The Dome the most glorious in the world, is a miracle of art and beauty, on every square inch of which skill and precious material has been lavished. It is the masterpiece in architecture of Michelangelo (to which he devoted the last sixteen years of his life) and the most audacious architectonical enterprise that has never been attempted.
The dimensions of the dome are: 405 feet (124 mts) from the floor to the base of the lantern and 448 feet (149 mts) to the top of the cross outside; the diameter is 142 feet (44 mts) the same as that of the Pantheon, as when Michelangelo began the dome, he declared he would outrival the ancient artist and suspend in the air what the Emperor Hadrian had constructed on the earth, the Pantheon, whose diameter is only two feet larger than the dome of St. Peter.
When Michelangelo died in 1564 he had completed only the drum. After the death of the great artist, the work was suspended for about twenty-four years and was only resumed under the Pope Sixtus V, who gave a new impulse to the erection of the church and appointed Giacomo della Porta to direct the work, which was completed in the short period of twenty-two months, by working night and day.
Around the drim is the inscription : “ Tu es petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo Claves Regni Caelorum”. Thou art Peter and upon this rock I build my church and I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.
The dome is decorated with six orders of mosaic pictures, representing: Christ, the Virgin, the Apostels, saints, angels and cherubs; on the very top is a colossal figure of the Almighty.
The cupola is supported by four large pilasters, used as receptacles for preserving the four greatest relics of the church. The spear with which Longinus pierced the side of our Saviour, a portion of the true Cross, the veil bearing the impression of the Saviour’s face and the head of St. Andrew the Apostle. The relics are preserved, high up, in the balconies which ornament the pilasters. Official Rome Guide, Rome walking city Tours.
The statues, in the niches below represent:
St. Longinus the soldier who pierced the Saviour’s side and who according to tradition was afterwards converted to Christianity and suffered martyrdom. The statue is work of Bernini.
St. Helen (The mother of the Emperor Constantine) Holding the cross which was brought by her, to Rome, from Constantinople. By Bolgi.
On the left, towards the tribune is:
St. Veronica who wiped the face of the saviour, on the way to the Calvary, By Mochi.
St. Andrew the Apostle by Duquesnoy.
Under the statue of St. Veronica is the entrance to the: Vatican Grottoes.