St. Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica | Vatican City | The Greatest Church in Christendom

Stand at the base of the ancient Egyptian Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square and an overwhelming feeling starts to dawn on you. The vast colonnade seems to embrace you from both sides, even as you crane your neck to admire the imposing facade and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Awe-inspiring, breathtaking, speechless – a visit to the St. Peter’s Basilica will leave you with many emotions. 

The largest church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica is more than just the most important building in Christendom. It is a jewel within Vatican City from where Popes have spread the word of God throughout the world. A focal point of millions of pilgrims each year, the Basilica is also a cultural, historical and architectural landmark, which holds within itself treasures from millennia including paintings, sculptures, artefacts and more. Find out all you need to know about the church on this page.

What is St. Peter's Basilica?

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica is a Rennaisance style church in Vatican City. The basilica was built according to tradition above the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus and the first Bishop of Rome. To maintain this tradition, Popes are now buried within the basilica.

Regarded as one of the holiest sites in Christendom, it was built to replace the Old St. Peter's Basilica between 1506 and 1626. It was designed by the greatest Old Masters of the time, including Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Today, the church serves as a symbol of Rennaissance architecture, as well as being an integral site of pilgrimage, it is a papal basilica and not a cathedral, since it is not the seat of a bishop. The Arch Basilica of St. John Lateran is actually the cathedral church of Rome.

Who Built St. Peter's Basilica?

In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine decided to build a basilica where Saint Peter had been buried. The construction was completed in the year 329. Over time the church fell into disrepair. Pope Julius II decided to demolish the structure and replace it with a new basilica. He began the construction of the new church in 1506.

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History of St. Peter's Basilica In A Nutshell

In 64 AD, Saint Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, was crucified in the Circus of Nero. The Constantinian basilica was built in 326 over what was believed to be the tomb of Saint Peter. The church came to be referred to as the Old St. Peter's Basilica after the construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica began in the 16th Century at the behest of Pope Julius II. The Pope chose Donato Bramante for the project. 

The untimely death of Bramante in 1514 interrupted the work. Raffaello Sanzio was commissioned to continue the construction along with Fra 'Giocondo da Verona and Giuliano da Sangallo by Leo X Medici. However, with all the three architects dying in a short span of 6 years, the project never fully took off. By this point, only the base of the western choir and the beginning of the south ambulatory were built.

Leo X then appointed Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of the building. However, due to several reasons, the construction halted until Paul III Farnese was elected in 1534. A new plan had been drawn up for the basilica, which marked a departure from Bramante's plan. However, even this new ambitious plan could not be carried out to completion. In 1546, Sangallo died and Michelangelo was appointed.

Michelangelo returned to Bramante's plan but modified the same to make it more simple yet dynamic. When Michelangelo died in 1564, the construction of the dome was still incomplete. Pope Pius IV Medici entrusted Jacopo Barozzi, to continue the work. He started the work on the internal part of the two minor domes, which was finished by Giacomo Della Porta.

In 1587, Porta was tasked with completing the dome. In less than two years, assisted by Domenico Fontana, he was able to complete the undertaking. 

Under Paolo V Borghese, on 7 March 1607, the first stone of reconstruction was blessed. In October of the same year, demolition of whatever remained of the ancient church began. Carlo Maderno was entrusted to complete the work. The basilica appeared to the public in its new avatar on Palm Sunday in 1615, except for the embellishments that Gian Lorenzo Bernini would add, such as the Baldacchino and Chair of St. Peter.

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Architecture & Design of St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

What's Inside St. Peter's Basilica?

Inside the basilica you will find a series of priceless treasures in marble and bronze, papal tombs and several famous paintings.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo's Pieta

The Pieta is one of the most recognizable statues in the world and was created by the Italian Master Michelangelo. The Carrara marble structure depicts Jesus after his crucifixion in the lap of Mother Mary. Almost 6 feet in height, the sculpture towers and exudes a monumental aura that portrays the sanctity of the moment. Pieta roughly translates to Pity in English, is the only sculpture that was signed by Michelangelo and was created in the late 15th century. You can find this breathtaking statue in the first chapel on the right as soon as you enter St. Peter’s Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica

Statue of St. Longinus

The Statue of St. Longinus is located in a gallery ‘loggia’ at one of the crossings in the St. Peter’s Basilica. You will have to crane your neck to admire this statue that towers over 13 feet and was sculpted by Bernini. The evocative marble sculpture is of the Roman centurion, St. Longinus, who pierced Jesus with a lance but who converted to Christianity after Christ’s death. The statue was built in 1643 and took over four blocks of marble.

St. Peter's Basilica

Bronze Statue of St. Peter

Placed against the pillar of St. Longinus is the famous statue of St. Peter, which dates back to the 5th century. It is one of the most important aspects of the Basilica. It depicts the saint sitting on a marble chair, holding the keys of heaven in his left hand, and is his right hand raised in the act of blessings. Pilgrims traditionally touch and kiss its foot; over the years, this has allowed the toes to be worn thin.

On 29 June, the feast of St. Peter, the statue is clothed with an amice, alb, tiara, stole, red cope, and a ring, while the pedestal is decorated using fine marble, Sicilian jasper, green porphyry, and the "marble of St. Peter".

St. Peter's Basilica

The Confessio

The word 'Confessio' refers to the Confession of faith by St. Peter which lead to his martyrdom. The Confessio is a small altar created by Carlo Maderno directly in front of the tomb of St Peter. Accessible by a staircase, the semicircular altar is located on the same level as the Grottoes. The existence of a Confessio is believed to date back to when the ancient foundation of the basilica was laid. However, the altar in its present form was created during the time of Clement VIII, and for the most part to Paul V.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
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Small-Group St. Peter's Basilica Guided Tour

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St. Peter’s Basilica Dome: Guided Tour

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St Peter's Basilica Dome Climb with Tour of Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

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English Guided Tour of the St. Peter's Basilica and the Cupola

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Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Basilica

Q. What is St. Peter's Basilica?

A. St. Peter's Basilica is a Rennaisance-style church located in Vatican City. Built above the burial site of St. Peter, the church is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Christiandom. It is also a cultural, historical, and architectural landmark.

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

A. St. Peter's Basilica was built between 1506 and 1626.

Q. How long did it take to complete the construction of St. Peter's Basilica?

A. It took about 150 years to build St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. How much does it cost to visit St. Peter's Basilica?
Q. Where is St. Peter's Basilica located?

A. St. Peter's Basilica is located at Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City.

Q. Who designed St. Peter's Basilica?

A. Eight artistes Donato Bramante, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Carlo Fontana were responsible for designing St. Peter's Basilica.

Q. What is St. Peter's Basilica famous for?

A. St. Peter's Basilica is not only the largest church in the world, but also the holiest shrine in Christendom as it has been erected over the tomb of Saint Peter. It is home to some beautiful and priceless statues, and artworks as well.

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

A. Inside St. Peter's Basilica you will find many Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces such as Michelangelo's Pietà, the statue of St. Longinus and the baldachin by Bernini.

Q. What are St. Peter's Basilica opening hours?

A. St. Peter's Basilica is open from 7 AM to 6:30 Pm between 1 October to 31 March and from 7 AM to 7 PM between 1 April to 30 September.

Q. Why did they build St Peter's Basilica?

A. St. Peter's Basilica was built to replace the dilapidated Old St. Peter's Basilica, which was built in the 4th century by Roman emperor Constantine the Great. It was built between 1506 and 1626.

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

A. Spread over 21,000 square meters, Peter's Basilica in Vatican City is the world's largest church.