A Detailed Guide on What to see Inside St. Peter’s Basilica!

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St. Peter’s Basilica is a holy space in the Vatican City, with the most grand Baroque-style exterior and stunning interior architecture and artworks!

It is one of the most famous attractions in Italy, attracting over ten million visitors every year for its spiritual significance and artistic beauty.

Visitors planning to explore the Basilica for the first time must know the general layout of the church and every must-see attraction.

In this article, we’ll discover the attractive architectural elements and sculptures of St. Peter’s Basilica that you must see for a memorable experience! 

The Layout of St. Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica is the largest Papal Basilica, covering 23,000 square meters and a towering height of 136 meters.

Lorenzo Bernini designed the old 218-meter-long Basilica, inspired by the Roman Pantheon.

Michelangelo did a few renovations and crafted a floor plan that imitates the shape of a Greek Cross.

Like other churches, the Basilica has naves, altars, and other sacred structures, like the statues of saints in chapel areas.

It has around 39 statues on display, along with many monuments dedicated to Popes and eight chapel areas.

You can see 13 massive statues of saints standing on top of the Basilica and 140 other statues decorating the columns surrounding St. Peter’s Square. 

What to see Inside St. Peter’s Basilica: Architecture

Since the Basilica is known worldwide for its stunning architecture, you should not miss seeing the intricate marvels and construction inside the Basilica.

Here is a list of architectural elements you should not miss when exploring inside St. Peter’s Basilica! 

The Dome

The Dome is one of the most attractive architectural aspects of the basilica, designed by famous architect Michelangelo Buornarotti in 1590.

It is the largest dome in the world and visible from all over the Vatican City, but the view from the inside is much more breathtaking.

The design is inspired by the Roman Pantheon, with a massive oculus at the center held up by four strong pillars.

The dome is covered with beautiful mosaic designs by Marcello Provinzale, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, and other famous Renaissance artists.

At the top of the dome stands a cross, extending the dome’s height to 136 meters (449 feet)! 

Ceiling Design

The Basilica’s ceiling sparkles at all times of the day, as it is covered in gold leaf and is 150 high!

The artwork on the ceiling increases in size as its height increases to create the illusion that all the paintings are the same size, no matter where you look.

A less visible element most people miss is the quote, “To the glory of Saint Peter, Pope Sixtus V, in 1590, the fifth of his pontificate,” inscribed on the ceiling. 

This quote is painted in alphabets 8 feet tall in blur color, on a gold band of 10 feet tall, which looks very small from below! 

The Pillars

The dome is held up by four strong pillars, each having its stunning carvings and decorations.

Donato Bramante began the construction of these pillars, which Michelangelo later completed.

Bernini worked on these 33-foot-tall niche carvings in the pillars between 1628 and 1639.

Pope Urban VIII commissioned the pillar niches to add sacred items to them, like a few pieces of Jesus’s cross, Veronica’s veil, and more. 

The Holy Door

The Holy Door is a massive bronze door at the northern entrance of the Basilica, which is only opened on the first day of the Holy Year. 

This door has been cemented shut, and the Pope bangs a hammer on its brick wall every year to symbolize its opening.

This practice began in 1499 under Pope Alexander VI, who opened the door on Christmas, and the ceremony has been carried on for almost 450 years. 

You can see the stunning depiction of God helping a man who sinned on the door, and this is a favorite photography spot for pilgrims! 

The High Papal Altar

The stunning Papal Altar stands at the center of St. Peter’s Basilica and is only used by the Pope to say the high mass.

Bernini designed the altar to be an apse with a small elliptical altar, known as the “Altar of the Church.” 

Over this altar stands the world-famous Baladcchino by Bernini, and below this altar is St. Peter’s Tomb.

St. Peter’s Chair is also a part of this altar, which has been used to coronate all Popes since 1963.

Pope Clement first used the altar in 1594 and consecrated it for later use. 

The Confessio

The Confessio is a usually overlooked altar, a grand structure designed in 1617 by Carlo Maderno. 

It stands in front of St. Peter’s Tomb, in the Vatican Grottoes, which you can access by a staircase leading down.

Pope Clement VIII and Pope Paul V continued to add many elements to the Confessio that brings it to its current beauty today! 

The Blessed Sacrament Area

The holy communion given during the St. Peter’s Basilica mass is kept in a beautiful Blessed Sacrament Tabernacle designed by Bernini.

It is a bronze masterpiece and a replica of the St. Pietro Basilica in Montorio, with an added detail of twelve apostles and Jesus statues on the rooftop.

You can also see a stunning blue lapis lazuli in front of the gold background, behind which is a stunning painting by Pietro da Cortona.

The painting is a stunning mosaic of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God the Father, symbolizing the teachings of the Church. 

Artworks on Display Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Now that you have seen the unique architecture inside St Peter’s Basilica Vatican, it is time to admire the marvelous sculptures and artworks on display!

Here are all the best artworks you can see inside the Basilica, which are extremely popular among all visiting tourists. 

La Pieta Statue

The most famous sculpture by Michelangelo in the Vatican City is the marble statue of La Pieta standing in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It depicts a life-like Biblical scene of Mother Mary hugging the body of the crucified Jesus in her lap.

This statue has a great emotional impact on all visitors, and what makes it stand out the most is Mary’s realistic cloak.

Michelangelo carved the statue between 1499 and 1500, crafting the cloak so excellently that it appears to be moving in the breeze!

This statue was the first of its kind, and many replicas of it exist all around the world today. 

Baldacchino

The Baldacchino is a massive bronze structure crafted by Lorenzo Bernini in 1633, standing over the Papal Altar. 

It is a grand canopy-like structure with massive columns and many elaborate carvings like the Coat of Arms, the keys of St. Peter, and four angels at the top. 

This Baroque-style canopy is the most popular attraction in the Basilica and a unique masterpiece worldwide.

The Baldacchino also has gilded gold elements given by France’s King Henry IV! 

St. Peter’s Altar Chair

The Altar Chair is a Roman Catholic relic from the Renaissance period, constructed by Bernini right at the center of the Basilica. 

It is a bronze throne-like structure made from the actual chair used when preaching by St. Peter, which was discovered in the 6th century! 

The chair has sculptures of four doctors of the Church, who are saints who did a lot for the church, supporting it on all sides. 

Bernini constructed a grand bronze reliquary around the chair to protect it so it can be displayed in the Basilica even today! 

St. Peter’s Tomb

St. Peter’s Tomb is ingrained into the St. Peter’s Basilica, which stands directly under the apse.

Millions of visitors travel from all over the world to see the sacred remains of the saint who was crucified upside down by Nero.

Visitors can set up bouquets of flowers and candles around the apse to remember the saint.

Even though the tomb is in the Vatican Necropolis under the Basilica, the Basilica is considered a much holier place because the body lies underneath. 

If you want to see the tomb, you must have a ticket to a guided tour, or you will not be allowed in the Necropolis. 

Pope Alexander VII’s Monument

The most famous monument in the Basilica is of Pope Alexander VII, completed by Bernini in 1680. 

The monument of Pope Alexander VII was his last artwork before he died at 81 years old in the same year. 

The biggest figure in the monument belongs to Pope Alexander, who kneels in prayer, surrounded by four female statues on the floor.

These women represent the virtues of justice, charity, prudence, and truth that the Pope lived by. 

At the center of the sculpture, below the Pope, is the scary figure of death, who is shown as a skeleton with wings, holding an hourglass to symbolize the Pope’s time on earth has ended.

Pope Innocent XII Monument

The monument of Pope Innocent XII was crafted to honor the Pope’s spirit of justice and his reformist beliefs.

He built a safe place for all disabled people and ensured judicial and economic justice for all his followers.

Filippino Della Valle crafted this monument with a simple composition, showing the human figures of justice and charity to reflect his values at the base.

The Pope’s right hand is stretched to bless all the pilgrims visiting St. Peter’s Basilica! 

Pope Pius VIII Monument 

The Neoclassical-style monument of Pope Pius VIII accurately depicts Pope Pius, who reigned in the 19th century.

Behind the Pope’s statue is a massive statue of Jesus, with a golden halo behind his head, and sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul are on either side!

Below the sculpture is a door leading to the Museum of the Treasury and the sacristy and a list showing the names of all Popes buried in the Basilica.

Pope Pius VIII was responsible for the first gathering of the Popes, where he signed the Council of Baltimore documents in 1829. 

Pope Benedict XIV Monument

At the center of the monument is a sculpted figure of Pope Benedict standing up to give his blessings to the people visiting. 

Gaspare Sibilla sculpted the figures of Disinterestedness and Sacred Wisdom at the base of this monument.

The figure of Sacred Wisdom holds a book in her hand and has a gilded sun decoration on her chest.

Disinterestedness is depicted as an angel holding a cornucopia, which is a trumpet that gives all you ask for, filled with riches.

Bracci sculpted the Pope’s sculpture and added pyramid-like elements to it. 

Pope Urban VIII Monument 

The monument of Pope Urban VIII is a pyramid-like bronze structure standing on a white marble, giving out his blessings. 

The virtues of Justice and Charity are depicted on either side of the Pope at the base of the statue. 

Looking closely, you can see Barberini bee designs all over the central sculpture!

Below the sculpture is a depiction of death in a skeleton form, holding a scroll in hand. 

St. Peter’s Bronze Statue

This 5th-century bronze statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio depicts the saint sitting on a simple chair.

He holds heaven’s keys in his hands, which were given to the saint by Jesus before his death. 

The feet of St. Peter’s statue have undergone some damage as pilgrims stand in a queue to kiss the statue’s feet. 

St. Peter’s right hand is raised to bless all the pilgrims coming to the Basilica. 

St. Longinius’s Statue

The statue of St. Longinius is based on the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus’s body with a lance before he died.

It is a four-meter-tall massive marble masterpiece by Bernini, with a giant spear in hand.

It is believed that Longinius was punished with many life problems because of spearing Jesus, so he converted to Christianity. 

Mosaic artworks 

An exciting fact about the Basilica that most visitors are unaware of is that all the paintings are actually glass mosaics!

Most of the old paintings on the walls began to disintegrate because of the humidity, and to avoid this, only glass art pieces were on display in the basilica.

Unlike the Sistine Chapel, you can click photographs using flash in the basilica because it does not damage these glass mosaics. 

You would have to get very close to the painting to make out the slight sheen of glass; otherwise, they would look like hand-painted paintings! 

The secrets beneath St. Peter’s Basilica

If you have time to explore more, we highly recommend pilgrims explore the areas below St. Peter’s Basilica.

Besides holding the tomb of St. Peter, you can also see several mosaics and structures from the 1st century under the basilica. 

The Vatican Grottoes

The Vatican Grottoes house the tombs of 91 Popes in many underground chamber areas under St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is like an underground church, which lies 3 meters below the basilica on top and the remains of the 4th-century old basilica below.

It is also called the Clementine Crypt and was constructed in the 16th century as a burial ground for important Roman citizens and the Pope.

You can also find the remains of Queens Christina of Sweden and Charlotte of Cyprus in the Vatican Grottoes.

Visitors can also see two Chapel areas, hagiographic paintings, and other monuments in the Grottoes. 

You must have St. Peter’s Basilica tickets to explore the Papal Tombs, as no one is allowed below without a tour guide. 

The Vatican Necropolis 

The Necropolis is 5 to 20 meters below the Basilica and houses the remains of the most important Roman Catholic figures.

In the Necropolis, you can also see a series of mosaics, marble sarcophagi, and tombs from the 1st to the 4th centuries.

The famous St. Peter’s Tomb is in this Necropolis after his death when he was hung upside down on the cross in Nero’s Circus. 

FAQs on What to see Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

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2. Is it worth going inside St. Peter’s Basilica?

3. What is the special artwork of St. Peter’s Basilica?

4. What is the best time of the day to visit St. Peter’s Basilica?

5. Do I need tickets to explore the Vatican Grottoes in the Basilica?

6. Can you enter St. Peter’s Basilica for free?

7. Do you need a ticket to climb the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica?

8. How long does it take to explore St. Peter’s Basilica?

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Featured Image: Massimo Merlini / Getty Images

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