St. Peter's Basilica, located in Vatican City, is one of the most famous and impressive buildings in the world. Completed in 1626, it is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and is home to countless works of art and artifacts that have been accumulated over centuries. However, despite its fame and popularity, there are many secrets and hidden gems to discover within the basilica that is often overlooked by visitors. In this blog, we'll take a closer look at some of the lesser-known features and hidden gems on a tour of St. Peter's Basilica.
Beneath the floor of St. Peter's Basilica lies a labyrinth of chapels, tombs, and crypts known as the Vatican Grottoes. This underground complex is accessible via a staircase near the sacristy and is open to the public. It is home to the tombs of many popes, including St. Peter himself, who is said to be buried beneath the main altar. Other notable tombs include those of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II.
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The Holy Door is a large bronze door located in the portico of St. Peter's Basilica that is only opened during Jubilee years, which occurs every 25 years. The door is opened by the Pope, who walks through it as a symbol of his pilgrimage to the basilica. The Holy Door is considered to be a powerful symbol of the Church's mission to spread the message of the Gospel.
The Baldacchino is a massive bronze canopy that stands over the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and is considered to be one of his greatest works. The Baldacchino stands 98 feet tall and weighs over 100 tons. It is adorned with intricate carvings and gold leaf and is a true masterpiece of Baroque art.
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is one of its most recognizable features, and it can be seen from many points throughout Rome. The dome was designed by Michelangelo, who took over the project from the original architect, Bramante. The dome stands 448 feet tall and is topped with a lantern that provides natural light to the interior of the basilica.
Located in a separate area of St. Peter's Basilica, known as the crypt, are the tombs of many popes. The crypt is accessible via a staircase near the entrance to the basilica and is open to the public. Among the tombs in the crypt are those of Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, and Pope Innocent VIII.
Perhaps the most famous work of art in St. Peter's Basilica is Michelangelo's Pieta. This stunning sculpture depicts the body of Jesus in the arms of his mother, Mary. The Pieta was completed by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old, and it remains one of the most impressive sculptures in the world.
Located near the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is a massive bronze statue of St. Peter. The statue depicts St. Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and is a popular spot for visitors to the basilica to take photos. The statue is said to have been created in the 13th century and was originally located in the old St. Peter's Basilica.
The Swiss Guard is a group of elite soldiers that are responsible for protecting the Pope and the Vatican. The Swiss Guard is one of the oldest military units in the world.
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Beneath the Vatican Grottoes lies the Necropolis, an ancient Roman cemetery that dates back to the 1st century AD. This area was rediscovered in the 1940s and is now open to the public. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Necropolis, which includes a visit to the tomb of St. Peter.
While not technically part of St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel is located within the Vatican and is an absolute must-see for visitors. The chapel is home to some of the most famous works of art in the world, including Michelangelo's stunning ceiling frescoes. Visitors can take a guided tour of the chapel, which includes a detailed explanation of the art and architecture.
Located near the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica are the Holy Stairs, which are said to be the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial before Pontius Pilate. The stairs are encased in wood to protect them and are only open to visitors on certain days. Visitors are encouraged to climb the stairs on their knees as a symbol of penance and devotion.
The Gregorian Chapel is a small, intimate chapel located within St. Peter's Basilica. This chapel is often overlooked by visitors, but it is home to some stunning works of art, including a sculpture of St. Michael the Archangel by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The chapel is a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the main basilica.
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Located near the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica is the Confessional of St. Peter. This ornate confessional is where the Pope hears confessions from the faithful during certain times of the year. The confessional is adorned with intricate carvings and is a beautiful example of Baroque art.