St Peter's Square

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St Peter's Square
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St Peter's Basilica (Italian: San Pietro in Vaticano) is a major basilica in Vatican City, an enclave of Rome. St. Peter's was until recently the largest church ever built and it remains one of the holiest sites in Christendom. Contrary to what one might reasonably assume, St. Peter's is not a cathedral - that honour in Rome goes to St. John Lateran.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiSt. Peter's Basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter - the apostle (pictured right) who is considered the first pope - was crucified and buried. St Peter's tomb is under the main altar and many other popes are buried in the basilica as well. Originally founded by Constantine in 324, St. Peter's Basilica was rebuilt in the 16th century by Renaissance masters including Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini.

History

In the 1st century AD, the site of St. Peter's Basilica hosted the Circus of Nero and a cemetery. According to ancient tradition, St. Peter was martyred in the Circus and buried nearby. His simple grave was remembered and visited by the faithful, and in 324 Emperor Constantine began construction on a great basilica over the tomb. The shrine of St. Peter is still the central focus of the church today.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiIn the mid-15th century it was decided that the old basilica should be rebuilt. Pope Nicholas V asked architect Bernardo Rossellino to start adding to the old church (pictured left). This was abandoned after a short while, but in the late 15th century Pope Sixtus IV had the Sistine Chapel started nearby. St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

Construction on the current building began under Pope Julius II in 1506 and was completed in 1615 under Pope Paul V. Donato Bramante was to be the first chief architect. Many famous artists worked on the "Fabbrica di San Pietro" (as the complex of building operations were officially called). Michelangelo, who served as main architect for a while, designed the dome (pictured right).

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiProviding a fitting approach to the great church is the huge, elliptical St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), designed by Bernini and built between 1656 and 1667. There are two beautiful fountains in the square, the south/left one by Carlo Maderno (1613 - pictured left) and the northern/right one by Bernini (1675).

In the centre of the square is a 25.5-meter-tall obelisk, which dates from 13th-century BC Egypt and was brought to Rome in the 1st century to stand in Nero's Circus some 275 yards away. It was moved to its present location in 1585 by order of Saint Pope Sixtus V. The task took four months and is said to have been done in complete silence on pain of death. If you include the cross on top and the base, the obelisk reaches 40m.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiThe square is outlined by a monumental colonnade (pictured right) by Bernini, its open arms symbolically welcoming the world into the Catholic Church. Between the obelisk and each fountain is a circular stone that marks the focal points of an ellipse. If you stand on one of these points, the two rows columns of the colonnade line up perfectly and appear to be just a single row.

On top of the colonnade are 140 statues of saints, crafted by a number of sculptors between 1662 and 1703. To the right of the southern gate of the colonnade is St. Macrina the Elder, grandmother of the Cappadocian Fathers, followed by some founders of religious orders: St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Bernard, St. Benedict, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some of the apostles are at the far end of the colonnade, outside the square and down the street.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiNear the stairs to the basilica at the front of the square are colossal statues of Saints Peter (pictured left) and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. These were ordered by Pope Pius IX on Easter 1847, who wanted to replace the existing smaller ones. The new statues had been commissioned by the previous pope for St. Paul Outside the Walls. Peter was sculpted by Giuseppe De Fabris in 1838-40 and stands 5.55m in height, on a pedestal 4.91m high. Paul was sculpted in 1838 by Adamo Tadolini, and is also 5.55m in height, on a pedestal 4.91m high.

Exterior

The dome of St. Peter's was designed by Michelangelo, who became chief architect in 1546. At the time of his death (1564), the dome was finished as far as the drum, the base on which domes sit. The dome was vaulted between 1585 and 1590 by the architect Giacomo della Porta with the assistance of Domenico Fontana, who was probably the best engineer of the day. Fontana built the lantern the following year, and the ball was placed in 1593.

The great double dome is made of brick and is 42.3 metres in interior diameter (almost as large as the Pantheon), rising to 120 metres above the floor. In the early 18th century cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it. The four piers of the crossing that support the dome are each 60 feet (18 metres) across.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiThe grand facade is 116m wide and 53m high. Built from 1608 to 1614, it was designed by Carlo Maderno. The central balcony is called the Loggia of the Blessings (pictured right), and is used for the announcement of the new pope with "Habemus Papem" and his Urbi et Orbi blessing. The relief under the balcony, by Ambrogio Buonvicino, represents Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.

The facade is topped by 13 statues in travertine. From left, the statues represent: Thaddeus, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, James the Elder, John the Baptist, Christ the Redeemer (in the centre), Andrew, John the Evangelist, James the Younger, Bartholomew, Simon and Matthias. St. Peter's statue in this set is inside.

Two clocks are on either side; the one on the left is electrically operated since 1931, with its oldest bell dating to 1288. Stretching across the facade is the dedicatory inscription: IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII (In honour of the prince of apostles; Paul V Borghese, pope, in the year 1612 and the seventh year of his pontificate).


St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiBetween the façade and the interior is the portico (pictued left). Mainly designed by Maderno, it contains an 18th century statue of Charlemagne by Cornacchini to the south, and an equestrian sculpture of Emperor Constantine by Bernini (1670) to the north.

The northernmost door is the Holy Door (pictured below right), in bronze by Vico Consorti (1950), which is by tradition only opened for great celebrations such as Jubilee years. Above it are inscriptions. The top reads PAVLVS V PONT MAX ANNO XIII, the one just above the door reads GREGORIVS XIII PONT MAX. In between are white slabs commemorating the most recent openings. Pope John Paul II opened the holy door in the jubilee years of 1983-84 and 2000-01.

St Peter's Square - THE  BORGIAS   wikiThe door in the centre is by Antonio Averulino (1455), and was preserved from the old basilica. It was too small for its new space, so panels were added at the top and bottom. Known as the Filaret Door after the artist's nickname, it has six panels that depict: Jesus and Mary enthroned; St. Paul with the sword; St. Peter giving the keys to the kneeling Pope Eugene IV; St. Paul sentenced by Nero; martyrdom of St. Paul; martyrdom of St. Peter on Vatican Hill; St. Paul appearing to Plautilla, to give her back the veil she had lent him to blindfold his eyes. The bas-reliefs between the framed panels show scenes from the pontificate of Eugene IV, and representatives at the Council of Ferrera-Florence, summoned in 1438 to reunite the Churches of the East and of the West.

The Door of Death is the far left door into the basilica. Its name derives from its traditional use as the exit for funeral processions as well as its subject matter. In preparation for the Holy Year of 1950, Pope Pius XII held a competition for three new bronze doors. This one was sculpted by Giacomo Manzu in 1961-64. Large relief panels depict the death of Jesus (top right), death of Mary (top left); violent death of Abel, serene death of Joseph, death of first pope, death of Pope John XXIII, death of first martyr Stephen, death of Gregory VII (in exile defending the Church), death improvised in space and death of a mother at home.







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