"And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19 KJV
Otherwise known as the Basilica di San Pietro, the St. Peter's Basilica is one of the most, if not the most important churches in the Roman Catholic religion. Located within The Vatican, the Basilica is purpotedly built over the spot where St. Peter is believed to have been buried after he was martyred by the Romans in 64 AD. Over 250 years later the Emperor Constantine decided to erect a church over the spot, and the ensuing structure stood for over 1100 years.
After deciding the original building was too small, the current Basilica was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1506 and completed in 1615 under Paul V. The initial designs where created by the architect, Donato Bramante, but upon his death in 1514, the work was taken over by Raphael, Fra Giocondo, and Giuliano da Sangallo, who in turn were replaced by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, Baldassarre Peruzzi, and Andrea Sansovino in 1520.
In 1546 the aging Michelangelo took over, and altered the designs to include his magnificent Dome, and on his death in 1564, the work was taken over by a steady stream of architects, including Pirro Ligorio, Giacomo da Vignola, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The finished church had been influenced by the designs of 13 architects, and overseen by 17 Popes. It sported a dome 138 feet in diameter, rising 452 feet above the street level, and 390 feet above the floor, held together by four iron chains forming a compression ring and four internal piers each 60 feet square. The church is 615 feet long and 450 feet wide at the widest point, and covers over 18,000 square yards of floorspace.
The list of relics and great artistic and architectural feats contained in St Peter's is almost endless, including such works as di Cambrio's Statue of St. Peter, Bernini's canopy which stands over the altar, crafted in bronze taken from the Pantheon and Michelangelo's 'Pieta', as well as a relic claiming to be a piece of the True Cross