A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Awesome Church – St Peter’s Basilica

Glen McCullough

Glen McCullough

FacadeWhen I sat down to put my thoughts on paper about St Peter’s, I was looking for one word to describe it. Magnificent, awesome, majestic, prayerful, striking, blessed, vast, amazing, inspiring, perfect -- all apply, but not completely. Let me tell you why.

CeilingIf you catch the metro around to Ottaviano and walk around to St Peter’s Square (Piazza di San Pietro in Italian) your first impression would be “majestic”.

It fills one side of the square, with the dome reaching up to heaven. It is without doubt the centerpiece of Rome.

Entering at the right hand side, the first thing you see is Michaelangelo’s Pieta. I could only describe it as “striking” because that is what it did – struck my soul. The thought that Jesus died for me became real, and I wept for Mary, holding his crucified body for me.

When I tore my eyes away from the Pieta, my eyes went to the ceiling and “magnificent” came to mind. It was a bronze colour, very textured, soaring upwards and away towards the back of the church. It made me think of the magnificence of God.

In the centre of the nave underneath the dome, I looked up to the whispering gallery and thought “O God, how great thou art,” so I guess you could say it was “inspiring.

Back NaveThe text is the latin version of  Mt 16:18 “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Right at the back is the only coloured window, of the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove in the middle of the sun. My wife and I sat looking at it for a long time. “Prayerful” is the only word that adequately described it for me. When I got up to continue, I felt very much full to overflowing with the Holy Spirit.

The basilica is very busy, with lots of tourists wandering around, some with guides talking to their groups loudly. But there are also sacramental things going on. We went to reconciliation in English, and one of the Masses being said in the side chapels was in English so we were twice “blessed.

Vast” does not begin to describe the basilica. We wandered around for hours, seeing something new at every turn. There are smaller domes in each apse, for example, that replicate the main dome. They can’t be seen from the piazza, but are quite large in their own right. The ceiling is really high, and there are side chapels everywhere.View from the top

No visit to St Peter’s is complete without climbing up to the Whispering Gallery, to the top of the dome and out onto the roof.
The view from the Whispering Gallery is “amazing.” It is only by looking down from all angles that the vastness of the building becomes fully apparent. The part of the nave behind the main altar alone is bigger than most cathedrals in New Zealand.

DomeHoly Spirit WindowAs we climbed up into the dome, a lean to the right became more and more necessary and I started praying my wife didn’t want to turn back. But the view from the dome can only be described as “awesome.” You can see the whole of Rome, down the avenue and all around. The Vatican Gardens are beautiful closer in, and on a beautifully fine day it was so much to take in.

On the way back down (leaning the other way) it is possible to exit onto the roof, amongst the smaller domes and right up to the parapet holding the statues of the apostles. Looking down from there we had a great view of the piazza (which is actually circular, not square) and the very impressive Vatican Museum buildings.

Our first visit was as part of a tour party, so our experience of the interior was very formalized. But we came back to the piazza near dusk on our own,  and discovered that there are two marked spots in the piazza from where the triple collonades around the outside of the piazza line up behind one another  - another way in which the basilica is “perfect.pieta

Much more interesting, however, was what happened when some bells rang out -  nuns and priests popped up from everywhere and scurried across the piazza on their way home, like penguins in a ritual dance.

As I hope I have shown, the single words above describe some aspects of the basilica, but not all. The one word that came to mind the first time I visited was “home.” and that word has been reinforced each time we have returned. Because I have had the overwhelming feeling every time that I have come to my spiritual home. Collonades

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