Today in Catholic History – Cornerstone of current Saint Peter’s Basilica laid

On 18 April 1506, the cornerstone of the present Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City was laid at the base of where the column of St. Veronica is now located.

The original St. Peter’s Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in fourth century, had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 15th century. Therefore Nicholas V commissioned a plan for a new basilica from Bernardo Rossellino. But it was Pope Julius II who would make the decision to demolish the old basilica. Several architects would submit proposals to Pope Julius for the new St. Peter’s but it was Donato Bramante’s that was accepted.

Present at the laying of the foundation stone were some of the major figures of the Renaissance; such as Cesare Borgia, Niccolò Machiavelli, and three future popes. The pit for the foundation stone was very deep and Julius II, at sixty-three years old, had to climb down into it. There was a fear that the ground might give way while the Pope was inside the pit and he warned others to not come too close. Inside the hole for the foundation stone – a block of marble “four palms wide, two broad, and three fingers thick” was placed an urn holding one dozen commemorative medals symbolizing the twelve apostles. Each medal had on one side an image of the pope and on the other a picture of the new church. The image on the medal was probably that of Bramante’s design – seen in the image accompanying this post.

The actual construction of St. Peter’s would take the next 120 years and several papacies, finally being completed on 18 November 1626. One method of financing the construction of the new basilica was through the selling of indulgences – this would later lead to the attacks of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

For more on St. Peter’s Basilica

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