Top 7 Places to Pray in St Peter's


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Pope Benedict XVI has asked that St. Peter's Basilica be an authentic place of prayer, of adoration and praise to the Lord. His comments came at an October 8, 2007 meeting with the chapter of the basilica, the group entrusted with the care of the ancient church.

"In this holy place, where thousands of pilgrims and tourists come everyday from all over the world, more than elsewhere it is necessary that next to the tomb of St. Peter there be a stable community of prayer that guarantees continuity with tradition and at the same time intercedes for the intentions of the pope in the Church and world today."

The Pope added, "Prayer is a service to the Lord, who deserves to be praised and adored, and at the same time it is a witness to others. And where God is praised and adored with faithfulness, blessing is not lacking."

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In this spirit, we present the 'Top 7 Places to Pray in St Peter's'. While prayer is a serious matter, this list is only one opinion on where you might find peace and prayer inside the Vatican Basilica. This information is unofficial and not endorsed by the Vatican in any way. If you've experienced a better place to pray, let us know.

    # 7 The Pieta

Michelangelo's Pieta Few people are unmoved by Michelangelo's Pieta, and many consider it one of the greatest religious works of art. Whatever your faith, the beauty and serenity of this mother who has lost her child invokes a spiritual response.

The overwhelming popularity of the Pieta actually prevents it from being a better place to pray. It always seems crowded in front of the Pieta Chapel. The glass in front of the statue also serves to separate you, and it catches the flash of constant cameras.

Though it may not be one of the best places to pray, the sculpture is one of the best invitations to prayer.

TIP: Come to St Peter's early in the morning to avoid the crowds, or move to the left or right doors of the chapel to get a more private view of the Pieta.

    # 6 The Tomb of St Peter

The Sign at the Confessio of St PeterThe entire church is here because St Peter's tomb is below. The Papal Altar with its towering baldachinno and dome above all point to his ancient tomb. Since this is the shrine to St Peter, let's look at spot to get in touch with him.

There are actually a number of places where you can feel close to St Peter. If you're one of the fortunate few to book a Scavi tour, you'll get to see a piece of his ancient tomb memorial, and even the bones found there. Unfortunately tours don't have room for much prayer time, though some tours end this way.

Early morning mass at the Clementine Chapel in the grottoes (closest area to St Peter's tomb) is certainly be one of the most prayerful experiences possible with the saint. But to do this, you'll need a special reservation and you have to supply the priest.

To pay a little visit to St Peter, you might just want to stand before the Papal Altar and look into the Confessio below. The gold box down there doesn't hold the bones of St Peter, it's for the pallium, but behind that is the tomb making this a privileged spot. A better view can be had by visiting the grottoes (tombs of the Popes), where you can look straight into the Confessio.

If you don't mind looking a bit touristy, get in line to place your hand on the right foot of the St Peter statue, not far from the Papal Altar, beside the St Longinus pier. This isn't just a popular photo op, but an ancient devotion confirmed by the missing toes on St Peter's worn foot.

TIP: There's often a kneeler directly in front of the Confessio, and this may offer the best position to talk to the keeper of the keys.

    # 5 Go to Confession

An English speaking priest at St Peter's Basilica waiting to hear confessions

In the Right Transept (north of the Papal Altar) you'll find the Franciscans ready to
relieve you of your sins. The Sacrament of Penance is offered here in multiple languages, the attendant will point you toward the right confessional.

Besides the sacrament, which requires that you pray, the area is also conducive to prayer. Only those participating in the sacrament are allowed into this area, which offers pews for you to sit or kneel and pray before and after Confession. Just getting away from the wash of camera flash for a moment has a very calming effect.

TIP: When it gets busy, lines forms by people standing just out of whispering distance of their chosen language confessional. See Schedule for times.

    # 4 St Joseph's Altar

Mass in the Left Transept at the Altar of St JosephSt Joseph's Altar is in the center of the Left Transept. Five daily masses are held in this area from 9:00am until 5:00pm. This is the largest, always accessible seating area in the basilica. So even if you're not attending mass, it's a great place to rest and meditate a moment.

For the faithful who hold a devotion to St Jude, this is the place to be, since the relics of Sts Simon and Jude lie under the central altar. In fact, this area was once known as the Tribune to St Simon and St Jude. A small mosaic of St Jude is visible just to the right of St Joseph's altarpiece.

On the left side is the Altar of the Crucifixion of St Peter, with its mosaic being a copy of the famous painting by Guido Reni. Since this area is the closest to where the obelisk stood in the Circus of Nero, it is considered to be nearest the spot where St Peter was crucified.

TIP: This is the easiest place to catch a mass if you're a true pilgrim. Check the mass times on a sign next to the Sacristy entrance.


    # 3 The Body of John XXIII

The body of Pope John XXIII under the St Jerome AltarAfter being declared Blessed, the body of Pope John XXII (d. 1963) was brought up from the grottoes and placed under the St Jerome Altar, which has become a popular devotion site ever since.

He called Vatican Council II (19621965), but did not live to see its completion. In Italy he is known as "Il Papa Buono" ("The Good Pope").

Whether out of curiosity or true devotion, there always seems to be people before the body of John XXIII. Kneeling in the pews and viewing the body of this pope, prayer seems to be the natural response.

TIP: Get to St Peter's early in the morning (7-8am) for mass at the St Jerome Altar.

    # 2 The Tomb of John Paul II

Flowers at the Tomb of John Paul IIIt's certainly no secret that the Tomb of John Paul II has become the main reason many people visit St Peter's. The march of many into the grottoes to visit the simple tomb of the great pope prompted a change to the entrance of the grottoes. Instead of the stairs under St Andrew's statue in the basilica, the entrance was moved outside to the right of the basilica. Now the queue to enter the grottoes is often longer than the one to climb the dome.

Though the tomb is quite plain and there is no space for seating, the faithful continue to make the pilgrimage. Popular devotion has long taken the form of flowers on a tomb, but many now bring objects, like rosaries, that are momentarily placed on John Paul II's tomb. These objects become something of a religious souvenir and provide a tangible connection with the Holy Father.

John Paul II's cause for sainthood is steadily progressing, and perhaps someday his body will be moved up into the basilica like John XXIII. For now, we can visit his tomb in the grottoes, or look in via webcam recently installed by the Vatican.

TIP: If the queue to enter the grottoes is too long, you can glimpse down into John Paul II's tomb area from a floor grate, near the statue of St Peter.

    # 1 The Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St Peter'sHere is the place exclusively for prayer. This clear statement, in six languages, describes the purpose of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

Here, after an 8:30am mass, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for Eucharistic Adoration until the 4:45pm benediction.

This splendid and solemn chapel is an artistic gem, decorated by Bernini. But what concerns us here is the best place to pray, and this chapel has been described as "the very soul of the Basilica".

There is a story that was told by one of the 'English Guides to St Peter's', of a unexpected visit to the basilica by John Paul II one morning. The attendants asked him why he was making the visit. John Paul supposedly said that St Peter's was becoming more a museum than a church, and that there was no place reserved for prayer. The pope then celebrated mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and had it reserved thereafter as an exclusive place of prayer.

TIP: Gazing at Bernini's angels on the altar, provides a wonderful visual accompaniment to prayer.


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