St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican
The Vatican City is home to the largest basilica in the
world and to a museum containing some of the greatest art treasures known to man.
The building of St. Peter's Basilica is linked to the martyrdom of
Peter (AD 64). After a huge fire, which destroyed the greater part of Rome
and for which Nero held the Christians responsible, he ordered
many of them to be executed. Simon, called Peter by Jesus, was
probably among the condemned. According to the law, he was simply a
Jewish fisherman, a native of Capernaum in
Galilee, sentenced therefore to the apalling punishment of
crucifixion in Nero's Circus at the foot of the Vatican Hill. So as to
distinguish his own death from Jesus, Peter humbly begged to be
crucified upside down. Following his conversion to Christianity,
Constantine built a sanctuary in 324 over the tomb of St. Peter.
The Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square) which was intended to isolate
the basilica without creating a barrier in fornt of it, acts, in fact,
as a sort of vestibule. The gentle curve of the colonnades, like
two arcs of a circle, framing the rectangular space, are a gesture
of welcome extended to the pilgrims of the world.
Last Revised September 28, 2007