Friday, January 02, 2015

 photo stpeters5_zps3578029a.jpgSt Peter's Basilica

In a city home to some of the most beautiful churches in the world, St Peter’s Basilica stands out as the most spectacular.

Containing some of Italy’s most celebrated masterpieces, the basilica is one of the greatest examples of renaissance architecture in Rome and truly is a sight to behold.

St Peter’s was originally founded by Emperor Constantine in AD 324. It was then rebuilt in the 16th century by renaissance masters including Michelangelo, Donato Bramante, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maderno.

While not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop, it is one of the four churches in Rome that are part of the Vatican.

The basilica is built on the burial site of Saint Peter, the apostle who was considered the first pope, and it is here where he died a martyr and was buried in AD 64. It is believed that Saint Peter’s tomb lies directly under the main alter and other popes are buried here too.

One of the holiest sites in Christendom, the sumptuously decorated basilica draws catholic worshipers and tourists from all over the world.

Providing the approach to the basilica is St Peter’s Square, which was designed by Bernini. It is here that the Pope blesses crowds of up to 80,000 from his balcony above the square on Sundays and religious occasions.

It is one of four churches in Rome that hold the rank of major basilica and it took more than a century to build.

In the square there are two fountains, designed by Carlo and Bernini while in the centre there is a huge 25.5 metre tall obelisk, dating from 13th century BC Egypt which was brought to Rome in the 1st century to stand in Nero's Circus.
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The square is bordered by two semi-circular colonnades, which according to Bernini symbolise the motherly arms of the church.

The colonnades consist of 284 Doric columns arranged in four rows and on top of them are statues of 140 saints. Crafted by various sculptors between the 1660s and early 1700s, the statues include Christian figures such as Saint Paul and Saint John, as well as lesser known martyrs, hermits and bishops like Saint Malchus and Saint Felician.

The dome of the basilica was designed by Michelangelo, who became chief architect in 1546, although he died in 1547 before its completion. Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana took over the direction of the work, completing it in 1590. It is made of brick and is 42.3 metres in diameter, rising to 136.6 metres above the floor.

The grand façade of St Peter’s Basilica was designed by Carlo Maderno and is 115 metres wide and 45.5 metres high.

The façade is built of travertine stone and on top of it are 13 statues, which include Christ flanked by 11 of the apostles and John the Baptist.

In the middle of the façade is the central balcony. Known as the Loggia of the Blessings, it is from here a newly-elected Pope gives their first blessing.

Five doors lead into the narthex, or entrance hall. Once inside, the sheer scale of the St Peter’s becomes apparent.

The basilica’s interior is 187 metres long, containing 11 chapels and 45 altars.

The inside is lavishly decorated and home to many examples of Renaissance and Baroque art, with much of the elaborate decoration owed to Bernini’s mid 17th century work.

The opulence of the décor bears testimony to the wealth of the Catholic Church when the basilica was built in the 16th century.

Just inside the entrance is Michelangelo’s Pietà, one of the most famous sculptures in the world. Made of marble, it is a statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus and was created in 1499-1500 when Michelangelo was only twenty-five.
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Most striking of all is the Baldacchino by Bernini, a huge baroque canopy which dominates the nave. Supported by four spiral columns, it is made of bronze taken from the Pantheon. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1624, it stands over the Papal Alter, at which only the Pope can take mass.

Above it is Michelangelo’s enormous dome. The inside has images painted on it of Jesus, Mary, saints, angels and on the top, God the Father.

To the right of the altar is a bronze statue of St Peter, believed to be a 13th-century work by Arnolfo di Cambio.

Surrounding the Baldacchino are four pillars supporting the dome and in the base of them are niches containing statues of St. Veronica, St. Helena, St. Longinus and St. Andrew.

Located in the apse of the basilica is the Chair of St Peter, also known as the Throne of Saint Peter, enclosed in a sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Bernini.

The window above it lights an image of the Holy Spirit, shown as a dove radiating out rays of sunlight amid the clouds, helping to emphasise the chair's symbolic significance. Next to the apse is the tomb of Pope Urban VIII, which was also created by Bernini.

On the left beneath the aisle arch is a Alessandro Algardi’s monument to Leo XI, whose reign as pope lasted only 27 days.
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In an alcove on the left of the transept is Bernini’s last work, the Monument to Pope Alexander VII. Completed in 1678, the sculpture is of the pope sitting among the figures of Truth, Justice, Charity and Prudence.

It depicts the pope praying in front of a gilded bronze representation of Death holding an hour-glass, reminding us that our time here on Earth is all but fleeting. The statue representing Truth has her foot resting on a globe, specifically placed upon the British Isles, symbolising the pope's problems with the Church of England.