National Geographic : 1971 Dec
seemed only fitting to have had them wrapped in precious purple-and-gold cloth. Scholars disputed these conclusions; some still do. But Pope Paul VI settled the question for the Catholic world. Speaking in St. Peter's on June 26, 1968, he announced that the bones of the saint had been found. Today the bones are back in the niche of the tomb, hidden from public view (page 873). But the bones are not the only things the ordi nary visitor does not see within the walls of the basilica. Indeed, some marvels are literal ly hidden within the walls. Basilica That Never Came to Be My most remarkable tour of St. Peter's was on a walk through the walls. It came about while I was studying the architects who had built the new basilica. They worked in fits and starts, between wars and political strife-and often the money ran out and the construction stopped. One result of this financial stress was that Pope Julius II never got his gigantic monu ment to his accomplishments. A much smaller version of it was placed in the Roman Church of San Pietro in Vincoli thirty years after his death, but Julius does not lie within it. He rests in one of the humblest tombs in St. Pe ter's, under a simple stone let into the floor behind the organ, buried, most economically, with his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. Though it was Julius who gave the main impetus to building a new St. Peter's, some work had been done by his predecessors, and it was completed long after his death. The architect under Julius was Donato Bramante; both died before much could be done. Pope Leo X called in Raphael, but he, too, died within a few years. Other minor artists followed, until a tough, practical man was found to carry on the work. His name was Antonio da Sangallo. He made a huge model of his idea of St. Peter's, and this is what the church might be today, if Michel angelo, by then a very old man, had not taken a great dislike to the model and to Sangallo, whom he accused of incompetence bordering on stupidity. The model was abandoned and the job given to Michelangelo. He, too, died before the basilica was completed. A competent but uninspired man, Carlo Maderno, finally fin ished the building-in a manner that would certainly have enraged Michelangelo, and Bramante, Raphael, and Sangallo, too. Now, I knew that Sangallo's model still 878 existed, and in St. Peter's. But where? I was told, very reluctantly, that I could see it. An official took me into the basilica, opened a door, and led me up some steps. Soon I found myself in a winding corridor built in side the basilica's thick walls. The top was arched, the walls were white, and it was ex actly as though I were walking in the narrow alleys of some Moroccan town. We walked a long way; then, going through a heavy wooden door with an antique lock, we came into a vast room. We were inside one of the gigantic piers that support the dome of St. Peter's. Against one wall was a dusty model, 17 feet tall, of an organ that had never been built. We passed to yet another room. It was in total darkness. We switched on flashlights, and there, filling the room, was Sangallo's model (page 870). It is made of wood, with joinery so perfect it left me marveling. One side of the model opened. I walked inside. I stood under the dome, its top ten feet above my head. San gallo's church, I thought, would have been better, at least in the interior, than the one we have. It would have had more mystery. It would have been full of nooks and crannies. That is why Michelangelo condemned it. It would be impossible, he said, to winkle out all the people at closing time. Custodians Are No Longer Acrobats Architects have practical minds, and after studying their work for so long, my thoughts took a practical bent as well. I wondered how this vast church was maintained. I talked to Francesco Vacchini, the man in charge of what is known, picturesquely, as the Reverend Fabric. I knew, I told him, that St. Peter's is maintained by the sampie trini, workmen who have been famous for generations for being like one big family. "No longer," he replied, sharply. "They used to live here, near the Vatican, under the shadow of their church. Now, at 5 p.m. promptly, they are off in their cars to their flats in the suburbs, for supper and television." The sampietrini have long amazed visitors by the acrobatic feats they perform in getting to far-off parts of St. Peter's. But that, too, is largely a thing of the past. "Sometimes, yes," said Signor Vacchini. "Sometimes you can get to a spot only by swinging from a rope. But I discourage it. St. Peter's isn't a circus." I imagined the basilica would need an army of workers to maintain it.