St. Peter's - Rome
( Originally Published 1915 )
It has been said that St. Peter's shows how men build their best, and how they build otherwise than they intend. The great pile occupied two long centuries of labor before it was finished, if, indeed, it can ever be said to have been finished.
Under Alberti and Rossellino there was a beginning period of early promise. The general design of the building as it appears today may be said to be that of Bramante, although it was altered much by Michaelangelo, who designed the dome and brought the structure to all the magnificence of which the style was capable. In other words Bramante conceived the idea of the structure which was to be the greatest church in Christendom, but Michaelangelo chose and designed the form in which the idea was carried out. He made the details of the plan for the outside and inside orders, and the dome. The first serious departure from these great artists' ideas was due to Maderno, who is responsible for the facade. To Bernini is due the noble approach of columns.
Bramante began to build in 1506. His design was a Greek cross with aspidal arms, the four angles occupied by domed chapels. Too hasty construction led to the collapse of some of the arches and to long delay in construction after his death.
One fault that has been found with St. Peter's is the fact that the front extends so far forward that the effect of the beautiful dome is largely lost. In fact if one stands at a point where one might feel he ought to get the full effect of the mighty pile, the dome is nearly hidden. One of the finest views of St. Peter's is from the Pincian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. This hill is now a favorite promenade of Romans and tourists alike. St. Peter's, seen from this distance, dominates the whole landscape, and as the sunset sky of afternoon illumines it, the sight is one never to be forgotten. The expense of the main building is estimated at fifty million dollars, and the annual repairs at over thirty thousand.
In the building, stones from other churches were very largely used and great damage was thus done. The south wall rests upon blocks of stone upon which once a tier of seats of Nero's circus was built from which the proud citizens of Rome witnessed the struggles with lions of defenseless men, women, and children whose only crime was that they were Christians. It takes 50,000 people to make a crowd in the church, and more than 80,000 sometimes attend service there at one time. Between the summit of the facade and the drum of the dome one may see a little hamlet with workshops, huts, sheds, a forge, and ovens. Several families find a home on the roof of St. Peter's and succeed each other from father to son.
Mendelssohn says : " It surpasses all powers of description. It appears to me like some great work of nature, a forest, a mass of rocks, or something similar; for I never can realize the idea that it is the work of man." And Byron says of the interior:
Enter: its grandeur overwhelms thee not; And why? It is not lessened: but thy mind, Expanded by the genius of the spot,Has grown colossal and can only find A fit abode wherein appear enshrined Thy hopes of immortality; and thou Shalt one day if found worthy, so defined, See thy God face to face, as thou dost now, His Holy of Holies, nor be blasted by his brow.
At the right,of the palace is an irregular building. This is part of the palace of the Vatican attached to the great church. It is one of the world's great treasure-houses of art. Pliny says that an oak stood in the Vatican region which had been worshiped from time immemorial. Thus the name now applied to the Papal Palace was once applied to the whole district between the foot of the hill and the Tiber. On the return of the popes from Avignon in 1377, the Vatican became the official residence, and the first conclave was held there in that year. On January 23rd of that year, five large wolves were killed in the Vatican gardens. Nicholas V formed the idea of making it the most magnificent palace in the world, but he died before he could carry out his design.
It is now the largest palace in the world, its length being 1151 feet and its breadth 767 feet. It has eight grand staircases, twenty courts, and 11,000 rooms of different sizes.
Its collection of sculpture is the largest in the world, its picture-gallery, though not extensive, is one of the most precious, and its library is of untold value. In addition to the picture-gallery, the wonderful frescoes of Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, and the works of Raphael would alone make it a great mecca of art. The small portion of the Vatican inhabited by the pope is only seen by those who are admitted to a special audience. The rooms occupied by the pontiff are furnished with great simplicity.