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St Peters Basilica Rome
Tourist Information

St Peters Basilica was built in memory of the Catholic Church's first Pope St. Peter. It is near the site where Nero crucified him in about 65AD. Make sure and include as a sight to see the Basicilica of St. Peters in Vatican City Rome on your Rome vacation.

st. Peter's Basilica Rome

History of St Peters Basilica

The first foundations were laid by Emperor Constantine after 313AD when Christianity was legalized and Pope Sylvester I consecrated it after on November 18, 326AD.

After the original church had deteriorated and was near collapse, work began on the church we see today in about 1506AD directly over the old church.

The first architect was Bramante and later Michelangelo and several other architects added their own designs.

Michelangelo was 71 years old when the Pope asked him to design the Dome of St. Peter's which is 430 feet high and covered with mosaics that depict a beautiful vision of heaven with Jesus, Mary, Saints, angels and God the Father at the top.

St. Peter's Basilica Michelangelo's Dome

On the base of the Dome is enscribed Matthew 16:18 "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it."

St. Peter's Basillica Rome Tourist Attractions

St. Peter's Rome Holy Door
St. Peter statue at St. Peter's Basilica
  • St Peters Basilica has 284 pillars in the colonnade and 140 statues on top, covers 6 acres, the length of the long nave is 2 football fields and it holds 60,000 standing worshippers.
  • The white columns on the portico are from the original church.
  • The central door is made from melted down bronze from the door of the original church and is only opened on special occasions.
  • Over the central door is the famous Navicalla mosaic of Jesus walking on the water from the original church
  • The right door is the Holy Door which is only opened every 25 years.
  • The plaques on the floor inside the St Peters Basilica show where other churches would fit in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Under the Dome looking down below the circular railing is St. Peters tomb where his bones are buried.
  • The famous bronze statue of St. Peter in the nave is from the original church and pilgrims can be seen touching or kissing his foot.
  • In the front left of the Basilica is an artistic depiction of St. Peter crucified upside down.
  • The Blessed Sacrament chapel is about halfway to the altar on the right.
  • Before the main altar to the right is the glass-encased embalmed body of Pope John XXIII who is famous for initiating the major reforms of Vatican II.
Pope John XXIII's St. Peter's Basilica

The main altar under the dome is only used when the Holy Father says mass. It is covered by a 7 story bronze canopy and some of the bronze came from the ancient Pantheon. The main altar and other parts of St. Peters church in Rome were designed by Bernini in the very ornate Baroque style for which he is famous.

Bernini's main altar at St. Peter's Basilica Rome Bernini's Holy Spirit window at St.Peter's Basilica Rome

Bernini also designed the beautiful Holy Spirit window above the smaller front altar which is used for most masses.

The place where St. Peter was crucified is marked and located to the left of the main altar in St Peters Basilica.

Michelangelo Pieta

The world famous sculpture called the Pieta (pity) is found to the right as you enter at the back of St. Peter's Church Rome.

Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica Rome

It was created by 24 year old Michelangelo for the Holy Year 1500 and was one of his first major commissions. This striking sculpture depicts Mary tenderly cradling Jesus, her dead son, in her arms.

Top of the Dome

Climb to the top of the cupola for a fantastic view of Rome. Choose either the top of the church where you can view the interior of the church looking down and an outside view or the top of the Dome for a breathtaking view of the city.

An elevator takes you to the first level and a staircase of 323 steps takes you to the top of the cupola.

St. Peters Tomb and Catacombs

Make sure and check out St Peters Catacombs or Grotto where you will find many tombs of popes and memorial chapels, including where Pope John Paul II is buried.

Pope John Paul II's tomb at St. Peter's Basilica Rome

In order to see St. Peter's original grave, you need to take the Scavi or Escavations Tour. You need to book this very far in advance of your Rome vacation by emailing scavi@fsp.va, faxing 0669873017, calling 0669885318 or going to Excavations information.

St. Peters Basilica Rome Tourist Information

  • Transportaion - nearest Metro stop Ottaviano is a 10 minute walk or a healthy walk from Rome's old city
  • Daily Mass Schedule: 9-10-11-12-17, Sundays and Holiday Mass Schedule: 9-10:30-11:30-12:15-13-16-17:30.
  • Hours: April-Sept. 7-19:00, Oct-Mar 7-18:00 - Avoid the lines and visit the Basilica either early, before 9am or late afternoon
  • Dress modestly - no shorts, short skirts or bare shoulders
  • Top of the Dome - April-Sept. 8:00-17:45 and Oct-March 8:00-16:45, elevator to first level - 7 euros, staircase to top - 5 euros
  • See the Pope....General audiences of Pope Benedict XVI or the Holy Father's Sunday Angelus at 12:00 noon.
Pope at Sunday Angelus Sunday Angelus crowds

My husband and I went to the 10:30 mass on Sunday at St Peters Basilica and then the Sunday Angelus at 12:00. Even though the Pope was quite far away, the excitement and atmosphere of the crowded St. Peter's Square was wonderful!

Make sure and check out the awe-inspiring ancient Rome attractions and other sightseeing in Rome.

Also, check out the Forum walking tour of Rome.

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