SAN PIETRO IN VINCOLI
A bit of HISTORY
The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is one of the oldest churches in Rome. It was built in 431 AD using remains from the previous 2nd-century structure and was consecrated by Pope Leo the Great (440-451). After multiple renovations between the 8th and 15th centuries, it was Pope Julius II in 1503 who had the church redesigned in the Renaissance style that is still preserved today.
The basilica is named after the chains (Italian: vincoli). According to tradition, the Apostle Peter was imprisoned and chained in Jerusalem. He was miraculously freed from the chains by an angel and escaped. The chains left behind were brought to Rome in the 5th century and presented to Pope Sixtus III. In Rome, these chains were kept alongside the chains that Peter wore as a prisoner of Nero. In a miraculous event during a service, these two sets of chains were brought together. This miracle is celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 1st, known as the “Feast of St. Peter in Chains.” On this day, the chains are displayed to the faithful in the church. On all other days of the year, the chains can be viewed in a glass case beneath the main altar.
In 1505, Pope Julius II, who would later commission the construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica, invited Michelangelo to the Vatican to design his tomb. The painter, sculptor, and architect Michelangelo cleverly managed to postpone this task until 1513, the year of the Pope’s death. The relationship between him and Julius II was not particularly good.
Instead, Michelangelo preferred to focus on other, more important commissions. He worked on the Julius Tomb from 1513 to 1545. The artist frequently modified it himself, and funding for the project was reduced over time. It was never completed in its intended form. Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece. Due to the reduction in funds, fewer sculptures were added. Two slaves, originally intended to decorate the columns, can now be found in the Louvre in Paris.
Vasari, an architect and biographer, even described it as “perfect”: “a work made more with the brush than with the chisel.”
Kind of Fun-Fact: Pope Julius II is buried elsewhere, specifically in St. Peter’s Basilica, under a simple tombstone.