Saint Peter’s Basilica: not only a guardian for Christianity, but also an immense artistic heritage, attracting millions of peregrines
Saint Peter’s Basilica, or Saint Peter’s in Vatican Major Papal Patriarchal Archbasilica, the first thing you think about obviously is the Pope. It can’t be considered an Italian church, as it is situated in the Vatican City, being its symbol, but it surely is the most important church in the Italian peninsula, as it is the centre of the Catholic religion in the world.
Among the most ancient churches, it is also the biggest one, just following an Ivorian church made on its model in the XX century.
However, even if it mostly is a religion tourist sight, as religious supporters meet there to listen to the Angelus, and during all the regular appointments in which you can publicly see the Pope, in the square in front of it, the Basilica is especially a monument, saving an inestimable art heritage, making it one of the most valuable places in the world.
Among pictures, frescos, statues and architectural works, the Basilica saves a real treasure, you can just partly admire, but deserving a small expense and a long cue.
You surely know it by this name, but its original name is Vatican Pieta. It was made by Michelangelo Buonarroti, in the XV century, much more before the built of the current Basilica.
Michelangelo was demanded to make it by the rich banker Jacopo Galli, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères dear friend, to decorate Saint Petronilla Chapel, part of the ancient Saint Peter’s Basilica, where the cardinal was buried.
It should have been the decorating funeral monument of its burial and when the Basilica was destroyed and the new one built, they decided to insert Michelangelo’s great work in the new one, firstly in the sacristy and then in the Sistine chorale.
Those movements happened because it was still in progress and they needed to save the work from eventual damages, always showing it.
So it was moved on the altar dedicated to Saint Simon and Judas. Along two centuries, Michelangelo’s Pieta has been moved a lot of times, until definitely placed (as today it is), in the XVIII century.
Today, you find it in the first chapel on your right, entering the central navy, through the main door. It went out the Vatican just once until now: it was in the 1964 and it was moved to New York for the universal Expo, and it was set in the Vatican pavilion; from 1972, it never underwent peculiar maintenance.
The last intervention was necessary to fix it after an act of vandalism by a hammer, that partly destroyed the Virgin. The restyling was made in the close Vatican Museum, thanks to the original molds, that gave it the opportunity to be faithfully restored; for this reason, the work is nowadays protected in a blast-proof glass box. You will be able to admire it anyway in all its beauty, but from afar: it deserves it anyway!
The Pope Canopy
Going on visiting the Basilica, along the central navy, you will see the splendid Pope Canopy, also called Saint Peter’s. It was really wanted by Pope Urban VIII, to highlight where the first Roman Pope, Saint Peter, tomb is situated.
The work was commissioned to GianLorenzo Bernini and it represented his first very important public work for his career. It was the early 1600s and Saint Peter’s Basilica was in progress: they needed an architectural element, bug and artistic to exactly point at the tomb. The latter is currently situated in the Vatican Caves, along an underground path crossing Saint Peter’s square and the church, in perfect correspondence of the altar.
The Canopy is 20 metres tall, completely made of marble and bronze. Bernini and his team decided to fuse some Roman bronzes of the Pantheon to make it, causing some complaints among the citizens, but especially among the artists and the clergy.
One of the famous proverbs in Rome at the time was: “What Barbarians didn’t do, Barberini’s did.”, to say how the Pope ambitions were so peculiar to affect also one of the most extraordinary examples of the Ancient Rome.
Despite of its majesty, the Pope Canopy appears lighter than it is thank you the Solomonic columns, the most genial of Bernini ideas, because you get the illusion of a much more bigger and majestic complex, because your eyes can directly go to the end of the Basilica, enlarging its sense of profundity.
Saint Peter’s Pulpit
At the end of the central navy of the Basilica, there is Peter’s Throne, scenographically set in a big window made of alabaster.
The legend tells us that it is the real bishop pulpit of the fist Pope of Rome, despite some studies demonstrated it was just an artifact of the IX century, donated to Pope John VIII by Carlo the Bald, becoming a real relics.
Nowadays, it is placed in a bronze monument by Bernini, a Baroque masterpiece. It is made of 4 statues representing the Four doctors of the Church keeping the Throne, that seem to be very light, thank to Bernini architectural and artistic choices.
It is one of the most important Baroque representations, a mix filled in with architecture and visual arts that will impress you at the first sight.
Widely known as Raffaello Sanzio last important work, it is a real masterpiece, characterized by a very hard and peculiar history. It didn’t have to be set in Saint Peter’s Basilica originally, where, as a matter of fact, it has never been placed, as it didn’t in the Narbonne Cathedral, the following destination, because it was so beautiful (even if completed just by one of Michelangelo’s pupils) Giulio de’ Medici, the purchaser as well as the following famous Pope Clemente VII, wanted to keep it for himself.
Just some time later, it was put in the pretty Saint Peter in Montorio’s church, before being moved to Paris after the Tolentino Agreement. It went back to Italy just during the XIX century, when the then Pope Pio VII decided its place was the Vatican Museum. But if you have a look on the left navy in Saint Peter’s, you will find its copy, made using a peculiar mosaic technique,
as all the work in the Basilica were modified to give more light to the church and to preserve them from humidity, in 1700. When this copy arrived, it received the same treatment, characterized by a weft of thousands of little tesseras, treated by a mattifying polish, to preserve the original colours.
The Sistine Chapel
We must conclude talking about this jewel, if we talk about Saint Peter’s. The Sistine Chapel is maybe one of the most famous monuments in the world, a real architectural and artistic masterpiece with no other in history, despite it isn’t exactly part of the Basilica.
As a matter of fact, it is the chapel of the Apostolic Palace where cardinals and high priests meet during the Conclave for the election of the new Pope.
The Sistine Chapel is by Michelangelo Buonarroti and its beauty will astonish you.
More than the great cycle of frescos by Michelangelo, on the Chapel walls there are some pictures made by the most important Renaissance painters, as well as Botticelli and Perugino, Pinturicchio and the Ghirlandaio. If the vault is a so great masterpiece, the Last Judgment behind the altar, is the picture that mostly represents the beauty of this extraordinary place you can’t miss, once you are in the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
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