St Peter's Basilica Baldacchino Overview

St Peter's Basilica consists of several unique works of art that enhance the beauty of the Basilica in many ways. One such piece of art is the bronze structure in the Basilica known as the Baldacchino which is the work of the artist Bernini and was completed in 1633. The Baldacchino was created to establish the balance between the long nave and the massive dome.

The St. Peter’s Basilica Baldacchino draws the eyes of a viewer from the nave to the ceiling. Apart from the artistic aesthete reason, the Baldacchino is important as it is located above the tomb of St. Peter. It is located just in front of the Papal Altar and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII as a magnificent way to celebrate the Basilica's completion. If you visit St. Peter’s Basilica Baldacchino, you will no doubt be able to see the beauty in this architectural beauty. Let us find out more about the symbolism and art made in the Baldacchino.

Construction of St. Peter’s Baldacchino

Saint Peters Basilica Baldacchino

The St. Peter's Basilica Baldacchino is a special part of St. Peter’s Basilica. Though the tradition of having canopies remains common in medieval churches and buildings, the canopy in the Basilica is one that cannot be compared to any other canopy created for a church. It is suspended over the high altar which is the sacred tomb of St. Peter in the Basilica. The Baldacchino has many fascinating elements in the structure. It is made of 4 columns, each standing 12 meters high which are adorned with Corinthian capitals.

The Baldacchino was made with 700 kg of bronze that was gilded in gold. The gold was donated by King Henry IV of France. The work of the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the canopy rests upon massive twisted bronze columns, which tradition claims to be inspired from columns from King Solomon’s Temple built in the 10th century BC. The canopy sits accurately under Michelangelo's dome soaring 452 ft. above.

It is at the center of the cross-shaped interior while erect directly above St. Peter’s tomb, and covers the High Altar of the Basilica. It was not just a great work of art but more importantly its placement is a key component in balancing the combination of long knaves and the tall dome. It is not just a decorative ornament. The structure is a sacred architecture.

History of St. Peter’s Baldacchino

St. Peter's Baldacchino

Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed and built St. Peter’s Basilica Baldacchino between 1624 and 1633. The Church was constructed to pay homage to the saint’s tomb. The origin of the church can be traced back to the end of the IInd century A.D. when Presbyter Gaius had commissioned a small grave shrine, known as ‘Trophy of Gaius’ at the location of St Peter’s Grave, which soon became a destination of pilgrimage even before Constantine’s arrival. Later, to mark and honor the burial place of the Apostle.

The altar of Gregory the Great (590-604) was put in place followed by the altar of Callistus II (1123) in the location of the current Basilica. Apart from that, in 1594, the altar of Clement VIII was given a place in the holy Basilica. The baldachin by Bernini was erected above this last one. This collection of unbelievable monuments in the St. Peter’s Basilica conveys us the two thousand year old history of the church, the devotion of millions of men and women throughout the centuries and the richness of the architectural value of the Basilica as a church.

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Design & Architecture

St. Peter's Baldacchino
Coat of Arms

There are a series of eight Coats of Arms designed by Bernini on the outer parts of the marble pedestal in the St. Peter's Basilica Baldacchino. There have been many ways in which they are seen or interpreted by people. A university even claimed to give the explanation that the arms are the representation of a woman in childbirth. There are some Barberini bees on the outer parts too. The reference is a nod to the noble family to which Pope Urban VIII belonged.

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St. Peter's Baldacchino

The pillars that keep the Baldacchino erect are one of the most beautiful features of the Baldacchino. Every column rises 20 meters in height and is decorated with olive and bay twigs with cherubs intertwined in them. The design appears to be lifelike even though it is made of bronze. The artist Bernini had great knowledge of replicating the look of softness and a feeling of realism from material like bronze and marble. Another such piece is the look of portable cloth canopies which the artist made to give an impression of great depth to the altar.

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St. Peter's Baldacchino
St. Peter's Keys

The keys of St. Peter is a holy symbol to the people. It is in a way the core values of faith embodied in the form of St. Peter’s key. It is believed that Jesus gave to the world the apostle - St. Peter (who is the first Pope) and then gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven to St. Peter. On the top of the Architecture, you get angels and putto made in the Baldacchino. There are more angels in the architecture that may be seen holding keys also visible on the coat of arms too.

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St. Peter's Baldacchino
Papal Tiara

The crown of the popes is known as the Papal Tiara. It is no less in holy importance than the Keys of St. Peter. It is a golden crown that shows the power of the leader and his responsibilities given to him by Jesus. In the Baldacchino, the crown is shown, in many places as well as on the emblem of the Vatican. The symbol also comes once more on the Baldacchino as a cherub angel holding the crown next to the gliding cross.

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St. Peter's Baldacchino

When you look up at the top of St. Peter's Basilica Baldacchino, you notice four angels in a powerful stance, reminding the onlooker that they support the massive helical columns. The statues are almost life-size and blend with the cornice that has the cherubs holding the Papal Tiara and Keys of St. Peter. Within the same architecture, Bernini incorporated a gliding cross on an earth-like globe to represent Christianity's role in the redemption of the earth.

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St. Peter's Baldacchino
Heraldic Bees

The Coat of Arms of the Baldacchino mainly shows the Heraldic Bees of the Barberini family. Bernini, the artist of the Baldacchino, was given the task to make the Baldacchino by the noble Barberini family in Rome. Pope Urban VIII was born in this family, and the entire design and stories inscribed in the Baldacchino are related to the Barberini family. The Coat of Arms of the family had three bees on a blue color backdrop that also included the Papal Tiara and Keys of St. Peter.

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What is St. Peter's Baldacchino?

    St. Peter's Baldacchino is a large Baroque sculptural canopy located in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Designed and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century, it stands over the main altar, serving as an ornate architectural feature to symbolize the centrality of the papal altar in the church.

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