O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Iconostas of St. Peter's Basilica and the Saint's Tomb

The Italian blog "Traditio Liturgica" has studied the original St. Peter's Basilica and consequently produced images of it's interior and exterior as it appeared when it was more than the crypt it is today. The original St. Peter's Basilica was built by St. Constantine the Great over the tomb of St. Peter, which was in a common cemetery and covered by a large 1st Century monument built by the Christians of Rome. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Basilica was torn down to a single story's height to serve as the crypt level of the new (and current) Basilica which was then built on top of it. St. Peter's Square was vastly expanded in the process from the size of the small Constantinian square to the square that exists today.

Period image of the original Basilica complex

Recreation of the Basilica Complex

Overhead shot of the square with the Basilica's facade

Wide-shot of the interior
The icon of Christ on the apse wall used to be flanked by Sts. Peter and Paul.

Close-up of the whole altar. 
Notice the iconostas that existed before the Latins came to become more liturgically divergent from the rest of the Church. In the Early Church, the Iconostas was a colonnade with curtains drawn across the length of the collonade (the curtains are missing in this image). Icons then stood in the spaces between the columns. This evolved from the original practice of a single massive curtain separating the Altar and the Nave (which is still observed in the Antiochean Tradition). This "colonnade" Iconostas then developed into the solid wall of today in the East, whereas the Latins maintained the colonnade until the Renaissance when it was shortened to the Altar Rails of today.

Overhead of the Altar

Interior of the Altar.
The altar has a nearly identical layout to the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. Here is the interior of the Ahia Sophia for comparison.

Interior of the Altar.
You'll notice the Holy Table itself faces geographical east, even though the building doesn't (it faces west). This is an ancient custom of the city of Rome: at the consecration all would face geographical east, even if that resulted in some or even all of the congregation turning their backs to the altar.

Overview of the transepts, complete with secondary altars, each with an Iconostas. On the side of the High Altar one can see the door leading down to another altar over St. Peter's Tomb.

Far wall of one transept. The door leads into the ambulatory, with more secondary altars.

Looking over the Holy Door through the nave.

Directly under the High Altar is this altar one floor down.
This altar is immediately and directly over St. Peter's tomb. Above the bones of St. Peter is a monument to his memory, built in a pagan style as to not appear suspicious to the authorities at the time. Back to back with that monument is this Altar (which faces geographical east), which predates the Basilica and was preserved (together with the monument) due to it's popularity. Therefore, as to not destroy these structures, the main Altar was raised one floor above the nave. This chapel was later converted into the current-day Clementine Chapel and the wall in the middle at the bottom the two staircases in the altar was converted to the current Confessio. The floor of the nave became the floor of the current crypt level (the grottoes) and the floor of the current basilica was built somewhat above the level of the floor inside the altar of the old basilica.