Old St. Peter's Basilica

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St. Peter's Basilica
Basilica Sancti Petri
Basilica di San Pietro 1450.jpg
19th-century drawing of St. Peter's Basilica as it is thought to have looked around 1450. The Vatican Obelisk is on the left, still standing on the spot where it was erected on the orders of the Emperor Caligula in 37 A.D.
Religion
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Major basilica
Year consecratedc. 360
Location
Country Papal States
Geographic coordinates 41°54′8″N12°27′12″E / 41.90222°N 12.45333°E / 41.90222; 12.45333 Coordinates: 41°54′8″N12°27′12″E / 41.90222°N 12.45333°E / 41.90222; 12.45333
Architecture
Style Ancient Roman architecture
Groundbreaking326-333 (326-333)
Completedc. 360 (c. 360)
Destroyedc.1405 (c.1405)
Fresco showing cutaway view of Constantine's St. Peter's Basilica as it looked in the 4th century Affresco dell'aspetto antico della basilica costantiniana di san pietro nel IV secolo.jpg
Fresco showing cutaway view of Constantine's St. Peter's Basilica as it looked in the 4th century

Old St. Peter's Basilica was the building that stood, from the 4th to 16th centuries, where the new St. Peter's Basilica stands today in Vatican City. Construction of the basilica, built over the historical site of the Circus of Nero, began during the reign of Emperor Constantine I. The name "old St. Peter's Basilica" has been used since the construction of the current basilica to distinguish the two buildings. [1]

St. Peters Basilica Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, or simply St. Peter's Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.

Vatican City Independent city-state within Rome, Italy

Vatican City, officially Vatican City State, is an independent city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy. Established with the Lateran Treaty (1929), it is distinct from yet under "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" of the Holy See. With an area of 44 hectares, and a population of about 1,000, it is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population.

Circus of Nero Ancient Roman circus in Rome

The Circus of nero or Circus of Caligula was a circus in ancient Rome, located mostly in the present-day Vatican City.

Contents

An early interpretation of the relative locations of the Circus of Nero, and the old and current Basilicas of St. Peter Plan of Circus Neronis and St. Peters.gif
An early interpretation of the relative locations of the Circus of Nero, and the old and current Basilicas of St. Peter
A map, circa 1590, by Tiberio Alfarano of the interior of Old Saint Peter's, noting the locations of the original chapels and tombs. Alfarano map.jpg
A map, circa 1590, by Tiberio Alfarano of the interior of Old Saint Peter's, noting the locations of the original chapels and tombs.
Fontana della Pigna (1st century AD) which stood in the courtyard of the Old St. Peter's Basilica during the Middle Ages and then moved again, in 1608, to a vast niche in the wall of the Vatican facing the Cortile della Pigna, located in Vatican City, in Rome, Italy. Cortile della Pigna pine cone 2.jpg
Fontana della Pigna (1st century AD) which stood in the courtyard of the Old St. Peter's Basilica during the Middle Ages and then moved again, in 1608, to a vast niche in the wall of the Vatican facing the Cortile della Pigna, located in Vatican City, in Rome, Italy.

History

Construction began by orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine I between 318 and 322, [3] and took about 40 years to complete. Over the next twelve centuries, the church gradually gained importance, eventually becoming a major place of pilgrimage in Rome.

Papal coronations were held at the basilica, and in 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire there. In 846, Saracens sacked and damaged the basilica. [4] The raiders seem to have known about Rome's extraordinary treasures. Some holy – and impressive – basilicas, such as St. Peter's Basilica, were outside the Aurelian walls, and thus easy targets. They were "filled to overflowing with rich liturgical vessels and with jeweled reliquaries housing all of the relics recently amassed". As a result, the raiders destroyed Peter's tomb [5] and pillaged the holy shrine. [6] In response Pope Leo IV built the Leonine wall and rebuilt the parts of St. Peter's that had been damaged. [7] In 1099, Urban II convened a council including St Anselm. Among other topics, it repeated the bans on lay investiture and on clergy's paying homage to secular lords.

Papal coronation ceremony of the placing of the papal tiara on a newly elected pope

A papal coronation was the ceremony of the placing of the papal tiara on a newly elected pope. The first recorded papal coronation was that of Nicholas I in 858. The last was the 1963 coronation of Paul VI, who soon afterwards abandoned the practice of wearing the tiara. None of his successors have used the tiara, and their papal inauguration celebrations have included no coronation ceremony.

Charlemagne King of the Franks, King of Italy, and Holy Roman Emperor

Charlemagne or Charles the Great, numbered Charles I, was king of the Franks from 768, king of the Lombards from 774, and emperor of the Romans from 800. During the Early Middle Ages, he united the majority of western and central Europe. He was the first recognised emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded is called the Carolingian Empire. He was later canonized by Antipope Paschal III.

Coronation ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or his or her consort with regal power

A coronation is the act of placement or bestowal of a crown upon a monarch's head. The term generally also refers not only to the physical crowning but to the whole ceremony wherein the act of crowning occurs, along with the presentation of other items of regalia, marking the formal investiture of a monarch with regal power. Aside from the crowning, a coronation ceremony may comprise many other rituals such as the taking of special vows by the monarch, the investing and presentation of regalia to the monarch, and acts of homage by the new ruler's subjects and the performance of other ritual deeds of special significance to the particular nation. Western-style coronations have often included anointing the monarch with holy oil, or chrism as it is often called; the anointing ritual's religious significance follows examples found in the Bible. The monarch's consort may also be crowned, either simultaneously with the monarch or as a separate event.

By the 15th century the church was falling into ruin. Discussions on repairing parts of the structure commenced upon the pope's return from Avignon. Two people involved in this reconstruction were Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino, who improved the apse and partially added a multi-story benediction loggia to the atrium facade, on which construction continued intermittently until the new basilica was begun. Alberti pronounced the basilica a structural abomination:

Avignon Papacy Period during which the popes resided in Avignon, France

The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon rather than in Rome. The situation arose from the conflict between the papacy and the French crown, culminating in the death of Pope Boniface VIII after his arrest and maltreatment by Philip IV of France. Following the further death of Pope Benedict XI, Philip forced a deadlocked conclave to elect the French Clement V as Pope in 1305. Clement refused to move to Rome, and in 1309 he moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years. This absence from Rome is sometimes referred to as the "Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy".

Leon Battista Alberti Italian architect

Leon Battista Alberti was an Italian Renaissance humanist author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher and cryptographer; he epitomised the Renaissance Man. Although he is often characterized exclusively as an architect, as James Beck has observed, "to single out one of Leon Battista's 'fields' over others as somehow functionally independent and self-sufficient is of no help at all to any effort to characterize Alberti's extensive explorations in the fine arts." Although Alberti is known mostly for being an artist, he was also a mathematician of many sorts and made great advances to this field during the 15th century. Alberti's life was described in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

Bernardo Rossellino Italian artist

Bernardo di Matteo del Borra Gamberelli, better known as Bernardo Rossellino, was an Italian sculptor and architect, the elder brother of the sculptor Antonio Rossellino. As a member of the second generation of Renaissance artists, he helped to further define and popularize the revolution in artistic approach that characterized the new age.

I have noticed in the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome a crass feature: an extremely long and high wall has been constructed over a continuous series of openings, with no curves to give it strength, and no buttresses to lend it support... The whole stretch of wall has been pierced by too many openings and built too high... As a result, the continual force of the wind has already displaced the wall more than six feet (1.8 m) from the vertical; I have no doubt that eventually some... slight movement will make it collapse... [8]

At first Pope Julius II had every intention of preserving the old building, but his attention soon turned toward tearing it down and building a new structure. Many people of the time were shocked by the proposal, as the building represented papal continuity going back to Peter. The original altar was to be preserved in the new structure that housed it.

Pope Julius II pope from 1503 to 1513

Pope Julius II, born Giuliano della Rovere, was head of the Roman Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1503 to 1513. Nicknamed the Warrior Pope or the Fearsome Pope, he chose his papal name not in honor of Pope Julius I but in emulation of Julius Caesar. One of the most powerful and influential popes, Julius II was the central figure of the High Renaissance and left a significant mark in world history.

Design

Bronze statue of Saint Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio, dating to the 13th century Rome basilica st peter 011c adjusted.jpg
Bronze statue of Saint Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio, dating to the 13th century

The design was a typical basilica form [9] with the plan and elevation resembling those of Roman basilicas and audience halls, such as the Basilica Ulpia in Trajan's Forum and Constantine's own Aula Palatina at Trier, rather than the design of any Greco-Roman temple. [10]

Constantine went to great pains to build the basilica on the site of Saint Peter's grave, and this fact influenced the layout of the building. The Vatican Hill, on the west bank of the Tiber River, was leveled. Notably, since the site was outside the boundaries of the ancient city, the apse with the altar was located in the west so that the basilica's façade could be approached from Rome itself to the east. The exterior however, unlike earlier pagan temples, was not lavishly decorated. [1]

The church was capable of housing from 3,000 to 4,000 worshipers at one time. It consisted of five aisles, a wide central nave and two smaller aisles to each side, which were each divided by 21 marble columns, taken from earlier pagan buildings. [11] It was over 350 feet (110 m) long, built in the shape of a Latin cross, and had a gabled roof which was timbered on the interior and which stood at over 100 feet (30 m) at the center. An atrium, known as the "Garden of Paradise", stood at the entrance and had five doors which led to the body of the church; this was a sixth-century addition.

The altar of Old St. Peter's Basilica used several Solomonic columns. According to tradition, Constantine took these columns from the Temple of Solomon and gave them to the church; however, the columns were probably from an Eastern church. When Gian Lorenzo Bernini built his baldacchino to cover the new St. Peter's altar, he drew from the twisted design of the old columns. Eight of the original columns were moved to the piers of the new St. Peter's.

Mosaics

The great Navicella mosaic (1305–1313) in the atrium is attributed to Giotto di Bondone. The giant mosaic, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted St. Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St. Peter's in the 16th century, but fragments were preserved. Navicella means "little ship" referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art.

The nave ended with an arch, which held a mosaic of Constantine and Saint Peter, who presented a model of the church to Christ. On the walls, each having 11 windows, were frescoes of various people and scenes from both the Old and New Testament. [12]

The fragment of an eighth-century mosaic, the Epiphany, is one of the very rare remaining bits of the medieval decoration of Old St. Peter's Basilica. The precious fragment is kept in the sacristy of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It proves the high artistic quality of the destroyed mosaics. Another one, a standing madonna, is on a side altar in the Basilica of San Marco in Florence.

Tombs

A sketch by Giacomo Grimaldi of the interior of St. Peter's during its reconstruction, showing the temporary placement of some of the tombs. Grimaldi sketch.jpg
A sketch by Giacomo Grimaldi of the interior of St. Peter's during its reconstruction, showing the temporary placement of some of the tombs.

Since the crucifixion and burial of Saint Peter in 64 A.D., the spot was thought to be the location of the tomb of Saint Peter, where there stood a small shrine. With its increasing prestige the church became richly decorated with statues, furnishings and elaborate chandeliers, and side tombs and altars were continuously added. [1]

The structure was absolutely filled with tombs and bodies of saints and popes. Bones continued to be found in construction as late as February 1544.

The majority of these tombs were destroyed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demolition of Old St. Peter's Basilica (save one which was destroyed during the Saracen Sack of the church in 846). The remainder were translated in part to modern St. Peter's Basilica, which stands on the site of the original basilica, and a handful of other churches of Rome.

Along with the repeated translations from the ancient Catacombs of Rome and two fourteenth century fires in Basilica of St. John Lateran, the rebuilding of St. Peter's is responsible for the destruction of approximately half of all papal tombs. As a result, Donato Bramante, the chief architect of modern St. Peter's Basilica, has been remembered as "Maestro Ruinante". [13]

Stefaneschi Triptych

The Stefaneschi Altarpiece is a triptych by the Italian medieval painter Giotto, commissioned by Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi [14] to serve as an altarpiece for one of the altars of Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

It is a rare example in Giotto's work of a documented commission, and includes Giotto's signature, although the date, like most dates for Giotto, is disputed, and many scholars feel the artist's workshop was responsible for its execution. [15] It had long been thought to have been made for the main altar of the church; more recent research suggests that it was placed on the "canon's altar", located in the nave, just to the left of the huge arched opening into the transept. [16] It is now at the Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome

Front side. Tempera on wood. cm 178 x 89 (central panel); cm 168 x 83 c. (side panels); cm 45 c. x 83 c. (each section of the predella) Polittico stefaneschi, verso.jpg
Front side. Tempera on wood. cm 178 × 89 (central panel); cm 168 × 83 c. (side panels); cm 45 c. × 83 c. (each section of the predella)
Back side. Tempera on wood. cm 178 x 89 (central panel); cm 168 x 83 c. (side panels); cm 45 c. x 83 c. (each section of the predella) Polittico stefaneschi, retro.jpg
Back side. Tempera on wood. cm 178 × 89 (central panel); cm 168 × 83 c. (side panels); cm 45 c. × 83 c. (each section of the predella)

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 Boorsch, Suzanne (Winter 1982–1983). "The Building of the Vatican: The Papacy and Architecture". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 40 (3): 4–8.
  2. Reardon, 2004 .p.274
  3. Marian Moffett, Michael Fazio, Lawrence Wodehouse, A World History of Architecture, 2nd edition 2008, pp. 135
  4. Davis, Raymond, The Lives of the Ninth-Century Popes (Liber pontificalis), (Liverpool University Press, 1995), 96.
  5. Peter Partner (1972). The Lands of St. Peter: The Papal State in the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance, Volume 10. University of California Press. p. 57. Retrieved 6 April 2019. it was not at this time unusual for Muslims to desecrate Christian Churches for the sake of desecrating them, excavation has revealed that the tomb of the apostle was wantonly smashed
  6. Barbara Kreutz (1996). Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries. University of Pennsylvania Press pp. 25–28.
  7. Rosemary Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Saints, (InfoBase Publishing, 2001), 208.
  8. William Tronzo (2005). St. Peter's in the Vatican. Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN   0-521-64096-2.
  9. Sobocinski, Melanie Grunow (2005). Detroit and Rome. The Regents of the Univ of Michigan. p. 77. ISBN   0-933691-09-2.
  10. Garder, Helen; et al. (March 17, 2004). Gardner's Art Through the Ages With Infotrac. Thomas Wadsworth. p. 219. ISBN   0-15-505090-7.
  11. Garder, Helen; et al. (March 17, 2004). Gardner's Art Through the Ages With Infotrac. Thomas Wadsworth. p. 619. ISBN   0-15-505090-7.
  12. "Old Saint Peter's Basilica." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006.
  13. Patetta, Federico (1943). La figura del Bramante nel "Simia" d'Andrea Guarna (in Italian). Roma: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.
  14. His name is also often found as Jacopo Caetani degli Stefaneschi.
  15. Gardner, 57-8, gives the documentation from the obituary book of St. Peter's. Most scholars date the altarpiece to c. 1320; Gardner dates it to c. 1300; Anne Mueller von den Haegen dates it to c. 1313; Kessler dates it to between 1313 and 1320.
  16. Kempers and De Blaauw, 88-89; Kessler, 91-92.

Further reading

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