St. Peter’s Basilica situated in Vatican City, is undoubtedly the grandest exhibition of the finest piece of arts under one roof. The basilica which holds the most honorable place in the heart of every devout Christian all round the world is considered as the center of Christianity.
Apart from the spiritual importance, this basilica has an indelible impression in the world of extravagant architectural masterpieces. Adorned with the miraculous touch of the greatest Italian architects of the late Renaissance era, this spectacular monument also hosts ample number of interesting facts & trivia which always surround this grandeur monument with a cloak of surprises!
Here we present top 10 most interesting trivia regarding the history & the architecture of this monument which may surprise you & make you more curious about this jewel of the architecture!
- The ‘Scavi’ is actually the Vatican Necropolis:
The place named as the ‘Scavi’ that lies underneath the basilica is actually the first century Necropolis (the city of the dead) of the Romans. The renowned tomb of St. Peter is supposedly resides in the Scavi, whereas, the crypts of a lot of popes, including John Paul II resides in the place called ‘the Grotto’.
It is believed that, 134 bone fragments which were found in a niche engraved with phrase ‘Petros Eni’ which means ‘Peter is here’ in Greek, are the holy relics of St. Peter. Carbon dating has found that they belong to a 60-70 years old man from the 2nd century AD.
Resources also underline the absence of the feet bones in the pieces found inside the niche. One of the anecdotes regarding this fact says that, the body of St. Peter was removed very quickly from his cross, by chopping off at his ankles instead of proper removal after his demise post crucifixion.
- The current Basilica is the second manifestation of St. Peter’s Basilica:
The first Basilica of St. Peter was built in the year around 324 by the first Christian Emperor of Rome- Constantine. The current Basilica was built over the period of a century & was completed in the year 1615.
The current Basilica however, does not hold the remains of the original Basilica except a piece of a mosaic from the eighth century that can still be found at Santa Maria in Cosmedin as well as eight of the original columns from the old altar which are now moved to the current altar of St. Peter’s.
- The presence of myriad tombs:
The Basilica houses more than 100 crypts which include 91 popes, the Roman Emperor Otto II & Swedish Queen Christina who relinquished the throne to accept the Christianity.
- The ‘Holy Door’ is opened only for ‘Jubilee Years’:
The northernmost door of the Basilica is called as the ‘Holy Door’ which is, by tradition, opened only for the great celebration such as ‘Jubilee Years’. The door was constructed by ‘Vico Consorti’ (1950). Pope John Paul had opened this bronze-made Holy Door in the Jubilee Years 1983-84 & 2000-01.
- 491 steps are required for climbing to the top of Michelangelo’s dome:
The top of Michelangelo’s iconic dome can be reached by climbing 491 steps of very narrow & exhausting staircase. In some places, there is no room for the railings & one can climb upstairs by holding a rope that runs down the middle. Although the climb at some places is narrow as well as exceptionally skewed, the availability of an elevator aids you in climbing 171 steps lesser making it convenient in the initial phase of the climb.
- The colonnades flanking the square of the Basilica are topped with 140 statues of saints:
The artistic colonnades outside the basilica are topped with 140 statues of various saints which were constructed by Bernini & his various subordinate artists between 1662 & 1703.
Michelangelo’s one of the finest pieces of sculptures- ‘Pieta’ can be found inside St. Peter’s Basilica’s chapel in the right aisle while facing the altar. The Pieta is shielded by a thick bulletproof glass following the attack in 1972 by an insane geologist named ‘Laszlo Toth’ who ran into the basilica & attacked the sculpture with a geologist’s hammer. He completely took down Mary’s arm off from her elbow, damaged her nose & one of her eyelids while screaming ‘I’m Jesus Christ’. Although, the Pieta is restored to its initial appearance, its close inspection discloses the several marks of wrath that it faced over the period of 500 years.
The ‘Pieta’ which is considered as the only sculpture bearing Michelangelo’s signature was crafted using marble during 1499-1500. The sculpture consists of a young looking Mary holding the dead body of her beloved son. The ribbon running across Mary’s chest bears the signature of the great sculptor which, according to the tales, he did when he heard of people praising someone else for the creation of this statue. However, the great artist later on felt repentant for his action & vowed not to sign ever on any of his own creation!
- Bronze statue of St. Peter: Receiving people’s love & honor for several centuries:
The bronze statue of St. Peter has been admired & honored by every individual visiting the Basilica. All the visitors observe the tradition of kissing or rubbing his foot while passing by the statue. This activity of people, which has been done for so many years has made the surface of his foot completely smooth, whereas his left toe can be seen intact with distinct fingers.
- Bernini’s Baldacchino had received heavy critics in the past:
Bernini’s 96-foot tall, mammoth canopy-like structure called ‘Baldacchino’, built over the Papal altar had received heavy criticism in the past as this structure was made from the bronze which was taken from the roof of the Pantheon.
- Paintings in the Basilica:
Most of the paintings in the Basilica are not the original ones meant for the Basilica, but are the replicas of the true ones. The high humidity inside the Basilica had ruined the oil paintings & disturbed their original attire. Most of the paintings were replaced by mosaic alternatives. The painting named ‘The Transfiguration’ by Raphael was recreated using mosaic in the year 1774 by Stefano Pozzi. The original paintings are now kept in the Vatican Pinacoteca for the display.