Friday, November 18, 2022

Today on the show, we remember the dedication of both St. Peter’s Basilicas 1300 years apart.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***


It is the 18th of November, 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


It was on this, the 18th of November in 326 and then again on the 18th of November in 1626, that St. Peter’s rebuilt Basilica was dedicated- a site of pilgrimage for Catholics and one of the four major Catholic basilicas and the crown jewel of Vatican City.



Let’s get a couple of things out of the way- first, Vatican City is its own country, having been sovereign from Rome (despite being an enclave in Rome) since the last century. It has long been the home of the Bishop of Rome, aka the Pope, because of its connections to Peter, who was said to have been crucified, upside down.


The city, across the river Tiber from the Colosseum and Roman forum, has a history as a place where wealthy Romans built gardens but also as a burial place- burials not being allowed in the city proper, it became a popular place to bury your dead. The emperor Caligula imported the large obelisk from Egypt and began the circus that was eventually completed under Nero.



Legend has it that Peter was crucified upside down as part of Nero’s persecution of Christians (instead, he persecuted many but not likely because they were explicitly Christian). Thus, it would be revered as a site for pilgrimage after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 300s. Constantine decided to build a large church in the area- but to do so, he had to level the land and build on top of a burial ground. Nonetheless, his project was dedicated on the 18th of November in 326- just one year after the council of Nicaea.


A note on terminology- it is a “basilica” because it was initially built in the ancient style that basilicas were holy houses for ceremonial state activity. It is not a cathedral because a Cathedral is only called such if it has the “cathedra” or chair of a bishop. The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, has the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran as his cathedral.

On account of its connection to Peter, it remained a popular site despite its beginning to decay in the late Middle Ages; there are stories of it beginning to tilt to one side, debris falling from the roof, and walls becoming disconnected. Enter Julius II, aka the Warrior Pope, who embodied some of the excesses of the later Medieval papacy; he decided to rebuild a new church on the same site, using what was salvageable. He would die, and the project, initially begun under Michelangelo's leadership, began to skyrocket in cost. It was paying for this project that helped inspire the particular indulgence campaign that set Luther off in 1517. After going through numerous architects and plans, the church was finally completed and dedicated on this day in 1626. The Obelisk, brought from Egypt by Caligula, was initially not in its current location; in the 16th century, over 800 men and 400 horses were used to lift the giant stone, move it onto a rolling device and move it to its current location in St. Peter’s Square. 


It is by some account the largest church in the world- if you consider all of its nooks and crannies, as well as the outdoor space where up to 80,000 people can come together. It is over 3/4 of a mile in length and covers almost 250,000 square feet. At the dome, it reaches 448 feet high, and the statue of Liberty could fit inside of it.


It contains a famous disc on the floor where it is said Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Michelangelo’s Pieta- the marble Mary cradling her dead son is in this church as is the purported skull of St. Andrew, a piece of the cross, a piece of the spear that pierced the side of Jesus and Veronica’s veil (that’s the legend of the veil given to Jesus on the way to Golgotha by the woman who may have been cured of her bleeding who according to the legend may have married Zaccheus- the fan fiction is wild). It is also the final resting place for over 90 popes. Today we remember its dedication in both 326 and 1626.


The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today- a short one- from Hebrew 12:


Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of November 2022, brought to you by 1517 at


The show is produced by a man whose church is in Random Lake, Wisconsin. It is also built on an ancient burial ground, but whose giant obelisk was not imported from Egypt- it’s a standard domestic obelisk. He is Christopher Gillespie.


The show is written and read by a man who looks to take a pilgrimage to Sofi stadium soon- talk about architecture; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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