The image was
originally located in the portico of the old basilica, between the
Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead (to the south). It became
famous after a miraculous event in 1440, according to the testimony
collected by Nikolaus Muffel from the court of Emperor Frederic
II in 1453. A drunken soldier, in a bout of anger for the florins
he lost in a game, in a sacrilegious gesture hurled a stone or ball
at the Virgin's face. The lesion is still visible on her left cheek.
Drops of blood appeared on the image and fell down onto the stone
restoration of the portico in 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had the image
removed and taken to the secretarium of the Basilica. In 1608, when
the ancient building was demolished, the image was placed in the
peribolos of the grottoes. It was the object of great veneration
and became even more so in its present location dating from 1636.
in the inscription to the right from the altar, attached to the
wall and protected by iron grates, to the sides from the image of
the Madonna there are two stones from the ancient paving of the
portico, where, according to tradition, the miraculous blood fell.
Their surface has been worn away by the touches of the faithful.
monuments used to be preserved in this chapel but during the restoration
described above, it was simplified and the walls were whitewashed.
During the thorough restoration of 2002, the paintings on the vault
and on the walls below were given their original splendor. They
were painted between 1618 and September 18, 1619, by Giovan Battista
Ricci da Novara.
To the right,
on the upper level of the wall, is a series of images commissioned
by Paul V. They preserve the memory of the monuments of the old
basilica that had been demolished some 12 years earlier. The series
continues in the next chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti. Today,
several centuries later, the paintings are of enormous interest
and paramount historical importance.
Close to the
entrance is The View of the Buildings in front of the Old Basilica.
The represented buildings are recorded in the Latin inscriptions
engraved on smal marble plates below the painting. Starting from
the right is: the facade of the Apostolic Palace of Paul II; the
bell tower of Leo IV and Loggia for the Blessings of Alexander VI;
the mosaic of the Savior on the facade; the Oratory of St Mary in
Turri of Paul I; the palace of the Archpriest of Leo III.
In the next
span is The View of the Oratory of John VII. In a style typical
of the 17th Century, the fresco represents two walls of the ancient
oratory that survived until 1608. It was decorated with 25 mosaic
panels from 705-707 and it protected the medieval ciborium with
the relic of the Holy Veil. The inscription says:
SS. SVDARII VERONIC(ae)
ET DEIP(arae) VIRG(inis)A IOANNE VII
oratory of the Holy Veil of Veronica
and of the Virgin Mother of God
built by John VII
This is an
exact copy of the original by Ricci, made in 1949, when the deteriorating
fresco was transferred onto canvas and placed on the opposite wall.
The inscription below, dated 1609, comes from a different place
and refers to another fresco of the oratory that no longer exists.
In the center
of the vault are two episodes from the "Stories of the Confession."
Ricci inserted the frescoes in an older decoration and superimposed
layers of paint are visible in some areas. The panel close to the
altar represents St Servatius, the Bishop of Tongres. In the middle
of the 4th century, Servatius came on a pilgrimage to Rome. As the
inscription indicates, he was praying at the tomb and received a
prophetic message from Peter concerning the future of his Church.
In the other
panel is St Amand, the Bishop of Maastricht, who according
to tradition, received the order from St Peter to go and preach
the Gospel in Gaul (the 7th century).
On the left
wall, in a lunette close to the altar, was the now lost painting
of the ancient altar of St Anthony the Abbot. Still to be seen,
instead, is the redone ancient mosaic of St Paul, originally from
the apsidal decoration of Innocent III. To the right, still in its
original location, is Ricci's fresco transferred onto canvas of
the View of the Old Basilica.
At the entrance
to the chapel is the simple sarcophagus of Cardinal Joseph Beran
who died in exile in Rome in 1969. It was the wish of Paul VI that
the Cardinal be buried here.
For more than
3 centuries, from 1616 to 1949, the marble statue of St Peter enthroned
was on display in this chapel, together with other precious monuments.
Still visible, is the fake baldacchino and an inscription on the
On the right
wall, in the vicinity of the altar, is a fragment of a Latin inscription
from 732 with a relative explanatory plaque. It quotes one part
of the decree of the synod of the Roman clergy held in front of
the Confession of St Peter. Pope Gregory III had the text engraved
on marble slabs. It established the cult of All Saints and of their
numerous relics preserved in the Vatican basilica, to be held in
the oratory founded by the pope himself. The text starts with the
words (PE)TRO THEOPHANIO and lists the names of all the church dignitaries
present at the synod, including the Deacon Zachary who succeeded
Gregory III as Pope (741).
To the right
from the entrance is a marble fragment from the old basilica: the
facade of the tabernacle made by Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo, the nephew
of Innocent VIII, to hold the relic of the Holy Lance (1495). The
work is attributed to the workshop of Andrea Bregno. The bas-relief
represents two praying angels, dressed in flowing garments and spreading
their wings. They are standing at the sides of a slightly open door
on which is represented the spear and the sponge of the Passion
of Christ. In the lunette above, under the starry paneled vault,
is the image of Christ Victima, rising from the sepulcher while
two heads of cherubs crown the upper corners.