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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

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