St. Peter's Basilica History

History of St. Peter's Basilica | Timeline, Facts & More

St. Peter's Basilica

None of the city's magnificent cathedrals can compare to St Peter's Basilica, Italy's largest, richest, and most stunning basilica. It was consecrated in Rome in 1626 after 120 years of construction on top of a 4th-century church. Its opulent interior has a plethora of spectacular works of art, including some of Italy's most renowned masterpieces by Bernini and Michelangelo. More than anything else, St Peter's Basilica is steeped in history. Read on to delve deeper into its rich past.


64 CE: This was the year that Saint Peter was crucified and buried at Vatican Hill.

326 - 333: Old St. Peter's Basilica was built on the site of St. Peter's Tomb under the reign of Emperor Constantine.

333 - 1505: During the Middle Ages, Old St. Peter's Basilica flourished and became the most important pilgrimage site in the Western world.

1505: The old church was demolished under the orders of Pope Julius II. He decided to built a new church in the place of the old one.

1506: Construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica began.

1626: The new church was officially established at the heart of Vatican City.

History of St. Peter's Basilica Explained

St. Peter's Basilica History

Circus of Nero

64 CE

Around the year 64 CE, there was a massive fire in Rome that destroyed the majority of the city. Many historians claim that Emperor Nero was behind the fire. Nero, however, blamed the Christian sect for the fire. He believed that their refusal to worship the Roman Gods was what led them to start the fire. This led to a horrible series of persecutions of innocent Christians. Nero held these executions at the Circus, for the public to see and be entertained. During this time, Saint Peter was conducting his sermons in Rome which led to his crucifixion on the orders of Emperor Nero. The Circus of Nero existed where St. Peter’s Square is today.

St. Peter's Basilica History

Death of Saint Peter

64 CE

The most widely held Christian belief is that Saint Peter was crucified in Rome upside-down. According to a legend, when Saint Peter was sentenced to death, he asked to be crucified on an inverted cross. He made the request. The Saint allegedly did not think he was worthy of dying like Jesus because he had denied his Lord. Saint Peter's death was foretold by Jesus, maybe to prepare him for the conditions he would encounter now that his Lord had been resurrected and would no longer be physically present. His crucifixion was ordered by Emperor Nero and took place at the Circus of Nero.

More about Saint Peter
St. Peter's Basilica History

Trophy of Gaius

150 CE

The site of St. Peter’s Tomb became a famous area visited by many pilgrims over the years. To mark the spot of the Apostles Tomb, members of the Church decided to build a prominent structure above it. This structure was known as the Trophy of Gaius. The name Gaius refers to a Christian scholar from Rome, who allegedly argued that Rome was the center of Christianity. He believed that there was something special about Rome that made it a Holy land. The Trophy of Gaius was large enough to allow for a plan to stand on top of it. Many sermons were held inside the Necropolis using the Gaius as a platform.

More about the Vatican Necropolis
St. Peter's Basilica History

Old St. Peter’s Basilica

326 - 333 AD

Old Saint Peter's Basilica is the original basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, a five-aisled basilica-plan cathedral with an apse transept at the west end. It was built on the orders of the Roman emperor Constantine between 326 and 333 and completed around 30 years later. Historical records claimed that the structure was constructed on the place where St Peter was buried between 64 and 67 CE. Old St. Peter’s Basilica hosted papal coronations, and other religious ceremonies. It was here that Charlemagne was crowned as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire there in 800. This was in an era when the old St Peter’s Basilica was at the top of its religious significance.

More about Old St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica History

Collapse & Rebuilding of the Basilica

1505 AD

Old St Peter's Basilica, like many medieval churches, eventually fell into disrepair. Nearly 1,200 years after its completion, Old St. Peter's Basilica was in a horrible state after serving as one of Rome's most prominent churches. One of the building's side walls was said to be tilting about 6 feet off the wall, indicating that it was on the edge of collapsing. Many Popes attempted to restore parts of the basilica during the next few years to preserve the priceless edifice, but all of their attempts failed. Finally, Pope Julius II, who reigned from 1503 to 1513, decided to demolish the structure and replace it with a new basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica History

Construction of the New Basilica

18th April, 1506

Pope Julius II and his successors had the vision to build a splendid new basilica in the same place as the previous one, which was named St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter's Basilica, designed by Michelangelo, Bernini, and other notable Renaissance architects, is by far the most spectacular piece of Renaissance architecture. It is one of the world's largest churches, as well as the most important in all of Christendom. Under the command of Pope Paul V, construction on the basilica began in 1506 and lasted until 1615. The basilica has a lot of history within its walls, in addition to its beautiful architecture.

More about St. Peter's Basilica

The Era of Construction

St. Peter's Basilica History

It took about 120 years to complete the construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica. The original design of the basilica was crafted by renowned architect Donato Bramante. Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, Bramante incorporated all the traditional aspects of a church. After his death, Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, and Raphael continued to work on the construction of the basilica. In 1547, Michelangelo came on board and enhanced the original design, creating the magnificent structure that exists today. He was responsible for many aspects of the church, including the iconic Dome. In 1602, Carlo Maderno was appointed by the Pope and added the nave and facade of the basilica. Finally, Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed the final additions to the basilica including the Baldacchino and Chair of St. Peter. Bernini was also responsible for designing St. Peter's Square outside the basilica.

More about the architecture of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Today

St. Peter's Basilica History

Today St. Peter's Basilica is the most important church building in Christendom. Carefully crafted over many decades by the best visionaries in Rome, the basilica is regarded as a significant architectural achievement.

Due to its magnificence and importance, the basilica annually welcomes visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy a work that has taken centuries to complete.

Visit St. Peter's Basilica
Book St. Peter's Basilica Tours

Small-Group St. Peter's Basilica Guided Tour

Mobile Tickets
Guided Tour
Free Cancellation
More Details +

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome: Guided Tour

Skip the Line
Mobile Tickets
Instant Confirmation
Free Cancellation
More Details +

Semi Private Guided Tour - Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

Duration: 2.5 Hours
Mobile Tickets
Small Tour Group
Expert Guide
Skip the Line
Free Cancellation
More Details +

Vatican City Tour with St. Peter's Basilica Dome Climb

Duration: 5.5 Hrs
Mobile Tickets
Instant Confirmation
Guided Tour
Free Cancellation
More Details +
From €99€89
Save 10%

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of St. Peter's Basilica

Q. Who built Old St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Old St. Peter's Basilica was commissioned under the direction of Emperor Constantine I.

Q. When was Old St. Peter's Basilica built?

A. Old St. Peter's Basilica was built around 349 AD.

Q. What happened to Old St. Peter's Basilica?

A. After many years, Old St. Peter's Basilica began falling apart, leaving it on the verge of collapse. The decision was made to demolish it.

Q. When was the new St. Peter's Basilica built?

A. Construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica began in 1506.

Q. Where did St. Peter die?

A. Saint Peter died on a site called Nero's Circus, which stood in the place of the current St. Peter's Square.

Q. Where was St. Peter buried?

A. St. Peter was buried on Vatican Hill.

Q. Where is St. Peter's Tomb?

A. The Tomb of St. Peter is below the current St. Peter's Basilica inside the Vatican Necropolis.

Q. Why was the new St. Peter's Basilica built?

A. Old St. Peter's Basilica was on the verge of collapse. No amount of repairs were able to restore the Church and so it was decided that a new Basilica be built in its place.

Q. Who built St. Peter's Basilica?

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

Q. Who designed St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Many architects were involved in the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, including Bernini & Michelangelo.

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

A. St. Peter's Basilica is the final resting place of the Apostle himself. It is the most important Church in Christendom.

Q. Can I visit St. Peter's Basilica.

A. Yes. You can visit St. Peter's Basilica for free. You can also book guided tours for a more wholesome experience.