When my parents and I had finally finished with the Sistine Chapel at the end of the Vatican Museums tour route we then made our way over to St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church on the planet. Walking into St Peter’s Basilica can be an awe-inspiring experience, even if you’re like me and you’ve visited it in the past. You can tell that the church is big when you’re standing outside of it but it’s not until you go inside that you start to understand the sheer size of it. The interior of St Peter’s is nearly 700 feet in length and the canopy you see in the distance over the main altar is 96 feet tall. Only a few other churches that I’ve visited can compare with St Peter’s in terms of the sense of wonder you get from stepping inside, with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul being probably the strongest competitor (and yes, I’m aware that Hagia Sophia is no longer a church).
Interestingly, St Peter’s is neither the mother church of Roman Catholicism nor a cathedral. The chair of the bishop of Rome is actually located at the church of St John Lateran, (called “San Giovanni in Laterano” in Italian) which is a bit over half a mile southeast of the Colosseum. St Peter’s Basilica got its name because the tomb of St Peter supposedly is below the main altar and inside the church you can find a bronze statue of St Peter whose feet are traditionally touched/rubbed by pilgrims. The basilica is also the second edition of St Peter’s Basilica, with the original having first been built in the 4th Century. Old St Peter’s Basilica had fallen into disrepair by the 16th Century and it was Pope Julius II who made the decision to tear down the old church and replace it with a newer, bigger, and much more lavishly decorated one. It took over a century to build the current St Peter’s Basilica and according to an estimate I saw online the total cost of its construction in today’s money was over USD $5 billion.