Rome and the Primacy of St Peter

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
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TU ES PETRUS
    

According to Catholic belief, Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and chief pastor of the entire Catholic Church—the Vicar of Christ upon Earth.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
The Primacy of St Peter

Although Peter never bore the title of "Pope", or "Vicar of Christ", the Catholic Church believes him to be the first Pope, therefore, they consider every pope to be Peter's successor and the rightful superior of all other bishops.
The Catholic Church's recognition of Peter as head of its church on Earth (with Christ being its heavenly head) is based on its interpretation of two passages from the canonical gospels of the New Testament; as well as 'sacred tradition'.

The first passage is John 21:15-17 which is: "Feed my lambs... feed my lambs... feed my sheep" (within the Greek it is Ποίμαινε i.e., to feed and rule [as a Shepherd]., v. 16 while Βόσκε i.e., to feed., for v.15 & v. 17) - which is seen by Catholics as Christ promising the spiritual supremacy to Peter.
This passage is seen by orthodox Catholics as Jesus "charging Peter with the superintendency of all his sheep, without exception; and consequently of his whole flock, that is, of his own church".

The second passage is Matthew 16:17-20:
'I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven'.

Tu Es Petrus
In reference to Peter's occupation before becoming an Apostle, the popes wear the 'Fisherman's Ring', which bears an image of the saint casting his nets from a fishing boat.
The keys used as a symbol of the pope's authority refer to the "keys of the kingdom of Heaven" promised to Peter.[Matt. 16:18-19]
The terminology of this "commission" of Peter is unmistakably parallel to the commissioning of Eliakim ben Hilkiah in Isaiah 22:15-23.
Peter is often depicted in both Western and Eastern Christian art holding a key or a set of keys.
Though the authenticity of this account has been challenged, the general consensus is that these are Jesus' words.



Feasts

The Roman Martyrology assigns 29 June as the feast day of both Peter and Paul, without thereby declaring that to be the day of their deaths.
Augustine of Hippo says in his Sermon 295: "One day is assigned for the celebration of the martyrdom of the two apostles.
But those two were one. Although their martyrdom occurred on different days, they were one."
In the Roman Rite, the feast of the 'Chair of Saint Peter' is celebrated on 22 February, and the anniversary of the dedication of the two papal basilicas of Saint Peter's and Saint Paul's outside the Walls is held on 18 November.




Basilica di San Pietro

In the early 4th century, the Emperor Constantine I decided to honour Peter with a large basilica.
Because the precise location of Peter's burial was so firmly fixed in the belief of the Christians of Rome, the church to house the basilica had to be erected on a site that was not convenient to construction.
The focal point of the Basilica, both in its original form and in its later complete reconstruction, is the altar located over what is said to be the point of Peter's burial.

Basilica di San Pietro
The present Basilicaof St Peter (Basilica Sancti Petri) is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City.
Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance Baroque architecture, and remains one of the largest churches in the world.
While it is neither the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, St. Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites.
It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom". Tradition and some historical evidence hold that Saint Peter's tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica.
For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period. 
There has been a church on this site since the time of Constantine the Great.
Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter's Basilica of the 4th century, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.





St Peter's Dome

Giacomo della Porta and Fontana brought the dome to completion in 1590, the last year of the reign of Sixtus V.
His successor, Gregory XIV, saw Fontana complete the lantern and had an inscription to the honour of Sixtus V placed around its inner opening.
The next pope, Clement VIII, had the cross raised into place, an event which took all day, and was accompanied by the ringing of the bells of all the city's churches.
In the arms of the cross are set two lead caskets, one containing a fragment of the True Cross and a relic of St. Andrew and the other containing medallions of the Holy Lamb.
Around the inside of the dome is written, in letters 2 metres (6.6 ft) high:

TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM

(You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. - Vulgate, Matthew 16:18–19.)


Pope Urban VIII and Bernini

As a young boy Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) visited St. Peter's with the painter Annibale Carracci and stated his wish to build "a mighty throne for the apostle".
His wish came true. As a young man, in 1626, he received the patronage of Pope Urban VIII and worked on the embellishment of the Basilica for 50 years.
Appointed as Maderno's successor in 1629, he was to become regarded as the greatest architect and sculptor of the Baroque period.
Bernini's works at St. Peter's include the baldacchino, the Chapel of the Sacrament, the plan for the niches and loggias in the piers of the dome and the chair of St. Peter.



'Cathedra Petri' and 'Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament'

Cathedra Petri
Bernini then turned his attention to another precious relic, the so-called 'Cathedra Petri' or "throne of St. Peter" a chair which was often claimed to have been used by the apostle, but appears to date from the 12th century.
As the chair itself was fast deteriorating, and was no longer serviceable, Pope Alexander VII determined to enshrine it in suitable splendour as the object upon which the line of successors to Peter was based.


Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
Bernini created a large bronze throne in which it was housed, raised high on four looping supports held effortlessly by massive bronze statues of four Doctors of the Church, Saints Ambrose and Augustine representing the Latin Church and Athanasius and John Chrysostom, the Greek Church.
The four figures are dynamic with sweeping robes and expressions of adoration and ecstasy.
Behind and above the Cathedra, a blaze of light comes in through a window of yellow alabaster, illuminating, at its centre, the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The chair was enshrined in its new home with great celebration of 16 January 1666. Bernini's final work for St. Peter's, undertaken in 1676, was the decoration of the Chapel of the Sacrament.
To hold the sacramental Host, he designed a miniature version in gilt bronze of Bramante's Tempietto, the little chapel that marks the place of the death of St. Peter.
On either side is an angel, one gazing in rapt adoration and the other looking towards the viewer in welcome.




The Baldacchino


Bernini's first work at St. Peter's was to design the baldacchino, a pavilion-like structure 30 metres (98 ft) tall and claimed to be the largest piece of bronze in the world, which stands beneath the dome and above the altar.


St Peter's Basilica - Baldacchino
Bernini
Its design is based on the ciborium, of which there are many in the churches of Rome, serving to create a sort of holy space above and around the table on which the Sacrament is laid for the Eucharist and emphasizing the significance of this ritual.
These ciboria are generally of white marble, with inlaid coloured stone.
Bernini's concept was for something very different.
He took his inspiration in part from the baldachin, or canopy, carried above the head of the pope in processions, and in part from eight ancient columns that had formed part of a screen in the old basilica.
Their twisted barley-sugar shape had a special significance as they were modelled on those of the Temple of Jerusalem and donated by the Emperor Constantine.


St Peter's Basilica - Baldacchino
Bernini

Based on these columns, Bernini created four huge columns of bronze, twisted and decorated with laurel leaves and bees, which were the emblem of Pope Urban.
The baldacchino is surmounted not with an architectural pediment, like most baldacchini, but with curved Baroque brackets supporting a draped canopy, like the brocade canopies carried in processions above precious iconic images.
In this case, the draped canopy is of bronze, and all the details, including the olive leaves, bees, and the portrait heads of Urban's niece in childbirth and her newborn son, are picked out in gold leaf.
The baldacchino stands as a vast free-standing sculptural object, central to and framed by the largest space within the building.
It is so large that the visual effect is to create a link between the enormous dome which appears to float above it, and the congregation at floor level of the basilica.
It is penetrated visually from every direction, and is visually linked to the Cathedra Petri in the apse behind it and to the four piers containing large statues that are at each diagonal.
As part of the scheme for the central space of the church, Bernini had the huge piers, begun by Bramante and completed by Michelangelo, hollowed out into niches, and had staircases made inside them, leading to four balconies.
On the balconies Bernini created showcases, framed by the eight ancient twisted columns, to display the four most precious relics of the basilica: the 'Spear of Longinus', said to have pierced the side of Christ, the 'Veil of Veronica', with the miraculous image of the face of Christ, a fragment of the 'True Cross' discovered in Jerusalem by Constantine's mother, Helena, and a relic of St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter.
In each of the niches that surround the central space of the basilica was placed a huge statue of the saint associated with the relic above. Only St. Longinus is the work of Bernini.




The Tomb of St Peter


Saint Peter's tomb is a site under St. Peter's Basilica that includes several graves and a structure said by Vatican authorities to have been built to memorialise the location of St. Peter's grave.
St. Peter's tomb is near the west end of a complex of mausoleums that date between about AD 130 and AD 300.
The complex was partially torn down and filled with earth to provide a foundation for the building of the first St. Peter's Basilica during the reign of Constantine I in about AD 330.
Though many bones have been found at the site of the 2nd-century shrine, as the result of two campaigns of archaeological excavation, Pope Pius XII stated in December 1950 that none could be confirmed to be Saint Peter's with absolute certainty, however, following the discovery of further bones and an inscription, on June 26, 1968 Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been identified.


The Tomb of St Peter
The grave claimed by the Church to be that of St. Peter lies at the foot of the aedicula beneath the floor.

In ancient Roman religion, an aedicula (plural aediculae) is a small shrine. The word aedicula is the diminutive of the Latin aedes, a temple building or house.


The image shows the area of the lower floor of St. Peter's Basilica that lies above the site of St. Peter's tomb.

Benedict XVI
wearing the Pallium
A portion of the aedicula that was part of St. Peter's tomb rose above level of this floor and was made into the Niche of the Pallium.

The pallium (derived from the Roman pallium or palla, a woolen cloak) is an ecclesiastical vestment in the Catholic Church, originally peculiar to the pope, but for many centuries bestowed by him on metropolitans and primates as a symbol of the jurisdiction delegated to them by the Holy See. In that context it has remained connected to the papacy.

Very little is known about the burial of Peter's immediate successors, prior to the period when popes are known with relative certainty to have been buried in the various Catacombs of Rome.
Burial near Peter, on Vatican Hill, is attributed to: Pope Linus, Pope Anacletus, Pope Evaristus, Pope Telesphorus, Pope Hyginus, Pope Pius I, Pope Anicetus (later transferred to the Catacomb of Callixtus), Pope Victor I.
Epigraphic evidence exists only for Linus, with the discovery of a burial slab marked "Linus" in 1615; however, the slab is broken such that it could have once read "Aquilinius" or "Anullinus".

With three exceptions, each pope prior to Anicetus, the first pope known to have been entombed in the Catacombs, is traditionally regarded as having been buried near Peter.
A notable exception is Pope Clement I, who was traditionally regarded as having been martyred in the Black Sea near Crimea.
Similarly, the original tombs of Pope Alexander I and Pope Sixtus I are unknown.




The Façade


Basilica of St Peter
The façade was designed by Maderno, and is 114.69 metres (376.3 ft) wide and 45.55 metres (149.4 ft) high and is built of travertine stone, with a giant order of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a tall attic surmounted by thirteen statues: Christ flanked by eleven of the Apostles (except Peter, whose statue is left of the stairs) and John the Baptist.

The inscription below the cornice on the 1 metre (3.3 ft) tall frieze reads:




IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII


(In honour of the Prince of Apostles, Paul V Borghese, a Roman, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612, the seventh of his pontificate)


to be continued




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