St. Peter's Baldacchino

Bernini’s Baldacchino | A Treasure Atop the High Altar of St. Peter Basilica

What is St. Peter's Baldacchino?

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?

St. Peter's Baldacchino

The Baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica was built by the great Renaissance architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Many hail the bronze canopy and regard it as a testament to Bernini's virtuosity. It was his first work in the Basilica. 

The artist incorporated his signature Baroque- style of architecture that allowed exuberance and life-like movements revealing the grandeur of its subjects. The canopy over the high altar was not an idea Bernini put forward, but his skilful execution left his name etched in history.

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Construction of St. Peter’s Baldacchino

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Bernini built the Baldacchino over nine years. Its construction began in 1624 and finished around the year 1633. He was chosen for the job by Pope Urban VIII, who was ambitious in creating a canopy over the small altar. Bernini opted to create an unusual design combining the baroque elements. 

He used bronze to create an illusion of cloth while creating lightweight spiral columns. He also incorporated pictorial elements and details, most of them related to the family of the Pope, and stayed true to the style of his art.

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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.

St. Peter's Baldacchino

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.

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Columns

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.

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Heraldic Bees

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 Baldacchino

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.

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Angels

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.

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Papal Tiara

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.

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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Baldacchino

Q. What is a baldacchino?

A. A baldacchino is an ornamental canopy made of metal, stone, or fabric.

Q. What is St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. St. Peter's Baldacchino is a massive bronze canopy in the center of St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. Where is St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. St. Peter's Baldacchino is located at the Papal Altar inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. Who built St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. St. Peter's Baldacchino was built by Bernini.

Q. How long did it take to build St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. It took Bernini 9 years to complete St. Peter's Baldacchino.

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

A. St. Peter's Baldacchino was built directly over the Tomb of St. Peter. It is a very sacred spot inside the Basilica.

Q. What elements are on St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. St. Peter's Baldacchino consists of bronze columns, a Coat of Arms, four angels, and other intricate details.

Q. What is on the Coat of Arms of St. Peter's Baldacchino?

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.

Q. What is the meaning behind the Heraldic Bees on St. Peter's Baldacchino?

A. The Heraldic Bees on St. Peter's Baldacchino are a dedicated to the Barberini family in Rome, who were very close to the Catholic Church.

Q. What do St. Peter's Keys on the Baldacchino signify?

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.

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

A. Yes. You can get a look at the sacred St. Peter's Baldacchino on your visit to St. Peter's Basilica.