St. Peter's Altar

St. Peter’s Altar | A Tribute to the Apostle

St. Peter’s Altar inside Rome's St. Peter’s Basilica is perhaps one of the holiest spots in all of Christendom. The altar, also known as the Papal Altar among devotees, is built over the tomb of St. Peter, martyred in the time of Emperor Nero.

Who built St. Peter’s Altar?

St. Peter's Altar

Master Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini was behind St. Peter’s Altar and its imposing baroque bronze canopy or the baldacchino. Often described as the lead sculptor of his age, Bernini was entrusted with sculpting the St. Peter’s Altar by Pope Julius II.

Bernini opted for a four-pillar creation in bronze in his typical Baroque style and pulled off what many describe as the visual centerpiece of St. Peter’s Basilica. Even though Bernini had commissioned multiple works in Rome, the St. Peter’s Altar and the canopy remain a signature of his artistry.

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History of St. Peter’s Altar

St. Peter's Altar

Under the aegis of art-loving Pope Urban VIII, artist Lorenzo Bernini created St. Peter’s Altar. It took 11 years for the sculptor to finish the work. The altar, surmounted by a large baroque style bronze canopy, was consecrated by Pope Clement VIII on June 5 in 1594. The altar remains the most important aspect of St. Peter’s Basilica, as it represents the holy ground of Christianity.

The High Altar was built over the tomb of St. Peter. Bernini positioned it directly under the center of the Basilica’s dome. This gesture allowed the Pope to establish St. Peter’s Basilica as the center of Christendom. St. Peter’s Basilica also houses another altar called Altar of the Chair, an artwork of Bernini encompassing the wooden chair of St. Peter.

History of St. Peter’s Basilica

Mass at St. Peter’s Altar

St Peter’s Altar has the distinction of the altar where only the Pope is allowed to celebrate Mass. Known as Papal Mass, St. Peter's altar normally witnesses the pontiff hold the Mass on special occasions such as the coronation of a new Pope, canonization of Saints, or major holidays including Christmas and Easter.

As St. Peter’s Altar is considered very sacred, the high mass is often accompanied by special rituals and ceremonies. Mass takes places at the Papal Altar on weekdays at 5 PM. On Sundays and Holy Days, mass takes place at various times throughout the day.

St. Peter's Basilica Mass

Highlights of St. Peter’s Altar

The altar of St. Peter is not complete without mentioning two significant features - The Baldacchino and St. Peter’s Chair, both designed by Bernini.

St. Peter's Altar

St. Peter’s Baldacchino

A giant sculpture in bronze, St. Peter’s Baldacchino covers the St. Peter’s Altar to reveal the proudness of the structure. The cross on the ciborium is pointing at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The four pillars of the Baldachin are spiral and were brought from Jerusalem. For this structure, the bronze used was taken from the pantheon. The baldacchino also features motifs directly denoting the noble Barberini family, where Pope Urban VIII was born.

About St. Peter's Baldacchino
St. Peter's Altar

St. Peter’s Chair

A chair symbolizing the first Pope, St. Peter, was designed by Bernini and placed inside a sculptor in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica. It took nearly ten years to complete the work in 1666 with the help of scores of artists.  Reaching 15 meters in height, the structure was built using 74,000 kilograms of bronze. To commemorate the chair of St. Peter, the church in Rome celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter every year on February 22.

About St. Peter's Chair

Visit St. Peter’s Altar

Plan your visit to St. Peter’s Basilica to get a close look at one of the most distinguished altars in the whole world. Now that you know what makes this Papal Altar so special, keep an eye out for it on your visit to the Basilica.

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Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Altar

Q. What is St. Peter's Altar?

A. St. Peter's Altar or the Papal Altar is a sacred altar used for Papal Mass and Holy ceremonies.

Q. Where is St. Peter's Altar located?

A. St. Peter's Altar or the Papal Altar is an altar located in the center of St. Peter's Basilica below the dome.

Q. Is there mass at St. Peter's Altar?

A. Yes. Masses conducted by the Pope take place at the Papal Altar of the Basilica.

Q. When is mass at the Papal Altar?

A. The Papal Mass takes place on weekdays at 5 PM as well as Sundays and Holy Days throughout the day.

Q. What's inside St. Peter's Altar?

A. Inside the Papal Altar you will notice the massive dome right above, the Baldacchino, and St. Peter's Chair.

Q. Who designed St. Peter's Altar?

A. St. Peter's Altar was designed by the famous Italian artist, Bernini.

Q. What are the highlights of St. Peter's Altar?

A. The main highlights of St. Peter's Altar or the Papal Altar are Bernini's Baldacchino and the Chair of St. Peter.

Q. Why is St. Peter's Altar important?

A. St. Peter's Altar is located at the center of the Basilica directly above the Tomb of St. Peter. For this reason it is considered a very sacred area in the Church.

Q. Is St. Peter's Tomb below the Papal Altar?

A. Yes. St. Peter's Tomb is located directly below the Papal Altar or St. Peter's Altar.

Q. Can I visit St. Peter's Altar?

A. Yes. You can explore the Papal Altar on a visit to St. Peter's Basilica.