8 incredible facts about St. Peter’s Basilica

5) The basilica’s dome was inspired by the Roman Pantheon, while its interior ‘baldacchino’ was built with materials removed from the temple –

St. Peter's Basilica_baldacchino

In spite of Michelangelo’s contribution to the dome and the humongous layout of St. Peter’s Basilica, it was Donato Bramante who envisaged the originally grand plan of recreating the wondrous effect of ancient Roman monuments. So, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the massive dome (then yet to be built) was inspired by the Pantheon – a superb ancient Roman temple dating from 125 AD (constructed by Hadrian) that has often been described as the ‘most complete building of antiquity’ in Rome.

However, the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica goes beyond just inspiration, to actually include physical bits of the Pantheon. Lorenzo Bernini, who also designed the St. Peter’s Square, was responsible for the creation of the lavishly-built ‘baldacchino’, an imposing canopy in the center of the basilica’s interior that shelters the papal altar and the relics of Saint Peter. The entire awning was crafted from 927 tons of dark bronze, all of which was sourced from the Pantheon’s roof in 1633.

6) The financing of St. Peter’s Basilica did contribute indirectly to rise of Protestantism –

St.-Peters-Basilica_Martin-Luther

Given the towering scope of this monumental undertaking, the Popes and the Vatican were desperate for the monetary funds – so much so that they granted ‘indulgences’ (that allow for acquittal of the severe penances) in return of usable funds. One of the ardent supporters of this ‘touchy’ method of fundraising was Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg. The renowned Martin Luther, who was then a German Augustinian priest, was concerned about such unpropitious financial benefits. He made his opposition to ‘selling of indulgences’ quite clear in the famous ‘The Ninety-Five Theses‘ – which sparked the movement of Reformation, and thus fueled the rise of Protestantism.

7) St. Peter’s Basilica and its proximate buildings house the biggest collection of ancient art in the world –

St. Peter's Basilica_interior

The majestic facades of the Vatican took their impressive forms starting from the 14th century and finally culminating in the late 16th century. But according to historians, the real treasure lies behind the majestic arrays of walls and colonnades. To that end, St. Peter’s Basilica and other Vatican buildings house at least half a million books and manuscripts – that easily accounts for the largest collection of ancient art in our entire planet. Added to the literary scope is the vast ambit of paintings, murals, sculptures and architectural specimens that would indeed make the Pope the world’s richest art-collector.

8) Archaeologists are still not certain of Saint Peter’s remains inside the basilica –

St.-Peters-Basilica_Peter_Tomb

The basis for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica pertains to the commemoration of Saint Peter’s grave. Oddly enough, archaeologists have still not been able verify his actual remains – a predicament which is complicated by the excavation of a vast complex of pagan mausoleums situated beneath the foundations of the basilica. In any case, the historians did stumble across a particularly interesting find that entailed fragments of bones being kept inside a richly decorated tissue that was further tinted with the ‘royal’ murex purple dye. Many believe that this strongly supports the discovery of the remains of Saint Peter himself, because of the apparent importance and care given to the burial method.

However, there are other claims for the discovery of Saint Peter’s tomb, with the most notable one being that of the possible ossuary of Peter inside a cave in Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. The name inscribed on the chest reads ‘Shimon Bar Yonah’, which was the original biblical name of the Disciple. But many experts dispute this claim, on the basis of the name ‘Cefa’ (or ‘Peter’) not being mentioned in the inscription.

Sources:  VaticanState / WikiSource / Sacred-Destinations

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