Bernini’s Baldacchino | A Treasure Atop the High Altar of St. Peter Basilica
What is St. Peter's Baldacchino?
St. Peter's Baldacchino is a towering bronze canopy sculpted over the High Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Even though sculpted canopies are ordinary in medieval churches and buildings, the Baldacchino in St. Peter's church was noted for its grandeur and the man who created it, famous Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It also is important because the Altar was built over the tomb of St. Peter.
Who built St. Peter’s Baldacchino?
Construction of St. Peter’s Baldacchino
History of St. Peter’s Baldacchino
The Baldacchino of St.Peter's basilica was the brainchild of Pope Urban VIII. He took no time to hire his favorite and Italy's finest Baroque-style artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the construction.
The Baldacchino, grand and imposing, took an astounding nine years to build. For the construction of the massive structure, 6200 kgs of bronze were scrapped from the Roman Pantheon. It was placed directly under the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and over the tomb of St. Peter, making the center of the Basilica a grand one.
Design & Architecture
St. Peter's Baldacchino was a masterpiece and an instant visual treat for devotees visiting the St. Peter’s Basilica. Soon after its creation, numerous attempts were made to recreate or imitate it. But Bernini's vision was unique. For that reason, the Baldacchino remains an undisputed marvel of his artistry.
Coat of Arms
A series of eight Coats of Arms designed by Bernini on the outer side of marble pedestals in the Baldacchino, has been subjected to various interpretations. A universally accepted theory suggests the coat of arms depicts the scene of a woman in childbirth. The Coat of Arms also contains the Barberini bees, a reference to the noble family to which Pope Urban VIII belonged.
One of the most visually stunning parts of St. Peter's Baldacchino is the gigantic twisted columns. Each of the columns rises 20 meters in height and is decorated with olive and bay twigs. Bernini had also sculpted cherubs intertwined in the design. The sculpture was designed to give maximum depth to the altar, for which the artist retained the look of portable cloth canopies with the design. It is made of pure bronze, but the design allowed it to do away with the bulkiness of the metal.
The Coat of Arms of the Baldacchino prominently features the Heraldic Bees of the Barberini family. Bernini, the artist behind the Baldacchino, was hired by the noble Barberini family in Rome. Pope Urban VIII was born in this family, and the entire design and stories inscribed in the Baldacchino are closely related to the Barberini family. The Coat of Arms of the family had three bees on a blue color backdrop that also included the Papal Tiara and Keys of St. Peter.
St. Peter's Keys
The Keys of St. Peter serve as a symbol of the Christian faith's core values. Jesus gave the world St. Peter, the first Pope, and the keys to the kingdom of heaven, according to the Bible. On the top of St. Peter's Baldacchino, Bernini sculpted angels and Putto. Some of them are holding the Keys of St. Peter, which is also visible on the coat of arms of the Vatican.
At the top of St. Peter's Baldacchino stands four angels reminding the onlooker that they support the massive helical columns. The statues are almost life-size and blend with the cornice that hosts cherubs who hold the Papal Tiara and Keys of St. Peter. On the same installation, Bernini incorporated a gliding cross on an earth-like globe to represent Christianity's role in the redemption of the earth.
Considered a power symbol along with St. Peter's keys, the Papal Tiara, is the golden crown worn by Popes. It appears in the emblem of the Vatican, just as it does on the Baldacchino of St. Peter's Basilica. On the Baldacchino, the Papal Tiara is sculpted as a cherub angel holding the crown next to the gliding cross.
Visit St. Peter's Baldacchino
St. Peter's Baldacchino, without any doubt, is a highlight of St. Peter's Altar, and the Basilica as a whole. Rich in detail and exquisiteness, the bronze canopy reveals the skilful craftsmanship of ancient Rome. For that reason, you can't miss this massive structure when you visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Baldacchino
A. A baldacchino is an ornamental canopy made of metal, stone, or fabric.
A. St. Peter's Baldacchino was built by Bernini.
A. It took Bernini 9 years to complete St. Peter's Baldacchino.
A. St. Peter's Baldacchino consists of bronze columns, a Coat of Arms, four angels, and other intricate details.
A. Although there are various interpretations of the Coat of Arms, a widely held one is that it depicts a woman in the midst of childbirth.
A. Legend has it that St. Peter held the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The keys on the Baldacchino are a representation of this.