Gregorian Chapel Mosaics

Gregorian Chapel, Spandrel
St Gregory Nazianzen
(ca. 1770-1779)

From designs by Nicola Lapiccola

From the second half of the 1500s, St Peter's became the largest laboratory in Europe in the practice of mosaic art.  For the decoration, men experienced in this craft were requested from Venice, which boasted an unbroken tradition from the Middle Ages thanks to the building site of St Mark. They knew the mosaic technique and its secrets very well, and therefore were necessary to be able to begin the construction.  The work of decoration of the Gregorian Chapel begins on June 5, 1576 and ends May 30, 1579.

Pope Gregory XIII wanted to create the first new chapel in St Peter's and decorate it with mosaics.  The Gregorian Chapel, which has an extraordinary iconographic wealth, takes its name from him.  In the lunettes, which sit above the altar, Pope Gregory XIII had wanted to represent the mystery of the Annunciation.   On the left is the Virgin kneeling in a pose of meditative prayer, while the Holy Spirit comes to her.  An angel on the right, descends from the clouds that act as a ladder. The message is completed by the presence of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the prophets who pronounced Mary's virginity.

Where the dome rests on the square beneath, four spandrels display four Doctors of the Church: Gregory the Great, Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil. Gregory the Great was particularly dear to Gregory XIII, as he took his name from him.  The presence of the eastern Father, Gregory of Nazianzus, arose from the fact that the pope was devoted to the great bishop of Byzantium from the fourth century, and admired his Trinitarian doctrine.  The pope had Gregory's relics moved from the Holy Monastery of St Mary in Campo Marzio, much to the chagrin of the Benedictine nuns.

The image of St Basil was included because of his great friendship with Gregory of Nazianzus.  Basil, who was bishop of Caesarea, is known along with Nazianzus as a Cappadocian Father.

Jerome was the great Doctor of the virginity of Mary.  In Rome (c.383), he wrote a passionate defense of this doctrine.  With the image of Jerome, we also see the devotion of the artist, Girolamo Muziano, to whom we owe many representations of his patron saint. The four Doctors, with their large gestures and liturgical clothing, appear imposing.  The only one dressed roughly as a penitent hermit is Jerome.  These images hold the record as the first mosaics in the new Vatican basilica.

Simona Turriziani, St Peter in the Vatican, The Mosaics and Sacred Space (2011)
Frank DiFrederico, The Mosaics of Saint Peter's (1983)
Antonio Pinelli, The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (2000)
The Upper Mosaics of St Peter's
The Gregorian Chapel

The Gregorian Chapel was the first area of the new St Peter's that was liturgically usable.  In 1578, Gregory XIII dedicated it with a commemorative medal. The mosaic decoration of the spandrels, lunettes and dome of the chapel, begun in 1578 from designs by Girolamo Muziano, was remade in the 18th century on account of the deterioration of the original work. The four saints in the spandrels allude to the harmony between the Greek and Latin Churches; the lunettes show the Annunciation and the Prophets of the Divine maternity of the Virgin; the iconography of the dome is also of Marian inspiration, representing within roundels symbols of Our Lady taken from the Litany of Loreto.
1. Tower of David
2. The Palm
3. The Sun
4. The Cypress
5. The Temple
6. The Ark of the Covenant
7. The Moon
8. The Well
 9. St Basil
10. St Gregory the Great
11. St Jerome
12. St Gregory Nazianzen

13. The Annunciation
14. The Archangel Gabriel
15. Ezekiel
16. Isaiah

The decoration of the cupola (ca. 1775-1779) is from designs by Salvatore Monosilio.  The spandrels and lunettes (ca. 1770-1779) are from designs by Nicola Lapiccola (1730-1790)

Annunciation of Mary mosaic Gregorian Chapel, Lunette

Annunciation of Mary



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