Saint Peter’s Basilica

Saint Peter's Basilica as seen from Castle Sant Angelo; photograph by Wolfgang Stuck, September 2004; swiped off WikipediaArticle

Church located on the site of the Neronian circus in Rome, Italy. It contains an altar which marks the traditional spot of Saint Peter’s crucifixion. Under Constantine the simple sanctuary erected on this spot gave way to a magnificent basilica, partly demolished twelve centuries later. Its rebuilding during the early Renaissance is regrettable, as the plans were garbled by successive popes and their architects, Michelangelo finally preserving, to some extent, Braroante’s original plan. There were three notable stages in its construction: Braroante’s ground plan of a Greek cross with dome; Michelangelo’s Greek cross with dome, plus a vestibule with a portico of columns; and Paul V’s Latin cross with Baroque facade. The longer they built, the more the original magnificent plans were spoiled, so that the present exterior of the structure, begun in 1450 and finished in 1626, is on the whole, aesthetically unsatisfactory, chiefly because the extension of the nave conceals Michelangelo’s sublime dome from view at close range. The facade, the work of Maderna and Bernini, has five portals; all exterior walls are constructed of mellowed golden travertine giving a harmonious effect to the structure, which has four principal divisions extending from the dome. The tomb of Saint Peter is in the center of the entire edifice which, in addition to the principal altar, has 33 other altars, under most of which repose bodies of the saints, including several apostles. The covered colonnades of Doric columns which enclose the beautiful piazza, form an integral part of the basilica; these are surmounted by 162 images of saints, after Bernini; the celebrated obelisk of Heliopolis stands in the center of the ellipse. The interior of Saint Peter’s abounds in treasures of art, celebrated tombs, and places of historic note; the chambers beneath the pavement contain the graves of many popes and emperors. Since 1870 important papal functions have usually taken place here. The basilica accommodates 50,000.

Additional Information

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Peter’s Basilica”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 December 2018. Web. 2 December 2021. <>