Basilica of St. Peter

Duration: 3 hours

This itinerary explores, in depth, the grandeur of the entire St. Peter’s complex, the place that gave birth to perhaps the mightiest of religious power and culture.

We begin by surveying the socio-urban surroundings on the Ager Vaticanus, the present site accommodating the current basilica built over the Emperor Constantine’s “Old St. Peter’s” (324-329 AD) and the Circus of Nero. Here we begin to explore the location of the Circus of Nero where Peter is believed to have been martyred in either 64 or 67 AD (historians do not concur). This site is occupied today by Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza san Pietro). Here we will experience the powerful aura of a magnificent Roman space. After surveying the piazza, with a focus on the architectural integrity of its impressive colonnades and “cloud of 140 witnesses,” a triumph of the Baroque style by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, we enter the basilica to explore the majestic and harmonious vastness of the largest and most intricate basilica in the world. This edifice is indisputably the most sublime and significant of all Christian churches, the principal Church of the Popes since the 15th century and the focal point of Christianity for the entire world. Inside the basilica we unravel the history and significance of the innumerable artistic masterpieces and religious embellishments while exploring the distinct architectural excellence of the spaces that accommodate them.

Major artistic sites emphasized here will be the Portico and its five bronze doors, Giotto’s Navicella, the Chapel of the Pietà, the Throne of St. Peter, the Cathedra Petri, Bernini’s baldachino, the interior of Michelangelo’s remarkable dome, the Chigi funerary monument, the cenotaphs of the Stewarts and the Chapel of the Baptistery. Special attention will be given to “reading” the Papal Coats of Arms in both the piazza and the basilica and to the iconography of the numerous splendid papal monuments (cenotaphs) and mosaics from a historical-artistic point of view.

Particular respect will be paid to the fact that despite its overwhelming cultural heritage the basilica remains a functional church today and to take it out of this context would be to destroy the unity of the entire complex. The solemn liturgical celebrations of the Roman Rite are offered twice daily here, and other sacraments as well, on a regular basis. At 5pm each evening the Sistine Choir is heard accompanying the sung parts of the Solemn Mass, attracting not only the faithful from all over the world, but artists and musicians from around Rome as well, not to mention the everyday tourists who are irresistibly drawn towards Bernini’s Altar of the Chair to observe the transcendent splendor of this dramatic theatrical event.

This itinerary also takes us to the papal treasury where we see some of the finest works of Christianity.

The tour ends with a visit to the papal grottoes to see the tombs of popes, bishops, martyrs, kings, queens and apostles, all of which pay powerful testimonies to the faith of the men and women whose legacy contributes to the construction of this complex.

The itinerary in brief:

St. Peter’s Square
– Historical overview
Bernini’s Colonnades
Obelisk and layout

The Scala Regia

St. Peter’s Basilica
– Historical overview
Portico and Atrium
Bronze doors
Giotto’s Navicella
Michelangelo’s Pietá
Monument to Christina of Sweden
Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament
Bernini’s Baldacchino and Cathedra Petri
Confessio of St. Peter
Throne of St. Peter
Papal Cenotaphs
Monument to the Last Stuarts

The Vatican Grottoes
Crypts of the Popes
Tomb of St. Peter

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