St. Peter’s Basilica
Emperor Constantine the Great built a basilica between 319 and 333 where Saint Peter was said to be martyred. By the end of the 15th century, having been neglected during the period of the Avignon Papacy, the old basilica had fallen into disrepair.
|A conjectural view of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica by H. W. Brewer, 1891|
Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–1513), commissioned a series of highly influential artand architecture projects in Rome such as the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo and various rooms in the Vatican by Raphael. His decision to rebuild St Peters making it the grandest building in Christendom, led to the construction of the massive basilica we see now.
Julius was at that time planning his own tomb, which was to be designed and adorned with sculpture by the then young Michelangelo and placed within St Peter’s. The Pieta sculpture carved which is now housed in St Peter’s Basilica, made Michelangelo famous.
Pope Julius’ scheme for the new St Peter’s Basilica was the subject of a competition among architects. It was the design of Donato Bramante that was selected.
Pope Julius II laid the foundation for the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on April 18, 1506.
On January 1, 1547 in the reign of Pope Paul III, Michelangelo was appointed the superintendent of the building program at St Peter’s. Michelangelo redesigned the dome, taking into account all that had gone before. His dome is constructed of two shells of brick, the outer one having 16 stone ribs. It rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross making it the tallest dome in the world.
|St Peter’s dome (interior). By Michelangelo – LivioAndronico,|
Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola took over the direction of the building of St Peter’s from Michelangelo in 1464. He constructed the two subordinate domes according to Michelangelo’s plans. The dome was brought to completion by Giacomo della Porta and Fontana in 1590.
In 1602 Pope Paul V put Carlo Maderna in charge of the building of the new St Peter’s. On February 18 ,1606, workmen began to pull down the remainder of the old basilica. It was decided that the church was the wrong shape, and what was needed was a Latin Cross plan as that was the symbol of the death of Jesus. Madena’s design created a huge space with an elongated nave in the form of a Latin cross.
Maderna’s façade (completed 1612) was constructed to allow for Papal blessings from the emphatically enriched balcony above the central door.
|Maderno’s façade By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT|
The completion of St Peter’s was delayed until 1626 due to its immense cost, size, and other factors.
On November 18, 1626 Pope Urban VIII solemnly dedicated the Basilica.
|St. Peter’s Basilica showing the dome rising behind Maderno’s façade|
St Peter’s was the largest church in the world, with a capacity of over 60,000 people covering an area of 2.3 ha (5.7 acres) until Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast was completed in 1989. However, there are some that claim St Peter’s is still the world’s largest church. Our Lady of Peace Basilica also includes a rectory and a villa (counted in the overall area), which are not strictly part of the church. It can only accommodate 18,000 worshippers, much less than St. Peter’s.