought and hard work, giving visitors so much to marvel at.Visit St. Peter's Basilica
What's Inside St. Peter's Basilica?
Inside St. Peter's Basilica is a multitude of intricate structures and artworks that add to its overall magnificence. Other than its main highlights like the Dome, St. Peter's Tomb, and the Baldacchino, the basilica holds so much more for the beholder including chapels, altars, monuments, tombs, and more.
One of the most famous features of St. Peter's Basilica is the dome which was designed by Michelangelo and completed in 1590. It is one of the largest domes in the world and can be seen from many places in the surrounding regions. The dome appears to be upside down, with the oculus being the only thing that pierces through it. It is supported by four great piers which were executed in Bramante's design before Michelangelo took over. The interior of the dome was painted by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo himself.More about the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica
Pieta is a famous Renaissance sculpture that is attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti, created between the years 1499 and 1500. Housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, the sculpture is a beautifully detailed representation of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of Jesus Christ. It is carved from a single block of Carrara marble and was one of Michelangelo's earliest and most outstanding works. Although the artist created many more pieces with the same theme, the Pieta was the first of its kind. You can spot the sculpture to the right of the main entrance as you enter the basilica.
The Papal Altar
You will find the Papal Altar at the center of Saint Peter's Basilica, where only the Pope performs Mass. It was designed by Bernini to be an apse containing a much smaller elliptical one, called the "Altar of the Chair." Two main features of the Papal Altar are St. Peter’s Baldacchino and St. Peter’s Chair. Below the Altar resides the treasured tomb of St. Peter, which makes this Altar a very significant part of the basilica. The Papal Altar was also where the coronation of new Popes took place up until 1963.More about the Papal Altar
This massive bronze structure was designed by Bernini and completed in 1633. It is located just in front of the Papal Altar and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII as a grandiose way to celebrate the basilica's completion. The Baldacchino is made up of 4 columns, each standing 12 meters high, which are adorned with Corinthian capitals. It is made from 700 kg of bronze and gilded in gold which was donated by King Henry IV of France. Aside from its indistinguishable beauty, the Baldacchino is a special part of the Church because it was built right above the Tomb of St. Peter.More about St. Peter's Baldacchino
St. Peter's Chair
St. Peter's Chair or the Chair of Saint Peter is an important relic inside St. Peter’s Basilica, allegedly dating back to the 1st century. The term ‘St. Peter's Chair’ or ‘throne of St. Peter’ signifies the fact that Rome has been and continues to be the Church founded by Peter. It is believed that the chair was used during preachings by the Apostle himself, and so it only made sense to have the chair be placed at the site of his burial. Bernini was given the task of highlighting the importance of the Chair. He built a grand structure to enclose the throne and placed it at the end of the central nave.More about St. Peter's Chair
The Tomb of St. Peter
St. Peter was one of the 12 apostles and a very close friend to Jesus Christ, accompanying him on several religious journeys before his crucifixion in 33 AD. According to legend, while visiting Rome he was imprisoned and executed by Emperor Constantine I. His remains were buried in a cemetery on the Vatican hill, but it wasn't until centuries later that they were finally moved to their current resting place in St. Peter's Basilica. The tomb is located in the apse of the basilica inside the Vatican Necropolis and is often adorned with fresh flowers from visitors.More about St. Peter's Tomb
The Confessio is a small but grand altar designed by Carlo Maderno between the years 1615 to 1617. The semi-circular space lies directly in front of the Tomb of St. Peter. The altar of the Confessio is located inside the Vatican Grottoes and can be accessed via a staircase.
Althought the Confessio has existed since the foundation of the basilica was laid, the many additional decorations were added during the reign of Pope Clement VIII and Pope Paul V.
Chapel of St. Sebastian | Tomb of John Paul II
Close to Michelangelo's Pieta, is the Chapel of St. Sebastian, holding the Tomb of John Paul II. St. Sebastian was a martyr from the late Roman Empire. You will notice a massive mosaic above the altar, which was created by Pietro Paolo Christofari during the 17th century.
Below the altar lies the body of John Paul II. John Paul was the second longest serving Pope, whose Papacy extended from 1978 till 2005. His tomb was initially a part of the Vatican Grottoes and was later moved to the chapel in 2011.
Monument to Pope Alexander VII
Pope Alexander VII, born Fabio Chigi, was the reigning pope from 1655 to 1667. One of the most famous monuments inside St. Peter's Basilica, the Monument to Pope Alexander VII was the work of the legendary artist Bernini. He completed this structure in the year 1678, when he was 80 years old. Alexander VII was the Pope who commissioned Bernini to build the colonnades of St. Peter's Square.
Below the monument is a small door which leads to one of the exit's of the Basilica.
Bronze Statue of St. Peter
Along the nave of the Basilica is the famous black statue of St. Peter, dating back to the 5th century. It depicts St. Peter sitting on a marble chair, dressed in his Papal attire. His left hand holds the keys of heaven, while his right hand is giving a blessing. The entire structure is made of bronze.
There will most definitely be a line of people queuing up in front of the statue to receive blessings from the Apostle. Most people generally kiss the right foot of the statue, leaving it quite worn out after so many years.
Statue of St. Longinus
St. Longinus was a Roman centurion who lived during the time of Christ. His actual name was unknown and so he was named Longinus. It is believed that he was the man who pierced the body of Christ from the side with a lance. Christ allegedly suffered his last five wounds because of Longinus' lance. These are referred to as the 'Five Holy Wounds' of Christ.
The Bible tells us that St. Longinus' life was filled with darkness after the death of Christ which led him to convert to Christianity.
The interior of St. Peter's Basilica is filled with artworks created in Renaissance and Baroque style. Some of the most famous masterpieces include Michelangelo's Pieta, Bernini's Baldacchino, and the Chair of St. Peter. The church also consists of many mosaics and glass windows, one of which is above the Chair of St. Peter, depicting the dove as a Holy Spirit.
Although many artists were involved in creating the artworks inside the Basilica, the works of Bernini, Maderno, and Michelango stand out among the rest.
Understanding the Floor Plan of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is spread over 23,000 square meters with a height of 136 meters and a length of 218 meters. Inspired by the traditional style of basilicas, the design of the Church consists of naves, altars, chapels, aisles, and religious structures. There are 80 areas inside the basilica, each of which are filled with beautiful structures and interiors.
The Basilica holds over 40 statues, 25 monuments, 24 altars, and 8 chapels. Although some of them stand out more than the others, all of them are worth looking at.More about St. Peter's Basilica floor plan
What's Below St. Peter's Basilica?
Below St. Peter's Basilica lies an ancient burial site dating back to the 1st century. It is believed that this is also where St. Peter himself was laid to rest. Other than the many tombs inside, this area also holds ancient mosaics and structures from that era.
The Vatican Necropolis is an ancient burial ground that once existed in Vatican City. It contains both ancient as well as modern graves and tombs belonging to some extremely important figures from Catholic history. St. Peter's Tomb lies inside the Vatican Necropolis. After being crucified on a cross upside down, he was buried in a family tomb located in a private garden at the site of what would become St. Peter's Basilica.
The remains of Vatican Necropolis were discovered through modern excavations. Other than the tombs, many mosaics and structures are also preserved inside the necropolis. It is now a part of St. Peter's Basilica and is open to the public.More about Vatican Necropolis
he Vatican Grottoes are a group of underground tombs that lie below Saint Peter's Basilica, which contain the remains of many former Popes. A grotto is a sort of cave that in ancient times was used to bury the deceased. St. Peter's Basilica houses the tombs of 91 Popes, a few church dignitaries, monarchs, and other important figures from Roman history.
Some noteworthy tombs that you will find inside are of St. Peter, John Paul II, Queen Charlotte of Cyprus, Queen Christina of Sweden, Pope Julius II, and many more. You will also find a set of archaeological rooms, chapels, and monuments inside the Vatican Grottoes.
Can I Go Inside St. Peter's Basilica?
St. Peter's Basilica is a must-visit. Aside from its main attractions, there are many other smaller chapels, artworks, statues, and tombs located inside and outside St. Peter's Basilica which are worth taking a look at. If you're ever in Rome, be sure to make a stop at this awe-inspiring attraction to witness some of the most beautiful and significant art and design in the world.