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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous Page 2

Basilica of Saint Peter (Part 2)



The construction of Saint Peter's, in so far as the church itself is concerned, was concluded within a period of 176 years (1450-1626). The cost of construction including all the additions of the seventeenth century amounted to about $48,000,000. The yearly cost of maintenance of the gigantic building, including the annexes (sacristy and colonnades), amounts to $39,500, a sum that is only exceeded when actual renewals of the artistic features (such as gilding, repairing the pavement, and extensive marble work on the pilasters) becomes necessary. The basilica is endowed with extensive properties at Rome, wide landed possessions in Middle Italy, and other capital from the income of which the entire support of the Divine Service, the clergy, and the large number of employees, as well as the costs of the building requirements are derived. In accordance with the most reliable contemporary calculations, those of Carlo Fontana, the proportions of the building are as follows: height of the nave, 151.5 feet; width of the same at the entrance, 90.2 feet; at the tribune, 78.7 feet; length of the transepts in interior, 451 feet; entire length of the basilica including the vestibule, 693.8 feet. From the pavement of the church (measured from the Confession) to the oculus of the lantern resting upon the dome the height is 404.8 feet, to the summit of the cross surmounting the lantern, 434.7 feet. The measurements of the interior diameter of the dome vary somewhat, being generally computed at 137.7 feet, thus exceeding the dome of the Pantheon by a span of 4.9 feet. The surface area of Saint Peter's is 163,182.2 sq. feet.

Comparative measurements (length):

  • Length of Saint Paul's, London, 520.3 feet;
  • Cathedral of Florence, 490.4;
  • Cathedral of Milan, 444.2;
  • Basilica of Saint Paul, Rome, 419.2;
  • Saint Sophia, Constantinople, 354.

Comparative measurements (surface area):

  • Milan, 90,482 sq. ft.;
  • Saint Paul's, London, 84,766.5;
  • Saint Sophia, 74,163;
  • Cologne, 66,370.8;
  • Antwerp, 53,454.
The vestibule of the basilica is 232.9 feet wide, 44.2 deep, and 91.8 high. On the facade of five portals; in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is a door which leads directly into the Apostolic Palace; in the choir chapel and in the vestibule of the left transept are doors leading to the sacristy, besides which there are four others generally used for building and administrative purposes. Besides the two low galleries for the singers in the choir chapel, there are four others of restricted size in the piers of the dome. In addition to the principal altar in the tribune and the four altars in the crypts, the basilica contains twenty-nine altars, under most of which bodies of saints, including several of the Apostles, repose.

Annex Buildings

The colonnades which enclose the most beautiful public place in the world, the Piazza di San Pietro, form an organic part of the basilica. Constructed in 1667 by Bernini, they surround the piazza in elliptical form, the major axis 1115.4 feet, the minor axis 787.3 feet. For the construction of the colonnades and the equipment of the Piazza di San Pietro about a million dollars were expended. The covered colonnades which consist of four rows of columns in the Doric style form three passages, the central one of which is the width of an ordinary wagon road. The 248 columns and 88 pilasters are entirely of travertine. Adjoining the elliptical place is a square one which diminishes in extent towards the church. Its sides consist of extensive corridors, of which the one on the right belongs to the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. The colonnades and corridors are surmounted by 162 figures of saints after designs by Bernini. In the middle of the ellipse towers the celebrated obelisk of Heliopolis. Its removal to the present site took place in 1586. On both sides of the obelisk are two beautiful fountains 45.9 feet in height. The obelisk is 836 feet high, and weighs 360.2 tons. Its apex is adorned with a bronze cross containing a fragment of the True Cross. The irregular quadrangle between the ellipse and the basilica is for the most part occupied by the monumental stairway and its approach, which lead pilgrims to the higher level of the church. The area of this approach alone is greater than that of most churches of Christendom. The sacristy of Saint Peter's, the house of the canons and beneficiaries, as well as the papal hospice of Santa Marta are connected with the basilica by two covered passages. The sacristy, which contains very remarkable art treasures, was built in 1775 under Pope Pius VI by Carlo Marchione. The Palazzina, which stands on the Piazza di Santa Marta behind the basilica, belongs directly to Saint Peter's. It is for the time being the official residence of the archpriest of Saint Peter's, who is always a cardinal.

 Back to Part 1: Topography and History

Part 3: Description of the Basilica

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