IT is a short but steep climb from the Colosseum up the Oppian Hill to the small Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli.
If one was lost, one would then walk past the plain façade of the Basilica of St Peter in Chains that is wedged between two buildings.
But I was not lost.
The Basilica was the last on my list of three churches to visit that day in June.
Once I walked into the cool interior and took in the simple and unpretentious decorations, I realised that this church is different from other churches that were built in Rome in the fifth century.
The original building was constructed sometime in the 4th century but was destroyed and a basilica-type church was built in the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that was used to bind St Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.
The basilica is 28 metres wide and 60 metres long and divided into a nave and two aisles by two rows of ten Doric columns in streaked marble.
These magnificent columns are six metres tall and are unique in Rome.
Tradition has it that the Empress Eudoxia gave Pope Leo I the chains with which St Peter had been shackled in Jerusalem as a gift.
When Pope Leo I compared them to the chains of St Peter’s final imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together.
The chains that were used to bind St Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem are kept in an urn under the main altar.
Restoration work and additions were carried out over the years.
In 680, during a terrible epidemic that struck Rome, an altar was erected in the church to St Sebastian.
Ironically, he was regarded as a saint with a special ability to intercede to protect from the plague. Perhaps it is timely to remember St Sebastian.
The ceiling above the nave was completed, the high altar modified, the addition of an awe-inspiring baldachin, the multi-coloured inlaid marble floor and altars attest, to the various cardinals and popes through the ages.
The major addition, and the reason why the basilica attracts many visitors, is one of the great masterpieces of the sixteen-century.
Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.
This statue was to be part of the tomb of Pope Julius II and was originally intended to be the central figure of a grand mausoleum to be placed in St Peter’s in the Vatican.
Julius died in 1513 and the statue was completed in 1515. It was never used.
It is interesting to note that Moses is depicted with horns due to a misinterpretation of Hebrew texts between the words horns and sunbeams.
This is debatable in iconographic symbolism.
The brilliance of Michelangelo as an artist and sculptor is just as impressive here in this basilica as his works of the statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and the Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.
My lifelong interest in the architectural and artistic design of cathedrals and basilicas – in fact in all of the worlds sacred spaces and places – leads me to observe to what extent the clergy, artists and artisans have risen to give praise to the glory of the supreme Creator of the world.
Introíbo ad altáre Dei – and St Peter in Chains is worth the visit.