We are at the northern side of the nave near
its western end, and are looking nearly west. That altar, with
its tall cross, and beautiful great candlesticks, stands directly over
the tomb where rests the dust of the Prince of Apostles. More
than eighteen hundred years ago, St. Peter died a martyr for his
faith, in a Roman arena or circus near this very spot. It was
not until three hundred years had passed away that his bones were
taken from their unhonored grave and buried here. That curving
balustrade of marble surrounds the confessio into which you can
descend by stairs to see the tomb itself.
See how magnificent that baldacchino is, with its massive pillars of
gilded bronze supporting the elaborate splendor of the canopy with the
lofty cross. Ninety-five feet above the floor that cross rises
into the air, and yet it is only a canopy over the alter.
Straight up, above that cross, the huge dome of the church rises
higher and higher and higher yet - almost four hundred feet still
farther towards the sky!
Mass is said at this alter only by the Holy Father himself or by some
cardinal especially appointed by him.
That bronze figure at the right is the famous statue of St. Peter, his
hand raised in benediction.
Look between the candlesticks by the statue and the great pillars at
the right side of the baldacchino, and you can see, away out at the
farther end of the church, the celebrated Cathedra Petri
(Peter's Chair), an ancient wooden chair encased in bronze. It
is supported by gigantic figures of four old-time Fathers of the
Church, Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom and Athanasius.
Alter, St. Peter's Church, Rome.