Welcome to Part 2 of Angels and Demons tour in Rome featuring the altar of Science: AIR. If you haven’t yet, click HERE to watch Part 1.
In this episode we continue exploring Saint Peter’s Basilica and discover its treasures, secrets and symbols.
Note: This video was created in 2009, some things have changed since then…such as a new Pope Francis, and Pope John Paul II’s tomb is no longer underground. It’s inside the Basilica.
If you only have 1 day in Rome to explore the places featured in Angels and Demons, book a day tour with Stefano Rome Tours and follow the footsteps of Robert Langdon in comfort.
In the back behind the altar is Cattedra Petri, or the Throne of St Peter, also a Bernini masterpiece.
Cathedra means the established seat of the bishop, located in the mother church of a diocese, which for this reason is called “cathedral”. This brilliant creation is designed to display the chair that according to tradition is where St Peter sat and preached to the Roman Christians. Pope Alexander VII had the ivory-covered chair put into a huge bronze cathedra, flanked by the statues of the Doctors of the Church: 2 from the Roman Church, and 2 from of the Greek Church.
The alabaster window is surrounded by golden clouds and angels flying between rays of light, casting a warm glow, especially in the afternoon. The window is divided into 12 sections paying homage to the 12 Apostles who carried the words of the Gospel throughout the world. Here is also where daily mass takes place.
If you look to the left you’ll see a chapel that is roped off with a sign that reads: “Only those who wish to pray may enter“. This is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and is designated for prayer and reflection, and not a touristic tour with cameras flashing. So, in respect, I didn’t go inside to videotape or take photos, so these are the only photos I found to show you.
The Blessed Sacrament is in front of a beautiful tabernacle designed by Bernini. Behind the altar is an altarpiece painted in oils by Pietro da Cortona which celebrates the Trinity, God the Father, the Son. It is the only painted canvas in the whole basilica.
Down beneath the altar, is the Confession. It got its name in reference to Peter’s confession of faith that resulted in his martyrdom. Just behind this niche with a silver coffer containing the Pallium, or fabrics woven from wool of lambs blessed on the feast of St Agnes, is St Peter’s Tomb. Here is also where, in the Angels and Demons movie, the Camerlengo met his demise when he set himself on fire.
This area enclosed by glass is the back side of the confession that we saw from above. Way underneath, is the tomb of St Peter. To go back in time and down to the original level of the tombs upon which the first Basilica was built, you’ll have to sign up for the scavi tour that’s organized by the Vatican. Just go to the Vatican website to sign up (well in advance, they get booked up months in advance as they only permit a limited number of visitors per day).
Another chapel that’s significant in the basilica is the Chapel of Baptistery, and you can find it at the left of the entrance. Inside this beautiful chapel is the baptismal font whose red porphyry basin was made from a pagan ornament that some say originates from Hadrian’s Tomb – or Castle San’t Angelo – and then was used to cover the sarcophagus of Emperor Otto II in year 988.
On October 16, 1994, Pope John Paul II’s new Marian coat of arms was set into the marble floor in the center of the chapel. The M stands for Mary, the mother of Jesus.The letters of the motto: “Totus tuus” are also set into the marble.
In the video I reveal some more secrets about the intricate marble pattern on the floor.
You also see what looks like decorative man holes on the floor. No, these are not demon holes. Down below is the crypt where you can see tombs of previous popes. Unlike the segment in Angels and Demons, if someone tried to pry open a pope’s tomb, they’d have to go through 3 traditional coffins, including a wooden coffin shut close with gold nails, and a zinc coffin soldered shut.
Across from this chapel is the chapel of Pieta that showcases Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece: the Pieta – which means Pitty in Italian. It represents the body of Christ in the arms of his mother after he was taken down from the cross. Michelangelo was a 24 year old unknown artist living in Rome when he astonished the world with this incredible talent as the Pieta was unveiled in St Peter’s Basilica for the Jubilee of year 1500.
This is also the only piece of art signed by Michelangelo, and only done so because he overheard people giving credit to another artist and he set the record straight in stone by carving: “Michale Angelus Bonaotus, Florent, Facibat” (Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This). When criticized for depicting an unrealistically youthful serene Virgin Mary, his answer was that the aging effects of time evaded the most blessed virgin. On a more personal level, he was also thinking of his own mother’s youthful face when she died when Michelangelo was only 5 years old.
Although flawless, the Pieta suffered extensive damage when a mentally disturbed man shouting that he was Jesus Christ, struck the statue with a hammer gouging the Madonna’s exquisite face and breaking her left arm at the elbow. Using feather dusters, Vatican officials meticulously gathered more than 50 shards of marble. Three other pieces were later returned to the Vatican by guilty tourists who took them as souvenirs. Renown Italian sculptor Giacome Manzu restored the statue.
Because of a personal yet controversial promise by Pope John XXIII to the late Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, the Pietà was displayed in New York at the World’s Fair in 1964 in the Vatican Pavilion. A replica replaced the original during its absence. After that, further loads of art works from the Vatican were banned.
Also while at the Basilica, you can go up to the top of the dome and take in the amazing panoramic view of Rome and the Vatican City from above.
If climbing hundreds of steps through a narrow claustrophobic stairwell to reach the Dome sounds daunting, you can just take the lift to the base of the dome and get a different perspective of the basilica below. Plus you can see the little mosaic pieces up close. There are millions of these mosaics in storage to fix any pieces that fall off. When you look at these beautiful angel mosaics, check out the dates of when the artist created them. And if you put your ear to against this wall, and someone further down away from you is also with their ear against the wall you can actually hear each other talk as the wall carries your voice back and forth. It’s pretty wild. For this to work, no one can be leaning against the wall between you to break up the vibration.
Up here you are eye to eye with the massive mosaic letters and you can see just how huge they really are. The 7 foot tall letters read: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys of heaven”. Here’s something interesting to ponder: this church WAS built on the stone grave of St Peter, and the name Peter derives from the latin word Petra, or rock.
And if you do manage to climb the Dome and glimpse the square sprawled before you, you might think that it actually looks like….a keyhole!
Thank you very much for watching, see you soon on A Road Retraveled!