What are some things that people don't know about the St. Peter's Basilica?

What are some things that people don’t know about the St. Peter’s Basilica?

Some Things That People Don't Know About St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City stands as one of the most revered sites in Christendom and a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. While millions of visitors flock to this site each year, drawn by its grandeur and spiritual significance, there are many aspects and hidden gems within the basilica that remain lesser known. In this blog, we'll explore some intriguing facts about St. Peter's Basilica and highlight key things to do in St. Peter's Basilica that can enrich your visit.

1. A City of Tombs Beneath the Basilica

The Vatican City illuminated at dusk, with the Basilica shining brightly beneath it.

One of the most awe-inspiring things to do in St. Peter's Basilica is the dome tour. Designed primarily by Michelangelo, the dome of St. Peter's is an iconic feature of the Roman skyline. Visitors can purchase St Peter's basilica dome tickets to climb up to the top of the dome. This challenging ascent, via a narrow spiral staircase, rewards climbers with a breathtaking panoramic view of Rome from above.

5. The Presence of a Hidden Grotto

Another lesser-known feature of St. Peter's Basilica is the Vatican Grottoes. Located just below the Renaissance church and above the ancient necropolis, the grottoes serve as the final resting place for numerous popes. Accessing this quiet, somber area provides a moment of reflection away from the bustling crowds above and is a meaningful thing to do in St. Peter's Basilica.

6. The Statue of St. Peter Enthroned - A Pilgrim's Must

The bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned is a venerated relic within St. Peter’s Basilica. Tradition holds that visitors who touch or kiss the statue’s foot will receive a blessing. Over centuries, countless pilgrims have worn down the foot of the statue, testament to its importance and the deep devotion of the faithful. This is a profound thing to do in St. Peter's Basilica for both its spiritual significance and historic value.

7. St. Peter's Basilica Digital Audio Guide


To enhance visitors' experience and provide rich historical context, the St. Peter's Basilica Audio Guide is available. This guide offers detailed commentary on the basilica's art, architecture, and history, narrated in multiple languages. Utilizing this tool is an informative thing to do in St. Peter's Basilica, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of its many artworks and sacred spaces.

8. The Altar of the Chair of St. Peter

The Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, designed by Bernini, is a monumental sculpture that encapsulates the theology of the Catholic Church. It celebrates the authority of the apostle Peter, and by extension, the Pope. Observing this masterpiece in person is an essential thing to do in St. Peter’s Basilica, as it embodies both the spiritual and artistic heritage of the Vatican.

9. Plan Your Visit: St. Peter Basilica Tickets

When planning your visit, securing St. Peter Basilica tours ahead of time can save you from long waiting lines, especially during peak tourist seasons. Tickets can include guided tours, which offer a more in-depth exploration of the basilica, its history, and its treasures.

10. The Optical Illusion of the Dome


One of the lesser-known facts about St. Peter's Basilica involves the optical illusion created by the dome's interior design. When viewed from below, the dome's inner decoration makes it appear much closer than it actually is. 

This illusion is achieved through the clever use of diminishing patterns and increasingly smaller design elements towards the top. Observing and understanding this illusion enriches any visit, revealing the sophisticated artistry of the Renaissance architects. Want to know the top 10 highlights of St. Peter’s Basilica?

11. The "Holy Door" and Its Significance

St. Peter's Basilica houses one of the few Holy Doors in the Catholic world, which is ceremonially opened during a Jubilee year, occurring every 25 years. This door is normally sealed with mortar and bricks, and walking through it during a Jubilee is said to offer indulgences and a closer connection to God. The next Jubilee year is anticipated with excitement, and understanding the significance of this door adds a profound spiritual dimension to visiting the basilica.

12. The Unknown Labor Force Behind the Construction

While the basilica's construction involved some of the most famous architects and artists of the time, the physical labor was carried out by a largely anonymous group of workers. These included skilled artisans as well as prisoners and slaves, whose contributions are rarely acknowledged in the grand narratives of the basilica's history. Acknowledging their role provides a more complete picture of the efforts that went into constructing this magnificent edifice.

13. The Five Portals and Their Symbolism


St. Peter's Basilica features five elaborately decorated portals, each with its own religious symbolism and historical importance. The central portal, known as the Portal of the Dead, is used only for funeral processions. 

Each of the other four doors has unique artworks and inscriptions that reflect significant aspects of Catholic theology and history. Exploring these portals and understanding their meanings is an enriching experience for both art lovers and religious visitors.

14. The Altar and Its Exclusive Use


The main altar of St. Peter's Basilica, where the Pope celebrates Mass, is reserved exclusively for the Pope’s use, signifying the high sanctity and importance of the location directly above St. Peter's tomb. This altar, set beneath Bernini's towering baldachin, is rarely used for regular Masses, which are held at different altars within the basilica. The exclusivity adds to the aura of the main altar, making any Papal Mass an especially significant event.

15. The Relics of St. Peter

Recent archaeological excavations beneath the basilica have uncovered evidence believed to be the actual bones of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the first Bishop of Rome. These relics, discovered in a funerary monument beneath the altar, are of great religious and historical significance. Viewing the relics, though restricted, can be arranged, providing a tangible connection to the early Christian Church.

16. The Sundial on the Floor

Embedded within the marble floor of St. Peter's Basilica is a lesser-known feature: a meridian line, or sundial. Created by astronomers in the 18th century, this line was used to predict Easter accurately. It marks the position of the sun at noon throughout the year, reflecting onto an obelisk in St. Peter's Square. Observing this line and understanding its scientific and religious importance is a unique experience for visitors.

These fascinating facts about St. Peter's Basilica highlight not only its architectural and artistic grandeur but also its deep historical and spiritual significance. Each visit to the basilica offers a chance to discover new layers of meaning, making it a continually rewarding experience for all who walk through its majestic doors. Continue reading is you want to know the best times to visit St. Peter’s Basilica

In conclusion, St. Peter's Basilica is not only a place of profound religious significance but also a treasure trove of art, history, and architectural mastery. By engaging in these varied things to do in St. Peter's Basilica, visitors can truly appreciate the basilica's spiritual, artistic, and historical dimensions, making for a truly unforgettable experience.


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