St. Peter's Basilica is located in Vatican City, and was consecrated in 1626 (Saint). It is among the largest of the world's churches and is considered to be one of the holiest of Catholic sites on the planet. The church's namesake, St. Peter, is buried there, as well, and believed to be located directly below the altar (Saint). There has been a churched located on that site since Roman Times, which is part of the reason St. Peter's in seen as so valuable when it comes to architecture and its place in the Catholic Church. Liturgical functions are held there, and it is also a common and very famous place for pilgrimage.
When the Pope gives services there, several times per year, between 15,000 and 80,000 people come out to hear him speak (St. Peter's). Even those who are not Catholic or religious in any way have often heard of and know about St. Peter's, simply because of its prominence in various parts of history. There has been value, blessings, scandal, dissent, and numerous other issues surrounding the Basilica over time, and it is important to see the building as more than just a church or a place of worship. St. Peter's Basilica is a reflection of Late Renaissance architecture, political power, and the strength of the Catholic religion during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Late Renaissance Architecture
Even for those who are not religious, St. Peter's Basilica has a great deal to offer to those who study architecture throughout history. The church is an excellent example of the architectural style that was seen in the Late Renaissance period, which included elements of both Roman and Greek design (Bannister, 3). From a stylistic standpoint, St. Peter's Basilica kept with the times in which it was built and followed the Gothic type of architecture that was very popular for churches and other significant buildings at that time (Bannister, 5). The Renaissance style was developed in Italy, but it was not long before it spread to other areas (Bannister, 5; Frommel, 41). There were several design issues that were very important to architects and builders during that time, including proportion, symmetry, regularity, and geometry (Bannister, 5; Frommel, 42). St. Peter's is an example of all of those things, in the way its lines work with one another and how the entire structure is formed.
Arches, domes, and columns were very popular features of Late Renaissance architecture, and St. Peter's Basilica is an excellent example of all of those design options. It epitomizes what the architecture of that period should be, and speaks to the quality with which it was built in that it still stands and is in use today (Tafuri, 22). The foundation stone for St. Peter's was laid in 1506, and the plan for the design of the building belonged to Bramante (Bannister, 21). A number of architects succeeded him due to the time it took to construct the Basilica, and during that succession the plans were adjusted and changed at various points (Bannister, 21). However, the concept of Late Renaissance architecture always remained strong through any of the changes to plans and designs. In 1546, Michelangelo took over the project, and he changed everything back to the original Bramante plan that had been approved when the first stone was laid (Bannister, 22).
That was very important for the creation of the Basilica, because Michelangelo took something that was extremely complex in design and found an excellent way to unify it in order to ensure it was able to be built to stand the test of time. During the 16th and 17th, centuries, the architecture of the Late Renaissance was so important, and buildings all had a particular look to them (Frommel, 55). However, they also had to hold up and be useable, so it was vital that Michelangelo decided to make changes in order to preserve and protect the integrity of the Basilica while keeping the desired architectural style of the times (Frommel, 56). Michelangelo was succeeded by Giacomo della Porta before the Basilica was finished, and it is not clear whether the finished dome as it stands today was changed by della Porta or by Michelangelo before he retired from the project (Frommel, 56). However, the entire structure of the Basilica was in line with the Late Renaissance architecture that was so popular during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Another important point to note where St. Peter's Basilica is concerned is its importance in politics. One may not see the connection, but power and religion are often linked -- and that was especially true during the 16th and 17th centuries. The most powerful people of the time period in which the Basilica was built were Catholic, and the vast majority of those who were in politics and who were prominent members of the community were all a part of the Catholic religion (Bannister, 28). It became much more than a religious entity during the 16th and 17th centuries, and was used more as a powerful organization than a church (Tafuri, 35). Because the Catholic Church was seen that way during that time in history, it became a strong political power in the region. The majority of the people were Catholic, and they trusted the Church. They were told what to believe and how to vote, and that was what they followed along with. In that sense, the Church had a lot more influence form a political standpoint at that time than it would have in today's society.
Separation of Church and State was not a part of life in the 16th and 17th centuries in places like Vatican City (Tafuri, 37). Often, the Church controlled nearly everything, from who got into power to who courted and married whom. For the laypeople that was not as common, but for those who came from "important" families there were many Church-influenced decisions made (Tafuri, 39). Those who wanted to have power and control from a political standpoint had to be favored by the church. They came and worshipped at St. Peter's Basilica, and made sure they were seen. They gave to the Church in the form of donations, and they followed through with Church requests to atone for sins and other transgressions (Tafuri, 41). Because they wanted power, they did what they were told. That may appear to be counterintuitive, but during that time period it was the Catholic Church that really had the political power -- and that power had to be earned by others.
People who wanted to be allowed to use some of that power for themselves had to do what the Church wanted them to do, so they could be granted power in elections and other political squabbles (Scotti, 18). This was directly tied to St. Peter's Basilica because it was the location that was representative of the Catholic Church in the area. It was seen not only as holy ground, but as a powerful place where deals were made and much about the area was decided (Scotti, 21). Whether a person was Catholic or not, he or she knew that the real political power belonged to the Church. Those who wanted that power not only needed to be Catholic, but also needed to be willing to be "in power" in a way the Catholic Church would accept (Scotti, 25). The Church was not interested in anyone making waves, which is why people like Martin Luther were so vilified by the Church at the time.
Too many questions about what is being done can lead to others starting to question things -- and that can lead to a loss of power, which was something the Catholic Church was desperately trying to avoid (Scotti, 33). While there have been Church scandals in the past, the Church was not prepared at that time to address the changes to its structure that would be necessary based on political pressure (Scotti, 34). Instead, the goal was to keep St. Peter's as a grand representation of the value and importance of the Church, and how influential the Church was in every area of life (Scotti, 38). By staying strong in the political arena, fewer people would question the Church's power and value, which meant that fewer people would question why the Church spent so much of society's hard-earned money to build a huge monument to itself, essentially, in the form of the Basilica.
The Catholic Religion
Like political power, the Catholic religion itself was a significant part of the 16th and 17th centuries (Bannister, 32). During that time, Catholicism was by far the dominant religion in the area, and those who belonged to other religions were essentially treated as outcasts (Scotti, 55). One of the ways the Catholic religion exercised its power was through money, and it had quite a lot of it. Even people who were struggling to feed their families would not let a mass go by without donating to the Church, and people purchased indulgences where they…