St. Peter’s Basilica is a Renaissance Church with the rank of Major Basilica.  It is the world’s largest church building.  The dome directly over the main altar has a diameter of 137.7 feet and height of 448 feet.  The nave height is 151.5 feet and the length from the entrance to the apse is 611 feet.  Each side of the nave contains statuary of saints, popes, tombs of popes and kings, and chapels, all beautifully designed.
In the 4th Century persecution of the Christians ceased in Rome as Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Under Constantine, the Old St. Peter’s Basilica was built.  By the end of the 15th Century, because of neglect the Old Basilica had fallen into disrepair.  Pope Julius II ordered its demolition and plans for construction of the present Basilica commenced.  Principal artists and architects participating in the design and construction included Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante, Raphael, and Maderno.  Pope Julius II laid the first stone April 18, 1506.  It was completed on November 18, 1626.  Partially financed by selling indulgences, this method was contested by Martin Luther spawning his 95 Theses, a factor eventually leading to the Reformation.
Upon entering St. Peter’s Square, tourists are greeted by two colonnades as arms, embracing and welcoming all as they approach.  Two eighteen-foot-high statues flank the steps to the Basilica, St. Peter on the left and St. Paul on the right.  On entering the Basilica, one must be impressed by its immense size, the intricate and detailed interior design of the columns, statuary, tombs, and baldachin or canopy covering the main altar.  Below the main floor of the church, the Vatican Grotto contains tombs of kings, popes and small chapels.  The most recent interment of a pope was for Pope St. John Paul II in 2005.  Beginning in 1939, Pope Pius XII ordered an excavation beneath the church exposing a necropolis of many tombs.  Revealed by this project was good evidence the tomb of St. Peter was discovered which is directly under the main altar of the Basilica.
One may be surprised to note St. Peter’s Basilica is not the official seat of the Pope nor first in rank of the major basilicas in Rome.  The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran claims that honor.  However, because of its location within Vatican City, its size and proximity to the residence of the Pope, most Papal Liturgies and ceremonies are conducted in St. Peter’s Basilica.
On a personal note, this writer visited Italy including the Vatican on three separate occasions.  My initial impression was, because of its immense size, entering St. Peter’s Basilica would be a “cold” experience.  To my surprise, it was a very “warm” experience each time I entered as though being welcomed “home” from a very long journey.  I cannot help but believe others may have similar personal feelings.
Pilgrimage to Italy 2012