Rome St Peter's Basilica. Vatican City Guided Tour. Official Vatican Tour Guides. A selection of the best private customized tours of Rome with tickets included
St. Peter’s Basilica. The Church and the square of St. Peter occupy the very historical spot of the circus of Nero, where many Christians, accused and convicted of having burnt Rome, suffered martyrdom (as mentioned by Tacitus and Seneca) and where St. Peter was crucified.
The remains of these early martyrs were piously collected by Christian brothers and widows to give them Christian burial in the neighboring caves and grottoes, where the apostle Peter was also interred.
The death and burial of the Great Apostle have not extinguished his sacred memory nor diminished the love of the sepulcher (Despite the fierce persecution). The pious and devout pilgrimage continues to our days. The first building which arose here to mark the tomb of the prince of the apostles (memoria Beati Pietri) was a small chapel which, according to the Christian tradition, was erected in the year 90 A.D. by Anacletus 3rd Bishop of Rome
This chapel, at once the center and cradle of primitive Christianity, became very soon the object of universal veneration among early Christians and, later on, the official cemetery of the successors of St. Peter. In 323, Emperor Constantine began the erection of a large Basilica on the site of the former oratory, participating in the work with his own hands and carrying twelve baskets of the earth in honor of the twelve apostles; so that the simple primitive chapel of Anacletus, was transformed into a Basilica, more worthy of the sanctity of the spot and the sacred associations connected with it. Official Rome Guide, Rome walking city Tours.
The Liber Pontificalis describes how the tomb of the apostles was opened at this time, in the presence of Pope St. Sylvester and Emperor Constantine, the bones found and reburied under the altar in a precious sarcophagus of gilt bronze, surmounted by a golden cross weighing 160 pounds (72 Kilos).
Such was the veneration in which the tombs of the apostles were held in the early days of Christianity. During the different invasions, these tombs, which stood unfortified and undefended, were in churches outside the city walls and were respected. We know that Alaric with his Goth, Vitiges with his Longobards, and Generic with his Vandals ransacked and carried away the treasure of all the churches outside the city, but these savage and rude barbarians, who were mostly Arians, enemies of Rome and the Catholics. However, they knew the immense treasures the churches of the Apostles contained, and despite their thirst for gold, not only respected them and the tombs but left unmolested also the people who had taken refuge in them.
In 846, when the Saracens invaded Rome, the Basilica was plundered and damaged for the first time, and some authorities maintain that even St. Peter’s tomb was profaned. Pope Leo IV restored Saracen’s damages and raised the fortifications around the Vatican. After this first devastation, nearly all the successors of Leo IV contributed to embellishing the church with the rarest and costliest of old and contemporary art. All the nations which the light of Christianity had irradiated enriched it with their prodigal presents so that the basilica became a real museum, in which every century left a deep impression on its art.
In 1450, as ruin was menacing the precious Sanctuary, Pope Nicholas V planned the destruction of it and rebuilding a large and more beautiful church. Still, he died before he could carry out his plan, which was resumed by Pope Julius II (after about fifty years), who invited all the most significant Italian artists to submit designs.
These were allowed to follow their imagination without regard to time expenses and were requested to design the most wonderful temple human imagination could conceive or human labor execute, the chief ornament of which had to be the monument of the pope. Bramante was a successful competitor for the plan of the church, while the monument of the pope had to be executed by Michelangelo. Guide of Rome.
It would lead us very far from the scope and limits of this modest work; if we made a detailed description of the vicissitudes of the reconstruction of the basilica, it would be enough to say that plans were so wast and the interruption of the work so frequent (owing to the death of the Popes and architects) that 120 years elapsed between the laying of the foundation stone (1506) and the consecration of the building (1626) another 50 years for the completion of the church and if we include the sacristy and the mosaics, the rebuilding of the basilica lasted altogether nearly three centuries. Official Rome Guide, Rome walking city Tours
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