I think it’s the biggest church I’ve ever been in. It’s sheer grandeur dwarfs every cathedral I’ve seen in the rest of Europe. A huge covered space, with vaulted ceilings () so high they remain in constant semi-darkness.
Already from the outside you get an idea of the scale of the basilica from the size of St Peter’s square (). We learned on our tour of the ancient Roman forum that the marble used to construct the bailica and the columns that surround the piazza, which were designed to represent the welcoming arms of the church, were taken from Roman ‘pagan’ temples, and that the obelisk () in the center originally came from the Roman conquest of Egypt. It seems an interesting statement on the mortality of religions, and civilizations.
I wonder what structure the steps of the Capitol building will reside in a thousand years from now.
We paid for the elevator up to the cupola () of St Peters, and I have to say that is definitely worth the price of admission. First you get to walk around the main circular area of the basilica where the two “arms” of the building intersect. Then, you walk up an ever-narrowing series of staircases () until you arrive at the very top of the cupola. It’s a spectacular view over all of Rome (). From every side you see the city sprawl in front of you. It was grey and cloudy all day until we got to the top, but when we emerged from the 320 stairs the sun was shining and the view was truly breath-taking.
Inside the basilica is a world of marble (). The floors are decorated with colorful marble patterns, and statues () are in every niche and archway. The altar is backed by a quite small and simple (when compared with the likes of Notre Dame and Chartres) stained glass window () featuring the dove of peace. After the immense grandeur of everything else in the place, it’s a nice contrast.
There are too many fantastic works of art to mention them all, but the most famous is the Pieta (), a statue of Mary with the body of Christ by Michaelangelo.
Ann and I also visited the crypt with the sarcophagi of the Popes and saw the tomb of John Paul II (). There was a special section roped off for those who wanted to stay and pray there, and there were four or five people doing just that. But we didn’t see our buddy from the line.
All in all, you can’t go to Rome and not see St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s the largest and most opulent church you’ll ever see.