What are the sites in Rome pertaining to St. Peter?
St. Peter, the first pope of the Catholic Church, was born in Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. He then moved to Capernaum, another village on this lake, and it is here that he met Jesus. After Jesus’ death, St. Peter eventually went to Antioch in Syria (modern Antakya in eastern Turkey), where he was the first bishop. Antioch was a great center for the Gentile Christians. Then St. Peter went to Rome where he was martyred during the persecution of the Roman emperor Nero in 64 or 68 A.D.
F. Cross says the tradition connecting St. Peter with Rome is early and unrivaled. St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons in France (d. 200 A.D.) gives us the list of the first 13 popes in Rome and St. Peter is listed as the first pope. There had only been 13 popes at the time St. Irenaeus gave us the list. The theologian Origen (d. 254 A.D.) from Alexandria in Egypt says that St. Peter was crucified head downwards, having requested this form of death. Papias (d. 130 A.D.), the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) says that St. Peter’s memoirs lie behind the Gospel of St. Mark.
St. Peter’s Church in Rome at Vatican City is built over the tomb of St. Peter. Baedeker says the original church was built by the Roman emperor Constantine at the request of Pope Sylvester I (d. 336 A.D.), and was consecrated in 326 A.D. This church was beside the Roman emperor Nero’s Circus. It was a basilica with double aisles and a pillared forecourt, later enlarged and surrounded by chapels and convents. At Christmas in 800 A.D. Charlemagne received the imperial crown from Pope Leo III in front of the high altar.
Eventually this church fell into disrepair and was replaced by the present building begun in 1506 A.D. during the reign of Pope Julius II. The interior of this new church is huge, holding 60,000 people. In the nave is a seated figure of St. Peter in bronze, dating from the 13th century, whose right foot has been worn smooth by the kisses of the faithful. The huge dome, designed by Michelangelo, soars above the Papal altar and the tomb of St. Peter. In this church there are three altars dedicated to St. Peter, as well as the famous Pieta of Michelangelo.
Another important church in Rome, dedicated to St. Peter, is the Church of St. Peter in Chains. This is an aisled basilica with 20 ancient columns, originally built in 442 A.D. to house the chains of St. Peter. It was rebuilt in the 15th century. Here you see the powerful sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo. A shrine under the high altar contains the chains of St. Peter.
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