In 1626, when St. Peter's Basilica was completed, all roads led to Rome and, in Rome, all roads led to St. Peter's Basilica. In front of the basilica, St. Peter’s Square welcomes and embraces pilgrims and guests and offers them a gathering place. On significant occasions, the square holds some 300,000 people. (Aerial-motion/Shutterstock)
Peter, the first pope and bishop of Rome, appointed by Jesus himself, took the lead to establish Christianity in Rome. He was later martyred; however, his legacy was set.
One and a half millennia passed, and the inspired Pope Julius II sought to honor St. Peter and the origins of the papacy. He turned to Renaissance architect and painter Donato Bramante and requested him to make “the most magnificent, biggest church in Christendom.”
For more than 100 years, some of the greatest minds of the Renaissance and Baroque periods contributed to the magnificent creation of St. Peter’s Basilica that would offer its patrons an experience of the divine.
Although his design was not entirely realized, Bramante embarked on the journey that embraced the Renaissance ideals of truth and beauty, honoring St. Peter and the divine principles the saint embodied, and set the course for creating this great Basilica.
Bramante aimed to transport visitors to a divine realm through perfect proportions and geometry. After Bramante’s passing, the direction of the design varied in Raphael’s and others’ hands before Michelangelo rose to the occasion and took the lead to expand upon the earlier vision. He elongated the main nave to allow greater attendance and developed the majestic dome we see today.
The Baroque period began under the direction of the Roman Catholic Church to reach out, stimulate, and engage people to inspire their relationship with the divine. Architect Carlo Maderno completed the building with an expressive façade of the era.
Then Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in Baroque fashion, thoroughly engaged visitors with his design of The Baldacchino, a large bronze canopy marking the location of St. Peter’s tomb. He also created a theatrical experience of the Holy Spirit with his awe-inspiring Cathedra of Petri (Throne of St. Peter).
Finally, he completed the Basilica with the large welcoming arms of St. Peter’s Square, to embrace pilgrims, visitors, and guests alike who came from far and wide to see the pope, experience the divine, and witness the legacy of St. Peter.