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where St. Peter was buried after his crucifision on the Janiculum. As early as the year A.D. 106 an oratory was erected here to mark the site of St. Peter's tomb; and in the year 319, Constantine, at the suggestion of Pope St. Sylvester, founded a basilica on this spot, and worked with his own hands in its construction, by carrying twelve baskets of earth in honour of the twelve Apostles. This basilica stood for over a thousand years, and then threatening to collapse, Nicholas V. in 117 determined to erect a more magnificent one in its place; but the idea was not put into execution till 1506, when Julius II. laid the foundation-stone of the present church. The first architect, Bramante, designed the building on the plan of a Greek cross, but he died while the works were in a very early stage of progress. Then Raphael, with two other architects, was appointed, by whom Bramante's design was altered, and a Latin cross substituted. These architects died, as did the Popes who appointed them, and for years the works were suspended; but in the time of Paul III., Michael Angelo, then in his seventy-second year, had the superintendence of the work committed to him; and it is one of the most marvellous events in the career of that marvellous man that in fifteen days he had completed a new design, on the plan of a Greek cross. He did not live to complete the whole work, but he succeeded in carrying the dome, according to his own design, to its present height. Under other Popes and other architects the work progressed, sometimes with extraordinary rapidity, as when Giacomo della Porta, during the pontificate of Gregory XIII., employed six hundred workmen night and day for twenty-two months, and completed it, with the exception of the lantern and the portico of the facade. The latter was entrusted to Carlo Maderno, who prolonged the nave into the form of a Latin cross, and marred the exquisite design of Michael Angelo.
Fifteen architects succeeded one another in the construction of St. Peter's during the pontificates of twenty-eight Popes, and during a period of one hundred and seventy-six years ; or, including the colonnades erected by Bernini, and the sacristy consecrated by Pius VI. in 1794, three hundred and thirty-four years. According to the calculation of Carlo Fontana, the cost, exclusive of 405,453 pounds of bronze used in constructing the chair of St. Peter and the confessional, amounted to about eleven millions of our money.
The following figures may be of interest. The space occupied by the buildings is 240,000 square feet. The façade is three hundred and seventy-two feet broad and one hundred and fifty-four high, ornamented by eight columns ninety-three feet high, and crowned with thirteen statues, nineteen feet high, of our Lord and the Apostles. The vestibule is two hundred and thirty-five feet long, forty-two wide, and sixty-six high. The length, from the statues of Constantine and Charlemagne in the wings of this atrium, is four hundred and sixty-six feet. The interior of the basilica is six hundred and nineteen feet long, and from the floor to the summit of the cross four hundred and fifty-three feet. The number of columns, within and without, including the colonnade, is seven hundred and fifty-six, of which two hundred and forty-five are in the interior; the number of statues, three hundred and ninety-six. “There are forty-six altars and one hundred and twenty-one lamps, the greater number of which are always kept burning. One hundred and thirty-two Popes have been interred here, counting from St. Peter to Gregory XVI.” The sum annually expended in keeping the building in repair is 30,000 scudi, or £6,300 sterling.
The impression produced on the mind of the beholder on entering the nave has been given a hundred times over, and in a hundred different ways. One sees it like some great work of nature rather than the work of man, unparalleled in beauty and of surpassing splendour; another sees a noble work desecrated by vanity and ambition; in one it inspires reverential awe and worship, in another it gives the impression of a pantheon rather than of a Christian church; one sees in it a place in which the soul may find a heaven, another sees “the angels in the baptistery enormous giants; the doves, colossal birds of prey.” One feels that it is a place in which every Christian heart can find rest and satisfaction; to another it appears "like an apotheosis of the popedom rather than a glorification of Christianity and its doctrines."
Whatever other feeling may impress the visitor on first entering St. Peter's, there is one which is universally felt: it is the failure to recognise the real magnitude of the edifice; nor can the mind be disabused of the idea that the church is only of ordinary size until the eye has accustomed itself to take in the immensity of the whole by careful examination of different parts. For instance, the cherubs supporting the fonts for holy water appear to be but models of little children; standing beside them, however, they are found to be larger than ordinary grown-up people. There are ledges and ornaments on the pilasters which the guides take pleasure in asking if you think you can reach, and the visitor unhesitatingly replies in the affirmative; but on nearing the object, he finds it is as high again as he anticipated. It is by such devices as these that the colossal size of the building is estimated, but it is a controverted point whether or not it is a radical defect in architecture to need such aids. On the floor of the nave there are stars indicating the length of the building as compared with others : viz., St. Peter's itself, 619 feet; St. Paul's, London, 5164 feet; Duomo, Florence, 495 feet; Milan Cathedral, 448 feet; St. Petronio, Bologna, 4:40 feet; St. Sophia, Constantinople, 364 feet, &c.
On the right side of the nave is the celebrated bronze statue of St. Peter, whose extended foot has been kissed by generations of worshippers until it is worn out of shape. It is asserted by antiquarians, and others, that this is a statue of Jupiter adapted to its present purpose, the symbolical key being placed in one hand and a halo over the head. One thinks of the joke of Dean Swift, that the only difference between the ancient and the modern city was that the one was the worship of Jupiter and the other the worship of Jew Peter. It is curious how the Roman Catholic Church has always had the knack of adapting what it finds to its own purpose;—this statue, for example, is only a transformed statue of Jupiter, executed in the worst days of paganism; the Column of the Immaculate Conception was an unfinished column of an amphitheatre, and lay for centuries in neglect, till Pius IX. found a use for it, to commemorate a dogma; and the very chair of St. Peter has carvings on the back representing the labours of Hercules, and an inscription in Arabic proclaiming that “there is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet !”
Standing beside the statue of St. Peter, one of the finest, or perhaps the finest view of the dome is obtained, but it is impossible to convey any idea in writing of the magnificence of this stupendous vault; it is useless to give the measurements or other details. “The cupola,” says Forsyth, "is glorious, viewed in its design, its altitude, or even its decorations ; viewed either as a whole or as a part, it enchants the eye, it satisfies the taste, it expands the soul. The very air seems to eat up all that is harsh or colossal, and leaves us nothing but the sublime to
feast on-a sublime peculiar as the genius of the immortal architect, and comprehensible only on the spot.”
Running round the base of the dome, in large mosaic letters, is the proud inscription : Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi labo clares regni cælorum.
Under the centre of the dome is the grand baldacchino (designed by Bernini and made from bronze taken from the Pantheon) covering the high altar at which the Pope alone can celebrate mass. In front of the altar is a sunken space, surrounded by a circular balustrade of marble, to which a double flight of steps descends; this is the Confession of St. Peter, leading through magnificent gilt bronze gates to the shrine in which the remains of the great Apostle are said to repose, immediately under the high altar. Eighty-nine lamps are suspended from the balustrade, and are kept burning day and night. The floor of the Confession is supposed to be identical with the oratory erected by St. Anacletus, fifth Bishop of Rome; and here, kneeling in the attitude of prayer, is the exquisite marble statue of Pius VI.—one of the finest works of Canova.
In the Tribune is the great symbolical chair of Peter, enclosing the one in which it is said the Apostle and some of his immediate successors sat. It is supported by four colossal figures (17 feet 9 inches in height) of four Fathers of the Church-St. Augustine and St. Ambrose of the Latin, St Chrysostom and St. Athanasius of the Greek.
In making the circuit of the Basilica, innumerable monuments, altars, chapels, pictures, and mosaics are to be met with on every hand; but when it is remembered that no fewer than one hundred and thirty-two Popes have been buried here, and that the church contains fortysix altars and three hundred and ninety-six statues, it will be seen that it is not possible to enumerate them in detail. There are but few good pictures in St. Peter's, the principal ones having been removed to the Vatican, and their places filled by copies in mosaic. The Sacristy, Treasury, and Archives are rich in works of art, in jewels and vestments, and in ancient MSS., while in the subterranean churches there is a large collection of curiosities.
The great ecclesiastical ceremonies in St. Peter's are celebrated with much pomp and circumstance. It is here that the coronation of the new Pope always takes place; and here he celebrates high mass in person at Christmas, Easter, and on the Festival of St. Peter and St. Paul. On Palm Sunday, and on certain other festivals, the Pope is borne in pro. cession round the church, his attendants carrying immense fans of peacocks feathers. At the Purification of the Virgin he blesses candles, which are distributed to the devout. On Palm Sunday he receives the homage of the assembled cardinals, habited in violet robes. Immediately afterwards his Holiness consecrates the palms, and, assisted by one of the cardinal deacons, distributes them, first to the cardinals, then to the archbishops and bishops, the corps diplomatique, the canons of St. Peter's, and the heads of the different religious orders, and last of all to military officers and such private individuals as have obtained permission from the Major-domo to receive them—for whom uniform or evening dress is de rigueur. A procession is then formed, and the Pope, raised aloft on the shoulders of men, is carried round the church, followed by all who have received the palms.
There was no finer sight of its kind to be seen in the world than the illumination of St. Peter's on Easter Day-discontinued, however, since 1870. In a moment there was
a sudden burst of radiance from the ball, and an instantaneous meteor-like fash over the whole cupola, the long lines of lamps bringing out into vivid relief its gigantic masses, and exquisite proportions—every column, cornice, and frieze, the bands of the dome, and all the details of the building, from the base of the columns of the façade to the summit of the cross, being lit up with lines of light. Four hundred men, who had previously received the sacrament, were employed in the hazardous work of lighting the lamps; and so rapid
were they, tbat the illumination of the whole façade and dome was often completed in less than twenty seconds.
The Vatican, the palace of the Popes, and the most extensive palace in the world, is entered at the extremity of the right colonnade of the Piazza of St. Peter. Passing the Swiss Guard — whose extraordinary costume is said to have been designed by Michael Angelo, and is more extravagant than that of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London--the Scala Regia, a magnificent staircase by Bernini, is ascended, and then a further staircase leads to the famous Sixtine Chapel, so named after Pope Sixtus IV., who caused it to be built in 1473. It is an oblong building, one hundred and fortysix feet long by fifty feet wide, and appears at first sight to be disproportionately high.
It has sixteen windows, by no means beautiful, and the effect of the interior is greatly marred by a screen enclosing the space set apart for religious solemnities. No one has time, however, to think of these drawbacks, as the eye fixes at once on the great masterpieceş of art enshrined here. The walls and ceiling are covered with the most magnificent series of frescoes the world has ever seen. Those on the walls are by eminent artists of the fifteenth century, and represent scenes from the life of Moses on one side of the chapel, and scenes from the life of Christ on the other; “so that,” as Lanzi says, “ the Old Law might be confronted with the New, the type by the Person typified.” Above these and between the windows, is a series of portraits of twenty-eight Popes; and below, the walls are painted in imitation of drapery, and were intended to be covered with the tapestries executed from the cartoons of Raphael.
But the glory of the Sixtine Chapel is the ceiling, covered with the creations of the genius of Michael Angelo, who, at the request of Julius II., undertook the work, and completed it in the incredibly short space of twenty months. The idea of this masterpiece is the Preparation of the World for the Advent of Christ. The ceiling is divided into nine compartments or pictures; on its arched sides are marvellous pictures of prophets and sibyls in earnest contemplation, surrounded by angels and genii ; and in the spandrils, and in the arches above the windows, beautiful groups representing the ancestors of the Saviour in calm expectation. “It is evident at the first glance that no one but an architect and a painter could have conceived the architectural decorations, which form, as it were, a framework for the principal subjects. No language can exaggerate the grandeur and majesty of the figures, which are subservient to the general plan, and carry out the sublime idea which presides over it, even in the minutest detail.”
There is no finer memorial chapel of a great artist in the world than this. Michael Angelo was forty years of age when he did it—in the ripeness of his strength. He had brought assistants from Florence to help him, but, unable to bear what seemed to him their bungling, he dismissed them all, and destroying their work, shut himself up, and working in solitude and secrecy, set himself to this gigantic task, which he completed, it is said, in twenty-two months.
There was wonderful inspiration in the labours of this extraordinary man, in whom all gifts and graces seemed to centre. When he undertook the restoration of St. Peter's he said he would take the old Pantheon and "suspend it in air,” and he did what he said, although he did not live to see the cathedral completed. Some idea of the way in which he worked may be gathered from the words of an eye-witness, Blaise de Vigenere : “I can say,” he says, “ that I have seen Michael Angelo at the age of sixty, and with a body announcing weakness, make more chips of marble fly about in a quarter of an hour than would three of the strongest young sculptors in an hour—a thing almost incredible to him who has not beheld it. He went to work with such impetuosity and fury of manner that I feared almost every moment to see the block split into pieces. It would seem as if, inflamed by the idea of greatness which inspired him, this great man attacked with a species of fury the marble which concealed the statue.”
On the end wall of the Sixtine Chapel is the large fresco of the Last Judgment, commenced under Clement VII., when Michael Angelo was sixty years of age, and completed