SAINT PETER'S, FAÇADE

Audio File length: 2.41
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

There's a stone on the ground between the obelisk and the fountains that indicates the point where you can look at the colonnade and see a single row of columns instead of four.

The square welcomes you like a great stone embrace: its value is best expressed when it is crowded for masses celebrated by the Pope or for other liturgical moments, and is always a moving scene. The square reaches its highest level of tension during the "conclave", which is the solemn election of the popes. The cardinals are "locked" within the Sistine Chapel (which is why it's called a "conclave") and vote twice a day. As soon as all the votes are counted, the electoral cards are burned in a stove, whose smoke comes out of a chimney on the roof of the chapel. If the election didn't reach the required majority, wet straw is added so that the smoke becomes black; otherwise the smoke is white. The crowd in the square impatiently waits with their eyes on the chimney. After the election, the new pope appears at the balcony of blessings at the center of the basilica's façade, preceded by the traditional announcement: "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus papam!", which means "I announce to you a great joy: we have a pope!"

The huge square churchyard you stand in, just before the basilica, was designed by Bernini to make entering it even more spectacular. The great nineteenth-century statues you see on the sides depict Saints Peter and Paul: they are easily recognized because Peter has the keys and Paul has the sword.

The façade, with its austere columns and slightly protruding central body, was inaugurated in 1626. And with the façade, the construction of the immense "St. Peter's factory" was completed, exactly one hundred and twenty years after the architect Bramante had laid the first stone.

In order to avoid blocking the view of Michelangelo's dome, the façade is more horizontal than vertical: it is 116 meters wide but less than half as tall, just 45 meters.

Under the wide portico you can see five portals in front of you: the central one has kept its bronze doors made by Filarete in the mid-1400s for the ancient Costantinian basilica, and the other doors were made by Italian sculptors in the 1900s.

 

FUN FACT:  the railing of the basilica's attic has 13 statues: in the center you can see Christ the Redeemer, then Saint John the Baptist and 11 other apostles. The only one missing is Saint Peter: in fact, his statue is in the churchyard, keys included!

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