‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' (The Bible, Matthew 16:18-19)
The church of St Peter’s is vital to Christian pilgrimage and is considered most pious of all the churches in Christendom. The reason behind this credence is clear from the quote above. Christ’s injunction here is very obvious, in regards to Peter's status. ‘St Peter was the chief of apostles, the first Bishop of Rome, who held the keys to heaven’ , and hence the church built on the site where he was martyred and cremated ,plays a major role in making it as one of the most influential building and a focal point of Christian world. The construction history of St Peter’s is very long and unusual; bringing in every major architect of the time. However in this essay I will discuss about the shift in the position of the main altar and focus on the contributions of two Pope’s i.e. Julius II and Urban VIII and the architects during their time. This essay will reflect various design choices made by them, which ultimately effected the experience of pilgrimage.
Shifting the position of the main altar is one of the most crucial steps in making the church of St Peter as the center of Christian pilgrimage. It was Gregory the great who initiated the shift. ‘The main purpose of this shift was to place the altar directly over the tomb of the saint to justify the close association of the altar and the relic developed during the 5th and 6th century’ . ‘The floor of the Constantine apse was raised to about 1.5 m above the nave forming a new presbytery. A platform had to be constructed to allow access to presbytery. This new platform covered the trophy, leaving only the lower
eastern half exposed. The upper part of the trophy was incorporated into the altar which now sat directly over the tomb in the apse of the church. Also a semicircular passage was hollowed out below the ground around the shrine and another from its apex which granted access to the trophy’ . This was a major step in attracting pilgrims to the church. Later on various modifications were made to the altar by Rossellini- Alberti under Nicholas v, by Bramante under Julius II, so on and so forth until it reached its present form. However the goal of every Pope and architect under him, was to make this as the focal point of their construction, to draw pilgrims towards it.Hence I believe it can be called as a panoptic device. Like in a panopticon, here the pilgrim was under surveillance. Seen and observed by the Apostle St Peter himself resting in his tomb under the altar. Thereby leaving a strong impact on the overall journey and the experience of the pilgrim in the church.
The reconstruction of the church was not limited to the altar, there were many other...