SAINT PETER'S, a celebrated church, at Rome, better known by the name of Basilica Vaticana, from its original form, and the Vatican hill, on which it stands, founded by Constantine the Great, over the reputed grave of St. Peter, to whom it was also dedicated. In the days of Paganism, the circus of Caius, afterwards of Nero, stood upon its site; and when Constantine, urged by Sylvester I., bishop of Rome, determined upon erecting this basilica, he destroyed the circus, and began himself to dig the foundation, carrying away, on his shoulders, twelve troughs of the earth, in honour of the twelve apostles. See BASILICA. Some of the walls of the circus were, however, permitted to remain, and were used for the basilica, in order to accelerate its completion : a quantity of marble was also taken from various ancient buildings, for its decoration, and it was adorned with a hundred columns. Being magnificently finished, it was consecrated by Sylvester on the 18th November, A.n. 324, and was richly furnished and endowed by Constantine, as it was afterward by other emperors, kings, and particularly by the popes. In 460, or 461, Pope Hilary presented two gold vases, set with jewels, weighing 15 lbs. each, with ten chalices, and twenty-four silver lamps. His successor, Simplicius, gave twelve more silver lamps, and a golden vase, of 16 lbs. weight : Pope Symmachus, about the beginning of the sixth century, pre sented twenty additional ]amps of silver, besides twenty-two arches of the same metal, weighing 20 lbs. each. His succes sor, Hormisdas, had a silver beam made, of 1400 lbs. weight, to sustain the lamps given by his predecessors, and which burned night and day before the tomb of the apostles. Pela gins I., about the middle of the same century, adorned the tomb with silver, and Gregory I. added a canopy, supported by silver columns, of 180 lbs. each. Honorius I., who was raised to the pontificate in 625, had silver doors made to the basilica., each weighing 975 lbs., and he covered the roof with sheets of gilt metal, taken from the temple of Jupiter Capi tolinus. Adrian I., towards the close of the eighth century, had a lamp made, in form of a cross, with 1,360 branches, that were lighted four times a year ; and he adorned the tomb, used as a confessional, with 1,328 lbs. of gold. his
successor, Leo III., built a tower, then unequalled. In the year 846, the basilica was stripped of all its treasure by the Saracens ; but after they had been repulsed, Leo IV. had new doors made, with some basso-relievos of silver ; after which, the building seems to have experienced very little alteration till the time of Nicholas III., who ascended the papal chair in 1277. This pontiff adorned it with mosaic work, and engaged Giotto to execute many paintings for it. He also erected a magnificent habitation, called the Canonica, for a chapter of canons, successors of the monks of four monasteries, who had formerly officiated in this temple, by turns, day and night. This Canonica has since been pulled down, to make room for the modern basilica.
About 1,200 years from its foundation, this costly edifice began to exhibit symptoms of considerable decay ; and, in 1506, Pope Julius II. began the new basilica, by enclosing all the old one. The first architect engaged in this under taking was Bramante (see BnAmANTE), who, dying in 1514, was succeeded by Raphael d'Urbino, with others ; he dying in 1520, the building was prosecuted by Baldassare Peruzzi. The troubles during the pontificate of Clement VII. caused a suspension of the work ; nor was it resumed till 1546, when Paul Ill. employed Sanga]lo to carry it forward ; but he dying the same year, the work was committed to the celebrated Michael .Angelo Bonarotti (see BONAROTTI), who converted the design into the form of a Greek cross, and executed the design for the cupola. Bonarotti lived to see the building carried to the height of the tambour ; and, on his death, which took place in 1564, he was succeeded by Giacomo Barozio da Vignola, till 1573, when Giacomo della Porta, assisted by Domenico Fontana, in the pontificate of Sixtus V., raised up the wonderful cupola from Bonarotti's mode] ; and, to complete the small cupola, he added a ball of metal, as a supporter to the cross ; the concavity of which ball contains commodiously thirty-two persons sitting. This buiring had been sixty-seven years in hand, under the super intendence of seven architects, and during the reigns of twelve popes.