Six Surprising Facts about St. Peter’s Basilica

One of Rome’s most stunning buildings is St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the ultimate symbol of Vatican City. It’s fascinating, with its 2,000-year history. These are six surprising facts about St. Peter’s “cathedral”.

01. This isn’t St. Peter’s Basilica original

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome

It’s not the original Basilica of St. Peter that you see in this imposing church. It’s actually… number 2! Why? The reason? The (literally) old church was in serious decline by the time of the Renaissance. It took someone like Pope Julius II (someone strong enough to face curmudgeonly Michelangelo!) to save the church. It was Pope Julius II who made the decision to demolish the whole thing and to build a new one.

What was the result? The result? The “new” basilica was built between 1506-1626 and is a masterpiece in Renaissance architecture.

02. St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t serve as a cathedral nor is it the official seat for the Pope.

True story: Despite its importance, St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t serve as the official residence of the Pope. It is not the highest rank among Rome’s basilicas. Both of these accolades go instead to San Giovanni In Laterano (St. John Lateran),, which is the mother church of Roman Catholicism. Because of its size and proximity to the Vatican, many of the most important ceremonies of the Church are held here.

03. Bernini’s Baldacchino stands at 96 feet high


The dome above the main altar (or the baldacchino) appears to almost dwarf the four-poster, solid bronze canopy. You might be mistaken if you think it isn’t that high. It is. It is almost 10 stories high. The dome above it is 452 feet. The baldacchino also uses not less than 100,000 pounds bronze.

04. None of the paintings in the basilica are paintings.

Huh? No, really. It is not. Although the interior of the basilica appears lavishly decorated with paintings, from frescoes on the dome to large paintings hanging on its walls, it isn’t. Each of the “paintings”, however, is actually a mosaic. They are meticulously detailed and made with tiny tesserae, which are small pieces of glass that make up the mosaic.

05. The bullet-proof glass protects Michelangelo’s Pieta


The Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica

The Pieta, one of Michelangelo’s most recognizable masterpieces, is located in St. Peter’s Basilica. He carved it when he was just 24 years old. The stunning sculpture has not been loved by everyone. Laszlo Toth, a disturbed man who was mentally unstable, attacked the sculpture using a hammer. He cracked Mary’s nose and tore off her elbow. The sculpture was meticulously restored and returned by Laszlo Toth to St. Peter’s. However, the sculpture is now protected by bulletproof glass, even though other valuable sculptures at St. Peter’s are still open.

06. Yes, St. Peter could be buried under the basilica

This is believed to be where St. Peter’s bones are. That’s why Emperor Constantine built the first St. Peter’s Basilica in the exact spot he did.

This was difficult to prove. However, excavations were made on the rumored site in the 1940s. A set of bones was found in 1953. They belonged to a man in his 60s. This is the same age as Peter. The bones were covered in earth, which indicates that Peter was originally buried in the dirt. The bones also had remnants purple thread. This color would only have been used to wrap the bodies of royals or holy people in ancient times. Margherita Guarducci, an Italian archaeologist, and others argued that the bones belonged St. Peter.

Others may disagree with this conclusion, and it’s not a solid proof that the bones belong to St. Peter. However, the findings do not prove that the bones aren’t St. Peter’s.