St. Peter's tomb below the high altar
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This Confessio was constructed by Maderna acting under the command of Pope Paul V. It has the same pavement that once covered the floor of the more ancient tomb belonging to the earlier church, and those exquisite gilded bronze doors, beside which the attendant is standing and immediately back of which is the sarcophagus of St. Peter, are also a relic of the former structure. The golden lamps above cast a faint luster on the shining marble and on the gilt doors, and illumine the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul set in niches on either side.
This tomb is the pearl of all this colossal and price-less opulence. All the wealth, vaster than that of Croesus, is here poured out with such a lavish hand, because back of those beautiful doors there is believed to be a handful of dust, all that remains of the Prince of the Apostles, once the rough, yet devoted fisher-man of Galilee, who left his leaking boat and worn nets to follow the Man of Nazareth. Round about the inner circle of the base of the wide dome that towers hundreds of feet above our heads, in mosaic letters on a blue ground- letters six feet long - are the words : " Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven."
This beautiful kneeling statue, of which we see the head and shoulders, is by Canova, and represents Pope Pius VI in prayer, his eyes fixed on the Apostle's tomb. His last desires, as he lay dying in exile, were contained in a dream of this sacred place.
It will give us a better idea of the brilliancy and glory of St. Peter's,- and yet there is no gloom in it all, not a dark corner suggestive of chill and mystery, even the very atmosphere of the church remaining at a delightfully warm temperature throughout the year - if we examine one of the fadeless and famous stone pictures which make the fortress-like walls look as though they were painted with morning sunlight. Chief among them is the mosaic of Raphael's Trans-figuration.