THE SACRISTY OF SAINT PETER’S
The Sacristy stands at the entrance to the Necropolis of Saint Peter, a few meters from the south side of the basilica, and is connected to the necropolis by two corridors that end at the tomb of Pius VIII and the Choir Chapel.
The original sacristy built at the time of the Constantinian basilica has been lost.
In the sixteenth century a temporary one was created in a funeral mausoleum of the imperial era, built near the Obelisk and transformed into a church in the fifth century: Santa Maria della Febbre (so called for a late-Gothic ‘miraculous’ fresco, today held in the Treasury Museum) or Rotonda di Sant'Andrea (from 1462 it hosted the relics saved from the Turks) immortalized in the drawing by Pieter Saenredam (1629, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.).
Until the seventeenth century the Rotonda housed the tombs of the two Spanish Borgia popes, but it was demolished, as was the nearby church of Santo Stefano degli Ungari (VIII century) to make room for the modern sacristy where, to save money, marble from both buildings was reutilised; other materials came from the Reverenda Fabbrica (such as the columns of the demolished Bernini bell towers), and finally, as occurred for the Trevi fountain, other funds came from the lottery.
The “swan song” of Roman Baroque
In 1715 a competition was announced for the design of the sacristy and the best architects provided wooden models, but nothing came to fruition. These models are kept in one of the octagonal rooms on the upper level of the basilica (25 m from the ground floor, accessible only to internal staff via spiral staircases and lifts).
Then, in 1786 Pius VI Braschi commissioned the current building to Carlo Marchionni.
Pius VI, a great lover of art, was overwhelmed by the consequences of the French Revolution, and after losing the state due to Napoleon, he was exiled and died in captivity in Valence.
Marchionni did not want to follow the neoclassicism that was in style at the time, but instead a sixteenth-century style with precious Baroque taste, attracting a lot of criticism for his choice.
The exterior is decorated in a classic style and covered by an octagonal dome.
Entering the Sacristy
It is open - in part - to the public and accessible from the Basilica, at the end of the left aisle, from the door below the funerary monument of Pius VIII.
At the entrance there is the precious sixteenth-century statue of Sant'Andrea in five types of marble (cipollino, portasanta, bardiglio, apuan marble, red breccia) and the large Carrara marble plaque with the names of the 148 pontiffs buried here from Peter to Saint John Paul II.
You reach the Sacristy of the Beneficiaries (since 1974 the Treasury Museum) via the western corridor, that externally faces piazza Santa Marta, where Pope Francis resides, decorated with frescoes on the vault and columns in antique grey from St. Stefano degli Ungari. On the walls there are tombstones and busts of popes in oval niches framed in ancient yellow.
Places that are not accessible to the public follow: the Common Sacristy and that of the Canons, accessible from the eastern corridor, and the "bridge" that enters the Basilica from the Chapel of the Choir and is reserved for the clergy.
The heart of the majestic construction is the Common Sacristy, enhanced by the colours of ancient marbles.
The central octagonal space resumes the shape of the Rotunda with eight altars (in numerology 7 is the number of Judaism and 8 is that of Christianity).
At the centre of the marble floor is the coat of arms of Pius VI, visible in the capitals (with lilies and stars) throughout the Sacristy.
Under the word SILENTIUM two columns from Villa Adriana frame an altar with a mosaic replica of the Deposition by Caravaggio (Vatican Museums).
Did you know that St. Peter’s is a parish?
The Sacristy carries out daily work comparable to that of normal parishes, with masses at various times of the day, confessions, reservations for baptisms, confirmations and weddings (the latter are only celebrated in the Chapel of the Choir, in the middle of the southern nave).