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Old Saint Peter's, Rome
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Book description

St Peter's Basilica in Rome is arguably the most important church in Western Christendom, and is among the most significant buildings anywhere in the world. However, the church that is visible today is a youthful upstart, only four hundred years old compared to the twelve-hundred-year-old church whose site it occupies. A very small proportion of the original is now extant, entirely covered over by the new basilica, but enough survives to make reconstruction of the first St Peter's possible and much new evidence has been uncovered in the past thirty years. This is the first full study of the older church, from its late antique construction to Renaissance destruction, in its historical context. An international team of historians, art historians, archaeologists and liturgists explores aspects of the basilica's history, from its physical fabric to the activities that took place within its walls and its relationship with the city of Rome.


'… impressive and interesting …'

Source: The Times Literary Supplement

'Although this book has been written for experts, it will not fail those who are eager to know more about the first church of Christendom.'

Source: The Art Newspaper

'This elegantly conceived volume adds considerably to our knowledge and understanding of one of the most remarkable buildings to have been constructed over the last two millennia … the book amply and illuminatingly demonstrates that an old and long-vanished building can still remain a powerful resource for historical research of the highest significance.'

David Hemsoll Source: History Today

'… splendid and lavishly illustrated …'

Timothy D. Barnes Source: Expository Times

'… an essential reference tool … illuminating observations … the production of the volume is highly commendable, with maps that will make it a pleasure to use this work for research and teaching purposes.'

Richard Westall Source: The Classical Review

‘Together they have created an impressive book that sports nearly 130 illustrations, images and plates. Most of the contributions start out with a detail of the modern plan of St Peter’s, showing the most important places in the church that the following pages proceed to deal with, which is very helpful. The special highlight is the (approximately) 62x48 cm (or a little more than 2x1.5 ft!) fold-out facsimile of Tiberio Alfarano’s plan of Old St Peter’s shown in the relationship to the new basilica from 1590. This alone is great to have; albeit admittedly relatively modern, it shows many locations in the old church.'

Clemens Gantner Source: Early Medieval Europe

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Page 1 of 2

  • 14 - Plus Caesare Petrus
    pp 274-286
  • View abstract


    Saint Peter's appears from its foundation to function as a centre of assistance for the poor. The zone of the basilica of Saint Peter attracted throngs of the poor right from the start, even though they are better attested in later periods. Gregory the Great recorded the alms that the shoemaker Deusdedit gave every Saturday to the poor of Saint Peter's. Through the imperial connection and through the authority of the apostle, the basilica of Saint Peter was also the place in which delicate political and religious questions could be raised that interested both the emperor and the Roman bishop. It is clearly an exaggeration to say that Saint Peter's incorporated the city of Rome, but certainly the basilica succeeded in acting as a strong force field for the city, and one that is manifest in the physical and functional structures of the urban fabric.
  • 15 - The Legendary of Saint Peter's basilica
    pp 287-305
  • View abstract


    A thoroughly revisionist account of the historical origins of the basilica was published by Glen Bowersock, who proposed that the foundation and construction of the basilica should be attributed not to Constantine, but probably to Constans. This chapter takes the doubts they have raised as an opportunity to reconsider both the chronology of the fourth-century basilica, and also the evidence for possible changes in its design during construction. An inscription, referring unambiguously to Constantine as the founder of Saint Peter's, was located on the triumphal arch of the basilica and was executed in letters of gold, forming part of a mosaic scene. Whatever the precise chronology of the preceding stages of development, the remodelling or rebuilding of the apse in its definitive form seems to have followed on only after the accession in 337 of Constans, whose probable stamp occurred on bricks used in its construction.
  • 16 - The stucco crucifix of Saint Peter's reconsidered
    pp 306-323
  • View abstract


    In modern scholarly literature the identification of the columns as spolia has been accepted widely, based on the fact that there were no uniform rows of columns of the same material in the basilica. Instead, they were a vari-coloured group of column shafts. This labelling of the columns as spolia is very interesting because it seems to imply that the ideal for such a colonnade in Late Antiquity would have been rows of columns of the same material. Constantine was the emperor honoured in the arch which was raised for him, but in the same period it might be problematic to call him the patron of the two churches, as distinct from acting as the benefactor of these two large Christian basilicas. On the other hand, the Basilica Salvatoris was originally known as the Basilica Constantiniana.

Page 1 of 2


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