St. Peters Basilica
History of St. Peter’s Basilica
It is said that St. Peters is the largest church in the world; I believe I have heard the same statement made about St. John the Divine in New York City. Perhaps it would be best to state that it is the largest Catholic Church in the world.
St. Peters was originally built on the grounds of a pagan cemetery next to Nero’s Circus. It was on this site that the Apostle St. Peter was crucified about 67 AD. His body was taken to the cemetery and entombed. The remains of that cemetery are still visible beneath the Basilica. Excavations that took place between 1939 and 1950 unearthed the tomb and the remains of St. Peter.
Pope Anacletus, who succeeded Peter, had a small temple built over the tomb. As you can imagine it became a place of worship for the early Christians who came here in spite of the danger of being persecuted by the Romans. The persecutions came to an end with the reign of Constantine who brought official recognition to the church through the Edict of Milan in 313.
In AD324 Constantine built a large ornate Basilica over the cemetery and part of Nero’s Circus. Extensive excavation was required to level ground, move graves, and tear down Nero’s Circus. Throughout the next few centuries the Visigoths, Vandals, Saracens, and Normans sacked the Basilica. Even though the church was being destroyed throngs of pilgrims continued to assemble for worship, after all, it was the resting-place and reliquary for St. Peter.
In 1506 Pope Julius II began the construction of a 120 years project that was to culminate in the completion of the new and existing Basilica of St. Peters. The greatest artists of this era worked toward completion of this magnificent monument to man’s faith in God. Can you imagine hiring Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Fontana, Della Porta, Bernini, and Maderno? I imagine many of these superior artisans donated their time and work for the honor and glory of God.
It’s beyond understanding to think of all these legendary artists working to bring this magnificent structure into existence.
How many of you have visited St. Peter’s? Were you as impressed as I was?
Next we’ll visit the Basilica.
This is an excerpt from my book Fulfillment is a Place, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books