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The Basilica

Written and read by Pietro Zander


On 18 April 1506, the Saturday after Easter, Pope Julius II (1503-1513) laid the first stone of the new Saint Peter’s Basilica on the site of the present-day (south-west) pillar of Saint Veronica, which at the time stood outside the old Constantinian and medieval church, to the left of the apse.

According to the description by the master of ceremonies Paride de Grassis, the Pope descended into the deep pit of the foundation (7.45 metres) via a ladder set up for the occasion, dressed in pontifical robes. After a brief ceremony, the pontiff laid the first marble stone of the new Basilica, and placed in the ground a terracotta vessel with twelve medals modelled by Cristoforo Foppa, known as Caradosso, to commemorate the foundation of the building about to be constructed.

Thus began an unprecedented artistic and spiritual adventure, which would last over a century, through twenty pontificates. Despite adopting different architectural plans and solutions from time to time, the Renaissance popes never wished to diverge from the preceding tradition, which placed the tomb of Saint Peter at the centre of the Basilica. For the completion of the majestic building, they called upon the work of some of the most famous architects of the Renaissance, such as Fra’ Giovanni Giocondo (1433-1515), Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), Giuliano da Sangallo (1445-1516), Antonio da Sangallo (1485-1586), Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481-1536), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573), Giacomo della Porta (1533-1602) and Carlo Maderno (1556-1629). The latter completed the Basilica by erecting its façade between 1608 and 1612. In the seventeenth century Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was responsible for the grandiose Piazza San Pietro, while important decorations inside the Basilica date from the eighteenth century.

© Fabric of Saint Peter