St. Peters Basilica
The history of St. Peter’s Basilica can be traced back to the execution of the apostle St. Peter in the gardens or Circus of Nero in the year 64 or 67. His grave soon became an important place of pilgrimage for early Christians, despite lingering doubts about the true location of the site. At the request of Pope Sylvester I, Emperor Constantine the Great had a church built on Peter’s grave which was consecrated in 326.
Reconstruction of the basilica began in the year 1506 under Pope Julius II. This, the most important of all Christian patriarchal and pilgrimage churches, measured 186 meters in length and had a 46-meter-high nave which rose to 119 meters in the cupola. It had a total surface area of 15,000 square meters and could hold up to 60,000 faithful during services. The enormous crossing piers were created by Donato Bramante from Milan and became de rigueur for all architects who followed.
After a long break in construction – fig trees had begun to grow on the pillars – Michelangelo stepped in to play a decisive role in shaping the new basilica. He designed a perfectly symmetrical central hall with its focal point directly beneath the vertex of the cupola. Following his death in 1564, however, Carlo Maderno was given the task of extending Michelangelo’s central hall into a nave.