On November 18th, we celebrate the dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul. These historic and timeless basilicas have inspired millions of people to travel countless miles across the world to see their glory in person.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit these amazing basilicas, but learning more about them now will contribute to an even better experience when I am able to visit them in person.
The history, sacred art, and incredible architecture of each basilica is fascinating.
St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the tomb of Peter the Apostle in 323 A.D. by Emperor Constantine. However, the basilica we see today is not the original!
Due to structural damage, Pope Julius II took it upon himself to remove the old basilica and build a new one in its place. Construction began in the year 1516, but it took over 200 years to complete the basilica we are familiar with today.
There are plenty of things to discover about St. Peter’s Basilica, but here are some of my favorite facts:
- St. Peter’s Basilica has the capacity to hold 60,000 people. Its vastness is breathtaking!
- St. Peter’s Basilica holds 100 tombs, 91 of which are the tombs of popes.
- Multiple famous architects worked on the design and grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, including Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Several of our employees had the opportunity to go to the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul during past travels to Rome.
Here is one employee’s description of walking into St. Peter’s Basilica for the very first time:
“As cliche as it sounds, I would say my first experience walking into St. Peter's Basilica was breathtaking. You can look at pictures online and watch movies about this historic masterpiece, but until you see it in person, it just is not the same. The amount of detail, thought and time put into every corner of the building is almost overwhelming. It was definitely worth waiting in line to get in! You could just walk in and say it's another church and walk out, but if you take the time to truly appreciate every painting, statue, and just the overall structure, you will see that it is all for the glory of God which is so inspiring.
I think my favorite part of the basilica would be the Pieta. It is easy to overlook it in all that is going on in the basilica, especially since it's almost hidden in the corner and is so simple. But if you take the time to study it and take it in, it is so beautiful in more ways than one.”
Pope Benedict XVI was known to insist on St. Peter’s being a place of genuine prayer and adoration:
"In this holy place, where thousands of pilgrims and tourists come everyday from all over the world, more than elsewhere it is necessary that next to the tomb of St. Peter there be a stable community of prayer that guarantees continuity with tradition and at the same time intercedes for the intentions of the pope in the Church and world today."
—Pope Benedict XVI, October 8, 2007
The other major basilica that shares the feast day of November 18th is St. Paul’s Basilica.
St. Paul’s Basilica (also known as St. Paul Outside-the-Walls) was originally built over St. Paul’s grave in 324 A.D under Emperor Constantine.
In the years following its construction, multiple emperors would restore and make improvements to the basilica, which included a bell tower, Byzantine door, and much more. Tragically, a fire in 1823 nearly destroyed St. Paul’s Basilica, leaving few original mosaics still intact.
The current basilica was built over many years from around 1825 to 1855, with a reopening in 1840.
Here are some fun facts about St. Paul Outside-the-Walls:
- The crucifix above the Tabernacle is the same crucifix that St. Bridget of Sweden lay prostrate before when Christ gave her the “15 Prayers of St. Bridget”.
- The chains that attached St. Paul to his Roman guard before his execution are displayed above his tomb in the Basilica.
Today, on this feast day of the dedications of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Basilicas, let’s get a glimpse of the history and art of these basilicas.
Although you may not be able to travel to Rome just now, you can take a virtual tour of these stunning Basilicas from the comfort of your home.
The Vatican website provides a visual exploration of St. Peter’s Basilica, including St. Peter’s Square, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and more. You can click this link to experience the online tour.
Next, click here to explore St. Paul’s Basilica as well as the courtyard, tomb, museum, and more.
If you have been to either of these magnificent basilicas, please share your experiences with us in the comments below!