National Geographic : 1985 Dec
Surroundedby Michelangelo's frescoes, cardinalsmeet in the Sistine Chapel (1) on the death of a pope to elect a new pontiff. Usually bricked over, the Holy bor (2) is ceremonially opened by the hpe only during a Holy Year, a periq of special contemplation that usuy S falls every 25 years. Sunlight magnified by a yellow stained-glass window illuminates Bernini's "Throne of St. Peter" in the apse (3). I The Basilica and Piazza of St. Peter ON THE BONES OF ST. PETER -tradition holds-the world's largest church took shape in the hands of Italy's greatRenaissance and baroque artists.Consecrated in 1626 after more than a century of planningand building, it replacedthe first St. Peter's Basilica,raisedby the Christian Roman Emperor Constantinein the earlyfourth century. Nearly 700 feet long and 450 feet wide, the travertine-stone church can hold 50,000 worshipers. On the holiest days, nearly a quarterof a millionpeople gather in the piazza (4), designed by Berniniin the mid-17th century. A cross symbolizing the triumph of Christianitytops an 82-foot-high Egyptian obelisk (5), moved here in 1586 from the site of the Roman circus where St. Peteris believed to have been crucified aroundA.D. 65. More than 400feet high, a lanterntower (6) crowns Michelangelo's incomparable dome. The tower centers above the now subterraneanshrine (7) that was venerated by early Christiansas St. Peter'sburial place. The grave lies behind and below the mosaic of Christ illuminatedin the confessio tomb of a martyr-afloor below the high altar(right). Bernini createdthe altar'stowering bronze baldachin,along with much of the basilica'sbreathtakinginterior decoration.