I’d been wanting to visit St. Peter’s since we arrived in Rome, but the crowds in August were so overwhelming that I kept putting it off. I noticed on a couple of my walks that the security lines were pretty short early in the morning, so last Friday I arrived a little after 8 and, ta-da, no line!
According to Wikipedia, the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter “has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. While it is neither the official mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the pope as Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites. It has been described as ‘holding a unique position in the Christian world’ and as ‘the greatest of all churches of Christendom.’” It is the burial place of St. Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles and the first Bishop of Rome.
A basilica has occupied the site of St. Peter’s since the fourth century. Construction on the present structure began in April 1506 and was completed in November 1626. The basilica is shaped like a cross, and the interior and exterior spaces are dominated by one of the largest domes in the world. The interior is one of the most lavish spaces in the world, with marble, bronze, ivory, and gilding everywhere. Many famous artists worked on St. Peter’s, including Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On Friday the basilica was fairly empty when I was there. A flock of excited divinity students fluttered about the church, praying at the tomb of John Paul II (who wore his famous red shoes!) and snapping photos of any thing that wasn’t moving. They were so cute and so thrilled to be in St. Peter’s. They were lucky, because people of religion were permitted behind the barriers that kept us commoners quite far away from the major works of art. I was so jealous!
I’ve been to St. Peter’s a few times, but this time was really different. Visitors are no longer allowed to get close to the many famous pieces of art. Michelangelo’s Pieta had barriers so far in front of it that I could barely see it! In addition to the barriers, it was surrounded by bulletproof acrylic glass. And forget getting close to Bernini’s exquisite Tomb of Alexander VII. Visitors can no longer enter many of the chapels in St. Peter’s, I’m sad to say, but there’s still plenty to see.
Here are lots of photos. I don’t have a good photo of the outside, though, so I’ll have to return soon.