The Basilica of Saint Peter is is the largest church in the world of any Christian denomination and is believed to be built over the grave of the Apostle Peter.
Peter, along with his brother James who were both fisherman, was one of the first Apostles or Disciples called by Jesus. He is generally recognised as being leader of the Apostles/Disciples by most Christians and the Catholic Church officially regards him as the first Pope, from Papa or father, or Bishop of Rome. Many others regard James the Just, the half, step or possibly full brother of Jesus to have taken over leadership of the group.
In the 60s AD Peter (original name Simon ben Jonah or Simon Johnson) was preaching in Rome and was martyred here during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Nero blamed the Christians, a small sect back then, for starting the Fire of Rome. Tradition records him as crucified upside down in a chariot racing track or circus which sat on Vatican Hill in Roman times. The Christians in Rome removed Peter from the Cross and buried him in a pre-existing cemetery with a simple inscription; Petros Eni - Peter lies within.
When Rome got her first Christian Emperor 250 years later, Constantine, he built a basilica (or royal building) over the grave of the Apostle in 326 AD. As the tombs of Jesus and Mary were unknown or not found, the Basilica of St. Peter became one of the holiest sites in Christianity and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would visit the church of the prime apostle, particularly those who were not in a position to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
By the 1500s this Constantinian basilica is in disrepair and is costing a fortune to repair and keep. Pope Julius II decided to build a new church on the same site, knocking the old one down over time. Work started on the current St. Peter's in 1506 and was completed 120 years later in 1626. In that time the church had several architects such as Bramante, Raphael, Da Sangallo, Michelangelo, Fontana, Della Porta, Maderno and Bernini supervising a daily crew of 2000 workers.
The church was built in a Latin Cross plan and the inside of the church was decorated by Bernini; only two statues were saved over from the old church to sit in the new. Bernini and his workshop sculpted the majority of the statues inside although space was left for funerary monuments for future Popes.
The cost of the basilica was colossal and indulgences were sold by the church to finance the construction costs. The sale of these "purgatory passes" was a major cause of the Protestant Reformation.
A "cathedral" is latin for chair or seat of a bishop. Bishop is an anglicisation of Episcopus; Latin for overseer or supervisor of priests. St. Peter's is the seat of the Bishop or Rome, the supervisor of the Church - the Pope. Officially Jesus is the head of the Roman Catholic (and other Christian) Churches, the Pope is the supervisor. There were four episcopal or bishoply sees: Rome, Constantinople/Istanbul, Alexandria and Antioch but as Peter was considered to be buried in Rome, the church in Rome claimed prominence.
Probably the most famous statue inside St. Peter's is Michelangelo's La Pieta.
Many of the smaller chapels were decorated with large mosaic recreations of paintings which are elsewhere in the vatican.
Inside the church is composed of minor chapels dedicated to a Saint, Pope or specific function such as the choir chapel, and there is a large expanse around the Baldaccino which sits beneath the dome.
The Baldaccino and Dome are directly in line above the grave of Saint Peter, his remains were not moved, the church was built over him.
St. Peter's is free (as are all Catholic Churches) and is very popular. There is usually a line or queue for the church and this can vary in length due to time of day and season. You can skip the line for St. Peter's by going through the Vatican Museums and exiting the Sistine Chapel bottom right to the Basilica. Bear in mind this door is closed most Wednesday mornings for Papal Audiences and can be closed on random days without notice, so you may have to walk around the museums and line up to get inside.
At maximum the line for St. Peter's is one hour and the start point is located in St. Peter's Square.
If you book a tour through me you will experience no line as the official guides I use have the ability to skip the line for St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Peter's is one of the most beautiful and impressive churches in the world. It is included on all tours organised by me, unless you request for it not to be. It takes one hour to view properly. Photos are allowed inside without flash. You must have covered knees and shoulders to enter the basilica.
My Tour reviews:
Easy to Follow
Dara did a great job and was very informative regarding the amount of art and sculpture that was covered. His explanation was in story form and he connected what was happening during that time in a very easy to follow description.
5.0 Stars Lori Oliver
I don't know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. :-) Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly
Informative and Entertaining
The tour was great and we loved our tour guide. The tour was informative and entertaining. Our Vatican experience was greatly enhanced by having this tour and it was definitely worth it.
5.0 Stars Ryan
Dara made the whole foot pounding experience very interesting with a touch of humour thrown in for good measure. Without him pointing out things on the way we would have missed a lot. My teenage daughter was not looking forward to the tour, but afterwards she commented on how much she got out of it and found it very funny.
5.0 Stars Mr Parlour
Dara did a fantastic job. His sense of humor was a definite plus and kept us all engaged.
5.0 Stars Roger Koppy
Dara was Amazing
Dara was amazing. Very funny and he knew his stuff!!!
5.0 Stars Andrea Green
Dara's knowledge was superb and was able to make the information very enjoyable. Hearing some other guides as we went round, his knowledge and expertise was a lot better and without this I think we would have skipped through a lot of the Museums and just gone to the Sistine Chapel as it was so busy.
5.0 Stars Laura Carter
The tour was good and Dara did a fine job explaining everything.
5.0 Stars Tom Johnson
The Most Enjoyable Tour
This was the most enjoyable tour of our entire two week vacation to Italy. Dara was quite knowledgeable and interjected fun facts and humor which made it even more engaging for our children - ages 20, 17 & 15. He was always respectful of the faith and reminded us of the rules, other tour guides must not have been as informative.
5.0 Stars Mike Howard
It was a great tour except it was too long without being able to sit down or take breaks. (This is a criticism of the Vatican many people have - there should be more benches - Dara).
5.0 Stars Sheila Picard
|Where is Vatican City|
|Vatican City Map|
|Parts of the Vatican|
|St. Peter's Basilica|
|St. Peter's Square|
|St. Peter's Dome|
|My Vatican Tour Details|
|Skip the Line Tickets|
|Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's|
|Bathroom & Coffee Breaks|
|English Speaking Guides|