The center focal point of St. Peter's Basilica is Saint Peter's baldachin a large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy, technically called a ciborium or baldachin, over the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, Rome, which is at the centre of the crossing and directly under the dome. Designed by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it was intended to mark, in a monumental way, the place of Saint Peter's tomb underneath. Under its canopy is the High Altar of the basilica. The Papal altar, under the celebrated Canopy by Bernini (1633) was made of bronze taken from the Pantheon.
The Chair of Saint Peter by Bernini is a throne in which fragments of acacia wood are visible, which could be part of the chair of St. Peter, encased in oak and reinforced with iron bands. It sits behind and elevated behind Saint Peter's baldachin. Pope Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to build a monument which would give prominence to this ancient wooden chair. Bernini built a throne in gilded bronze, richly ornamented with bas-reliefs in which the chair was enclosed: two pieces of furniture, one within the other. On January 17, 1666 it was solemnly set above the altar. Two angels bearing the tiara and keys, symbols of the Roman pontiff's authority float above. At the base the two outer statues are figures of two Doctors of the Latin Church: St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; the two inner statues, with bare heads, are of two Doctors of the Greek Church: St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom. Februaury 22 is the celebrated feast day of the chair.
Bronze statue of Saint Peter facing the baldachin by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century.
The Gloria takes center stage once you get a glimpse of the fantastic gilt and stucco. A host of angels are among rays of light and gigantic billowing clouds. In their midst is the precious window of Bohemian glass, divided into twelve sections as a tribute to the Twelve Apostles. It reminds me of a clock in sections. A brilliant dove stands out against it, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church which never ceases to help and to guide.
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica was designed by Michelangelo. Many artists worked on the interior decorations. Along the base of the inside of the dome is the inscription of Matthew 16:18-19, in letters 8 ft. (2.5m) high:
TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM (You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.)Near the top of the dome is another, smaller, circular inscription:
S. PETRI GLORIAE SIXTVS PP. V. A. M. D. XC. PONTIF. V. (To the glory of St. Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590 and the fifth year of his pontificate.)
The Pieta by Michelangelo was completed by Michelangelo when he was only 24 years old. After a vandal defaced a portion of the Pieta (he, Laszlo Toth broke the nose off the Virgin Mary with the entire left arm at the elbow on May 21, 1972), the sculpture was put behind bulletproof glass for protection. Also, the Pieta is the only work that is signed by Michelangelo. His signature is on the breast band that goes over Mary's shoulder. The Pietà's first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of St. Peter's, which the Cardinal chose as his funerary chapel. The chapel was later demolished by Bramante during his rebuilding of the basilica. According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà Michelangelo overheard (or asked visitors about the sculptor) someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, whereby Michelangelo signed the sculpture. Michelangelo carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this) on the sash running across Mary's chest. It was the only work he ever signed. Vasari also reports the anecdote that Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands. The sculpture was shipped to New York in 1964 in order to become the main draw for the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair, where it was viewed by millions. I was very young but I was among the millions and I never forgot seeing it. I knew exactly what it was when I saw it again. When you see it, it becomes etched in your mind forever. It is not only beautiful but it is also moving. The Chapel of the Relics also contains a precious Medieval wooden Crucifix by Cavallini (13th century).
The Baptistery chapel was designed by Carlo Fontana. The main altarpiece (1722) is from an original painting by Maratta (1698), which is now part of Sant' Mariadei Angeli. The gilded cover rests on a porphyry sarcophagus cover used by Emperor Otto II, and believed to derive from the tomb of Emperor Hadrian (Castle San Angelo). In the center is the baptismal font (fountain), still used on Sundays to administer the sacrament of baptism.
The Presentation Altar, painting by Romaneli and the mosaic altarpiece by Cristofari is the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple by her parents. Below the altar is the body of St. Pius X, the last pope to be canonized.
Crepuscular rays (sunbeams) are regularly seen in Saint Peter's Basilica at certain times each day. I never knew they had a name. I love when I see the rays in the sky. I have always called them the "Staiway to Heaven".
This bell is not inside the Basilica it is part of the Vatican Museum, I believe. I am sure it has a special story and history but I have yet to discover it. If anyone knows its origin or history I would be most obliged. I do know that many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening before holidays. This bell may have been a participant. I now look forward to watching the Christmas Eve celebration in Rome, Italy at Saint Peter's Basilica.