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.
old st peter's basilica
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.
st peter's cathedral
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 peters rome
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.
Updated by Dara McCarthy on . Scroll to Top
|Did you know?|
|The Vatican is not air-conditioned|
|There are very few seats|
|and few cafes|
|Tickets or Tour Booked|
|Knees & Shoulders Covered|
|Flash turned off Camera|
|Bottle of Water|
|Rested & Relaxed|