10 Interesting Facts You Should Know About St. Peter's Basilica

A stamp of Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest churches in Christendom. The Basilica is dedicated to the martyrdom of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. A classic example of Renaissance-style architecture, St. Peter’s Basilica is on the bucket list of every traveler visiting Rome. It also keeps visitors guessing with its fascinating history. Here are ten facts on St. Peter’s Basilica that you cannot miss.

10 Interesting Facts About St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

1. St. Peter Rests Under the Basilica

St. Peter is often considered as one of the first leaders of the Catholic church. Scholars suggest he was crucified in Rome, at the very site on which the Basilica was built. To commemorate St. Peter, Emperor Constantine I decided to build a church in the Vatican and pay tribute to his sacrifice. The tomb of the Apostle rests below the church, with an altar built precisely over it.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

2. Relics of St. Peter Found Under the Altar of the Basilica

In 1950, an inspection conducted under the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica revealed human bones dating to the first century. These relics reportedly belonged to a 60-year-old male. It is widely believed that the remains are of St. Peter. In 2013, Pope Francis, for the first time, displayed the relics at a public Mass. His remains are still preserved under the high altar of the Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

3. Emperor Nero Ordered St. Peter’s Execution

Historical literature shows that St. Peter was killed on the order of Emperor Nero during the Great Fire of Rome in AD64. Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire, and St. Peter was sentenced to Crucifixion. The Saint wished to be crucified with his head down as he felt unworthy to be crucified the same way as Christ. When Constantine I decided to build a temple for St. Peter, he chose the exact place where St. Peter was crucified and buried.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

4. The Original St. Peter’s Basilica

Before the current St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed, an older church existed on the same site. The original church was built in the 4th century and stood in the place of the current basilica until Pope Julius II, in AD 1506, began the construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a grand gesture to memorialize the death of the Apostle at Vatican Hill.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

5. Emperor Constantine Built the First St. Peter’s Basilica

Roman Empire Constantine I ordered to build the first St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The construction began sometime between AD 318 – 322 and finished under 40 years. It stood firm for many years, merging into the history of Rome and visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, envisaged the plan to build the Basilica over the tomb of St. Peter.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

6. Old St. Peter’s Basilica Stood Tall for 1200 Years!

Until Pope Julius II decided to raze down the first St. Peter’s Basilica, the grand temple stayed in its place for 1200 years straight. Built over the site Circus of Nero, it commanded the respect of Romans for many years. By the fifteenth century, the Basilica was in ruins, forcing Pope Julius II to build a new church in its place. To preserve the virtue of the old basilica, the design of the new structure was inspired by it.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

7. St. Peter’s Basilica: Largest Church in the World

Made as a symbol of pride, St. Peter’s Basilica is grand by all measures. Measuring 448.1 feet, St. Peter’s Basilica consists of the tallest dome in the world. Its vast interiors cover more than 3.7 acres, while the entire area of the basilica is about 2.3 hectares.  Outside the Basilica, St. Peter’s Square could host over 80,000 people. Often cited as the largest Christian Church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

8. 91 Popes are Buried Under the Church

Under St.Peter's Basilica, about 91 Popes are buried in the papal tombs. There are also tombs of many royalties and noblemen sharing the same burial ground. Popes including St. Leo I, St. John Paul II, and St. Pius X were buried here. Archeologists consider these tombs as invaluable treasures because of their historical significance.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

9. Michelangelo to Raphael – Architects Behind St. Peter's Basilica

The Construction of St. Peter's Basilica stretched to nearly 120 years. Italian masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael contributed to the work, alongside architect Donato Bramante. Bramante's design was partly inspired by the Roman Pantheon, while Michelangelo designed the iconic dome of the Basilica. The last architect to lay hands on the structure was the renowned sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

St. Peter's Basilica Facts

10. Remains of Vatican Necropolis is a Few Feet Below the Basilica

The Vatican Necropolis is directly below St. Peter's Basilica. With depths reaching 12 meters in some sections, the necropolis is a vast burial chamber of Popes and other significant individuals from the yesteryears. Excavations first took place in the mid-1940s when Pope Pius XII ordered a team to locate the tomb of St. Peter. Some of these burial grounds date back to the third century.

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Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Basilica Facts

Q. Where is St. Peter's Tomb?
Q. Are the remains of St. Peter really in St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Yes. The remains of Saint Peter are believed to be held inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. Are the relics of St. Peter real?

A. DNA testing revealed that the relics belonged to a 60 year-old-male from the 1st century. Based on this evidence, it was declared that the remains belong to St. Peter.

Q. How did St. Peter die?

A. St. Peter was crucified.

Q. Why was St. Peter crucified?

A. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the widespread fire in Rome. This led to the crucifixion of St. Peter, who was their leader at the time.

Q. What is Old St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Old St. Peter's Basilica is an ancient basilica that once existed on the site of the current St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. Who built St. Peter's Basilica?

A. St. Peter's Basilica was commissioned to be built by Pope Julius II.

Q. Is St. Peter's Basilica the largest church in the world?

A. Yes. St. Peter's Basilica is currently the largest church in the world with the tallest dome as well.

Q. How many Popes are buried inside St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Around 100 Popes are buried inside St. Peter's Basilica, 91 of whom are buried inside the Vatican Necropolis.

Q. What is the Vatican Necropolis?

A. Vatican Necropolis is an ancient burial site. Its remains lie below the current St. Peter's Basilica.