November 18: St. Peter’s, finally, mostly, sort of
2012/11/18 § 2 Comments
On this day in 1626 construction was completed on the “new” St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The first church to stand on the site–a plot of land that proper Romans found so undesirable that they let Christians bury their dead there around the tomb of a martyr–was built in the fourth century by Constantine. 1200 years later it was deemed too dull and un-Roman by a Renaissance pope who ordered its destruction and a new plan drawn up by the brilliant Bramante. Over the next century, work continued on the church in fits and starts, usually depending on how eager the reigning pope was to glorify the church or line his own coffers. Lots of architects came and went: some well known (Michelangelo), some less so (Fontana), some who were better off sticking with their day jobs (Raphael). Finally Carlo Maderno was appointed chief architect in 1603. It was he who, under the direction of Pope Paul V, finished the fabric of the basilica with the extension of the lengthy nave which served the liturgy better than the Greek Cross proposed by Bramante and reaffirmed by Michelangelo, but which also obscures the view of the dome from any but a far-away view.
Maderno officially finished the church, but plenty of hands have contributed to it since that time. Most significantly, Gianlorenzo Bernini added major interior sculpture (chiefly the Cathedra Petri and Baldacchino) and the sweeping piazza and colonnade in front. Much later (in 1936), Mussolini’s architect Marcello Piacentini completed the Via della Conciliazione. It finally gave form to a broad road for pilgrims that had been considered as early as Alberti–just without the whole Fascist thing.
Image: Maderno, and then some (Clio’s)