There has been a church on this site since the 4th century.


Old St. Peter's Basilica was the fourth century church begun by the Emperor Constantine between 326 and 333 AD. It had a wide nave and two aisles on either side. It was over 350 ft long with a large colonnaded Atrium. This church had been built over the small shrine believed to mark the burial place of St. Peter. On Christmas night 800AD the Emperor Charlemagne was crowned there.


By the end of the 15th century, the old basilica was in bad repair. Pope Julius II made a decision to demolish the ancient building and replace it with something grander.


The design of Bramonte was selected in a competition and the “new” St. Peter’s Basilica was begun in 1506 on the site of the ancient basilica.


At the center of the facade is the balcony where a new pope gives his blessing. The central door was made for the old St. Peter’s. The Holy Door (porta santa) opens only on a Jubilee or Holy Year and features scenes of Old and New Testament.


Inside, the basilica is immense but perfectly proportioned.


In 1547 Michelangelo, in his 70s, became superintendent and he was the principal designer of a large part of today’s building. Pope Paul forced the job on him. Michelangelo wrote “I undertake this only for the love of God and in honour of the Apostle.” He insisted on a free hand while drawing on the ideas of previous architects. With a few strokes of the pen he converted its snowflake complexity into cohesive unity.


On February 18, 1606 Pope Paul V began the demolition of the remaining parts of the Constantinian basilica. The marble cross, set by Pope Sylvester and the Emperor Constantine, the roof timbers and two rare black marble columns were saved, carefully stored and later used in the entrance hall. The tombs of various popes were opened and plans made for reinterment in the new basilica. The new basilica was completed in 1626.


There is a solemn character of devotion in the atmosphere of the basilica. The statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio stands with a shiny foot from devoout touches. Michelangelo’s Pieta stands near the back protected now by heavy glass doors.