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What’s inside St. Peter’s Basilica – Dome, Baldacchino, Peita, etc.

St. Peter’s Basilica, located in the heart of Vatican City, is a treasure trove of art and history. 

Renowned for its famous Dome, the Basilica’s other inside attractions include mosaics, artworks, and sculptures by legendary artists like Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Giotto di Bondone.

As you explore the basilica, you’ll find stories of faith and tradition. 

Each corner reveals a new facet of St. Peter’s, and each artwork portrays the devotion and beauty passed on from centuries ago. 

In fact, there is so much to see and appreciate, from Michelangelo’s Pietà to Bernini’s statue of St. Longinus.

This article takes you on a tour through St. Peter’s Basilica, exploring its masterpieces and lesser-known treasures. 

The Atrium

Have you ever heard of Giotto di Bondone? He was the brain behind the mosaics in the atrium. 

Before the Renaissance, paintings were simple and flat, featuring two-dimensional figures with little detail. 

The subjects often fell short of expression and life, reflecting the overall lack of vibrancy during that time.

Giotto changed art by making people look more real. This can be seen in a mosaic showcasing a boat with St. Peter’s companions who appear afraid as St. Peter faces Jesus, walking on the water. 

To see it, enter the atrium first and then look upward; you will see this mosaic on the ceiling. 

Must-read: Is St. Peter’s Basilica worth it?

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome is an architectural marvel that rises high above the Vatican skyline. 

Michelangelo designed the world’s largest church Dome, which rises 136 meters (446 feet) from the floor.

When you see the Dome from inside, you will witness paintings and mosaics depicting Biblical scenes and the lives of important figures.

The oculus, a special opening at the top of the Dome, lets in light and makes everything look beautiful.

On the other hand, the lantern on top helps people find the basilica when looking for it.

You can opt for the Dome Climb tickets and walk towards the terrace to get an unforgettable view of Vatican City.

Overall, the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is a very special and beautiful structure that inspires and connects people to their faith.

Check out some combo tours
# St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel
# Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica and Colosseum
# St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Museum

Four main statues

When you visit the Basilica, make sure to check out the four main statues that are a must-see.

These special statues represent key people and events surrounding the church’s history. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta

The Italian artist Michelangelo began working on the Pieta at 24 years old, making it one of his early works. 

The Pietà shows the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus Christ, after he was taken down from the cross. 

This scene will make you very emotional and show deep sorrow and compassion. 

Michelangelo’s sculpture is known for its smooth marble, beautiful details, and the calm and graceful appearance of the figures.

One interesting aspect of the sculpture is that Mary looks very young, showing purity and calmness, contrasting with Jesus’s lifeless body. 

The Pieta is a masterpiece you wouldn’t want to miss at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

St. Peter’s Chair

St. Peter’s Chair, also known as the Cathedra Petri, is a massive bronze throne designed by the Italian artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century.

You can see the chair inside the basilica’s apse, behind the Papal Altar. 

It is believed to contain the wooden throne upon which St. Peter, the first pope and one of Jesus’s beloved apostles, sat. 

It is a sacred part of the basilica and a symbol of the Catholic Church’s history and tradition. 

Know about the best time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica before planning your visit.

Bronze Statue of St. Peter

As you approach Bernini’s Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica, you might see a line on your right side. 

This is for people waiting to touch St. Peter’s statue’s foot for a blessing.

No one is sure who built the statue or when, but some think it might have been Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century. 

Over the years, people have rubbed the statue’s right foot for a blessing, so much so that the toes have worn away. Now, people are rubbing his left foot, too!

On June 29th, St. Peter’s feast day, the statue is dressed in special clothing, such as the fisherman’s ring and the papal tiara. 

It might seem strange to dress up a statue, but it’s a tradition that’s been going on for centuries.

Read more about St. Peter’s Basilica facts.

Monument to Pope Alexander VII

The Monument is a large, impressive sculpture built by Bernini that honors Pope Alexander VII, who served as pope from 1655 to 1667. 

The monument features a seated marble statue showing the pope praying with his hands clasped together, looking peaceful and thoughtful.

Different symbols and decorations surround the pope’s statue. 

For example, a large draped cloth adds drama to the monument, and a skeleton holding an hourglass represents the passage of time and mortality.

The monument also includes Pope Alexander VII’s family coat of arms.

St. Peter’s Basilica - Baldacchino
Image: st-peters-basilica-tickets.com

The Papal Altar

The Papal Altar is the most important altar in the Basilica. It is only used by the Pope on special occasions and important ceremonies. 

It is located under the Dome and marks the traditional burial place of St. Peter.

Bernini’s Baldacchino

Bernini’s Baldacchino is a large, beautiful canopy inside the Basilica designed in the 17th century. 

The Baldacchino is made of bronze and is right above the Papal Altar. Four tall, twisted columns support the canopy. 

The Tomb of St. Peter

The Tomb of St. Peter is located beneath St. Peter’s Basilica and is considered one of the holiest sites in the Catholic Church.

The tomb belongs to a special area called the Vatican Necropolis, underneath the basilica’s main part. 

It is believed that Saint Peter was buried here in the first century. 

Later, a church was built over the burial site, and the current basilica was eventually constructed.

The tomb is not easily accessible, but visitors can take special tours to see it. 

The Pope and other church leaders often visit the tomb to pray and pay their respects.

The Confessio

The Confessio is located just in front of the Papal Altar, at the center of the basilica. 

Visitors can walk down into a hollow space or a small lower-level area.

Oil lamps usually burn around the altar, creating a peaceful and sacred atmosphere. 

Many people come to the Confessio to pray and reflect, knowing they are near Saint Peter’s final resting place.

It connects visitors to the roots of the Catholic Church and Saint Peter’s legacy.

Chapel of St. Sebastian/Tomb of John Paul II

The Chapel of St. Sebastian is one of the smaller chapels inside St. Peter’s. 

It is named after Saint Sebastian, an early Christian martyr. The chapel is a quiet and peaceful space for prayer and reflection.

The tomb of Pope John Paul II, who served as pope from 1978 to 2005, is in the Chapel of St. Sebastian. 

He was a much-loved leader in the Catholic Church and is remembered for his kindness, wisdom, and dedication to peace.

Pope John Paul II’s tomb is a simple white marble stone etched with his name and the dates of his papacy. 

Many people visit the chapel to pray at his tomb and pay their respects. 

Statue of St. Longinus

The Statue of St. Longinus is a large, dramatic sculpture designed by Bernini in the 17th century. 

It shows St. Longinus, a Roman soldier who, according to Christian tradition, pierced Jesus’s side with a spear during the Crucifixion and later converted to Christianity.

The statue is one of four large statues in the basilica, each representing a different saint. 

St. Longinus is depicted in a strong and expressive pose, holding a spear in one hand. His face shows a look of deep faith and conviction.

The statue is detailed and lifelike, with flowing drapery that adds movement and drama to the sculpture. 

Famous Artworks

Here’s a little secret about the art in St. Peter’s Basilica: No traditional canvas or cloth paintings exist! 

In the 19th century, the paintings in the church started to wear down because of the humidity.

That’s why all art pieces are made of glass or ceramic mosaics. 

So you can use flash photography inside the basilica without harming the art—you’re taking pictures of mosaics, not delicate paintings. 

If you get up close, you might see the shine and the small squares of glass and ceramic. It’s a fun surprise to show your friends when you visit!

La Porta Santa(Holy Door)

The Holy Door is opened during the Holy Year, also called the Jubilee Year. 

In 1450, Giovanni Rucellai of Viterbo wrote about Pope Martin V opening the first Holy Door in 1423 at San Giovanni in Laterano.

The first record of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica being opened was in 1499, during Christmas, by Pope Alexander VI. 

For the next 450 years, the rituals for opening and closing the Holy Door stayed the same.

If you’re in Rome during a Jubilee Year (which happens every 25 years, with the next one in 2025), the Holy Doors will be open, and you take the chance to walk through them!

Vatican Necropolis

The Vatican Necropolis, or Scavi, is technically not part of the Vatican itself. It’s part of an ancient Roman graveyard. 

When it was originally built, it was located above ground next to the Circus of Nero. This exact location is what connects it to St. Peter.

The Vatican Necropolis is a series of underground tombs where many important Christians were buried. 

It’s usually cool and quiet down there, providing a unique atmosphere.

Few visitors see the necropolis, as access is limited and usually requires booking a tour in advance. 

In fact, exploring the necropolis can feel like you’re stepping back in time!

Vatican Grottoes

The Vatican Grottoes, located beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, is a fascinating place to visit if you are interested in history, art, and religion. 

These Grottoes are essentially a series of underground corridors and chapels that house important tombs and historical artifacts.

When you buy tickets for the Grottoes tour, you can also get a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. This ticket lets you enter the Vatican Museum too.

The Grottoes are the final resting place of many important Catholic figures, including several popes. 

There are also chapels down there that are dedicated to different saints and religious figures.

The Grottoes’ low ceilings and dim lighting add to the spiritual atmosphere, making it a special experience. 

As you walk through the corridors, you can appreciate the intricate details and beautiful designs that have been preserved over the centuries.

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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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