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Virtually visit St. Peter’s, the church built on the tomb of the first pope

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Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Marinella Bandini - published on 04/05/21

Station Church Day 47: Legend has it that Constantine himself removed the first 12 baskets of earth to prepare for construction.

Aleteia invites you to a virtual Lenten pilgrimage through Rome’s 42 station churches: one church per day, from February 17 to April 11.

Day 47

In Easter week, the station pilgrimage returns to St. Peter’s in the Vatican. On Peter, Jesus built the Church, and on Peter’s tomb was built the basilica that is the symbol of Christianity.

The first basilica was built by Emperor Constantine around 325. To make room for the basilica it was necessary to move over 40,000 cubic meters of earth. Legend has it that Constantine himself removed the first 12 baskets of earth with his own hands, one in honor of each apostle.

The ancient basilica was demolished in the 16th century. It took 120 years and 22 popes to build the present basilica: from 1506, with Julius II, to 1626, when it was consecrated by Urban VIII. The construction of the square in front of the basilica was completed 50 years later.

The most famous architects and artists of the time worked on it, including Bramante, Raphael Sanzio, Michelangelo—creator of the dome—and Bernini, the artist responsible for the baldacchino.

It’s one of the largest basilicas in the world: The nave is 614 feet (187 meters) long, reaching over 655 feet (200 meters) long including the atrium. The width of the naves is 190 feet (58 meters); that of the transept, 450 feet (137 meters). The facade, designed by Maderno, is 377 feet (115 meters) wide. The basilica is about 148 feet (45 meters) tall, but with the dome it reaches 436 feet (133 meters). It occupies an area of nearly 5 acres (2 hectares) and can contain 20,000 worshipers.

This Jesus, God raised up,and of that all of us are witnesses.Acts 2:32

Read about the tradition of the station churches here. And see previous churches in the pilgrimage here.

* In collaboration with the Office for Social Communications of the Vicariate of Rome.


st. Peter the apostle

Read more:
As the first pope, did St. Peter write any encyclicals?

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