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The Dome

Scritto e letto da Pietro Zander

The dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica was conceived and built up to the drum by Michelangelo Buonarroti and brought to completion, after the death of the Master, by the architect Giacomo della Porta, who worked there alongside Domenico Fontana from 1588 to 1590, raising the dome in just 22 months thanks to the tireless work of 800 labourers. The dome, “double-shelled with a cavity”, then taking on an ogival shape, slenderer than the initial design. On 18 November 1593, the large gilded bronze sphere surmounted by the cross, the work of Sebastiano Torrigiani, was placed on the spire of the lantern. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605), in terminating the grandiose construction project, wished to commemorate the work carried out by Pope Sixtus V in an inscription on the ring at the end of the lantern: “s. petri gloriae sixtvs pp. v. a. mdxc pontif. v” (“To the glory of Saint Peter, Pope Sixtus V, in the year 1590, the fifth of his pontificate”).

On the mosaic frieze at the base of the dome, the words: “tv es petrvs et svper hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorvm” (“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven”, Mt 16:18-19) are written in large blue letters on a gold background.

Pope Clement VIII had Michelangelo’s superb dome covered with highly refined mosaic decoration by numerous mosaicists under the direction of Marcello Provenzale between 1598 and 1613. The surface of the dome (about 3000 square metres), subdivided by ribs into sixteen wedge-shaped compartments with pre-ordered fields and spaces, was entirely covered with images on a background of a golden sky of stars. Proceeding from top to bottom, we recognize the following figures: 1. The Eternal Father with outstretched hand in a gesture of blessing; 2. Seraphim; 3. Angels; 4. Cherubim; 5. Angels (some with symbols of the Passion); 6. Redeemer, Saint John the Baptist, Our Lady, Saint Paul and the Apostles; 7. Patriarchs and Bishops.

The inner dome of the lantern reaches a height of 117 metres, while the cross at the top of the dome is over 133 metres high.

© Fabric of Saint Peter