Facade of St Peter's
Designed by Carlo Maderno (1608-1614) The inscription (1m letters) states:
"Paul V Borghese, Roman, Pontiff, in 1612, the seventh of his pontificate, [built] in honour of the Prince of Apostles
Facade of St Peter's Basilica
Select Area
for Photos 
Statues on the Facade
St Thaddeus - Carlo Fancelli (1612-1613)
St Matthew - Bernardino Cennini (1613)
St Philip - Simeon Drouin (1613-1614)
St Thomas - Simeon Drouin (1612-1613)
St James the Great - Egidio Moretti (1613)
St John the Baptist - Simeon Drouin (1613)
Christ the Redeemer - Cristoforo Stati (1612-1613)
St Andrew - Carlo Fancelli (1613)
St John the Evangelist - Antonio Valsoldo (1612-1613)
St James the Less - Cristoforo Stati (1612-1613)
St Bartholomew - Egidio Moretti (1612-1613)
St Simon - Bernardino Cennini (1612-1613)
St Matthias - Giuseppe Fontana (1612-1613)

St Thaddeus, also known as Jude Thaddeus, was one of the Twelve Apostles, and the brother of St James the Less. One of the canonical letters is atttributed to him. He is the patron saint of desperate or hopeless cases. On the Facade statue he is holding a halberd. His relics are here in the basilica, under the Altar of St Joseph in the Left Transept.

St Matthew, or Levi, was a tax-collector at Capernaum before being called as an apostle, and is the author of the first gospel in the New Testament. The gospels provide the only trustworthy data concerning him.  His attribute is a winged man (not an angel), and he may be depicted holding money. On the Facade, his statue holds a sword and a book.

St Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee.  He is listed as fifth among the Twelve Apostles and is mentioned three times as a confidant of Christ in St John's gospel. His attributes are a basket of loaves and a cross, sometimes T-shaped.  His Facade statue holds a cross.

St Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, is surnamed 'Didymus', meaning 'the twin'. All that is known for certain about him is in the gospels, where he chiefly features in the episode concerning his unbelief and subsequent profession of faith in Christ's resurrection. Hence, he is often referred to as 'Doubting Thomas'. An ancient tradition has him as a missionary to Kerala in south India and martyred there. His named was attached to apocryphal writings of 2nd-4th centuries, such as the Gospel of Thomas. His attribute is a lance, which he holds on the Facade statue.

St James the Great was a son of Zebedee and Salome. He was the brother of St John the Evangelist and called with him to be one of the Twelve Apostles by Christ. He was quickly martyred after the Resurrectrion by order of King Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2), the only apostle whose martyrdom is mentioned in the New Testament. A 9th century legend makes him apostle of Spain and specifies Compostela as the place where his body is enshrined. He is the patron saint of Spain, and his attribute is a scallop shell.

St John the Baptist was the last of the prophets and the forerunner of Christ.  He is described in the four Gospels, where he is presented as modelled on Elijah, and Jesus Christ's cousin. John used baptism as the central sacrament of his messianic movement, and baptized Jesus.  John was sentenced to death and beheaded by Herod Antipas, after John rebuked him for divorcing his wife Phasaelis, and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. John is often depicted as an ascetic wearing a camel hair, with a staff and a lamb. On the facade, the scroll on his staff has the inscription, Ecce Agnus Dei.

Christ the Redeemer
Redeemer is one of the titles of Christ. It refers to the saving significance of his death. With the facade statue, Christ is giving a blessing and standing beside his cross. The top section of this cross is made of copper. Between 1985 and 1987, the Knights of Columbus funded the refurbishment of the entire façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. In gratitude, Pope John Paul II presented the Knights with the copper cross which had been held in the arms of the statue of the Christ atop the facade since 1614. The cross is now on display in the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn.

St Andrew, the elder brother of St Peter was the first called of the Apostles, and features in the Gospels. Patristic authors preserved the traditions that he evangelized Scythis and the heartland of northern Greece, being martyred at Patras. The tradition that he was executed on a diagonal cross came later. Thomas Palaeologus the son of the Byzantine Emperor fled Patras for exile in Italy, bringing what was purported to be the skull of St Andrew. He gave the relic to Pope Pius II. and it was enshrined in one of the four central piers of St. Peter's. In September 1964, Pope Paul VI, as a gesture of goodwill toward the Greek Orthodox Church, returned the relics of St Andrew to Patras.

Note: The statue of St Peter is not on the facade, because it is in the Square below, as is the statue of
St Paul

St John the Evangelist was the son of Zebedee and brother of St James the Great.  He was a fisherman from Galilee until called to be an Apostle.  The author of the fourth gospel, he is usually identified with 'the Disciple that Jesus loved'. One tradition holds that he was exiled from Rome to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. It is thought that he was the only Apostle to live to an old age, and not be killed for the faith. His attribute is an eagle, which is shown on his Facade statue.

St James the Less was one of the Twelve, and after the Resurrection became the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is mentioned by Eusebius, and is the putative author of one of the canonical letters.  According to tradition he was martyred at Jerusalem by being thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, stoned and then finally killed with a fuller's club. This club became his attribute, and is shown on the Facade statue.

St Bartholomew is listed among the Twelve in the synoptic gospels and is identified with the Nathaniel in the first chapter of the gospel of St John. Eusebius states that he was in 'India' and the Roman tradition has him being martyred in Armenia. Legend has it that he was skinned alive, and he is often depicted holding his flayed skin.  His atttribute is the flaying-knife, shown on the Facade statue.

St Simon is referred to in the New Testament in the lists of the apostles with the surname 'Cananean' meaning 'Zealot'. Traditions concerning his career after the Resurrection are conflicting, and he is one of the most obscure among the Apostles. He has various attributes: a fish, a boat, an oar or a saw.  He is depicted with the saw on the Facade.

St Matthias was chosen by lot to take the place of Judas Iscariot among the apostles.  His selection was not made by Jesus, and it was before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church members.  The Apostles cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias who was numbered among the Twelve.  His relics were allegedly removed by St Helen from Jerusalem to what is now St Matthias Abbey at Trier, Germany. He is depicted as an elderly man holding a halberd on the Facade statue.

On February 10, 1608 the first stone of the Facade was laid and on July 21, 1612 most of the work was completed. It took another two years for the ornamentation, and the basilica was finally consecrated by Urban VIII on November 18, 1926.

From the central balcony, called the Loggia of the Blessings, the new pope is announced with "Habemus Papum", and gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing (to the city and to the world) upon his election and at Christmas and Easter. The relief under the balcony, by Buonvicino, represents Christ giving the keys to St. Peter. The facade is 114.69 metres (376.3 ft) wide and 45.55 metres (149.4 ft) high and is built of travertine.

Above the basic structure is an attic, with eight square windows decorated with small pilasters, surmounted by a balustrade and 13 statues in travertine. The statues on the balustrade represent Christ the Redeemer (19 feet high), St. John the Baptist and 11 Apostles. St. Mathias is included because he is associated with the other "Eleven" in bearing witness to Christ's Resurrection. St Peter is not included because his statue is below in the Square.


Source: Works On The Facade of St. Peter's Basilica


When Carlo Maderno started to build the facade, he was bound to the already existing Michelangelo's wings. He just put the attic all around the building, as planned by Michelangelo. That creation looks mighty and dynamic along the west side of the Basilica but is disharmonious in the facade. For this reason, at the far sides of the facade, Maderno planned two bell towers which lightened and soared the building. In 1621, at the death of Paul V, the ground subsided and the building of the two bell towers had to be stopped.

In 1646, Bernini tried to erect the bell towers again, but had to demolish the left-hand side bell tower because of cracks in the facade. Only the bases of the bell towers remain, two archways at the sides of the facade that seem to form part of it while they should have been separated. This was remedied in 1790 by the installation of two clocks designed by Giuseppe Valadier.

The eight gigantic columns of the facade are almost 10ft wide and 90 feet high.

The restoration of the facade and the 13 statues, begun in April 1985, was concluded on November 30, 1986. The original copper cross (1613) in the arms of the statue of the Redeemer, which was replaced by a new one during the work, was given to the Knights of Columbus in recognition of their support for the restoration.

Drawing showing Bernini's Bell Tower
Anonymous c.1645

Dom Basil Watkins, OSB (ed.), The Book of Saints, 2002
A. Sperandino, Works On The Facade of St Peter's Basilica, 1989


Contact: stpetersbasilica@gmail.com


© Copyright notice
The contents of this site are for personal-educational use only. Neither text nor images may be reproduced in any form without the permission of the respective copyright holders.

This independent website is not endorsed by or associated with the Vatican, the Fabbrica of St. Peter's, or any business organization