Top 7 Places to Pray in St Peter's

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Whether you're Catholic, christian or spiritual, you might desire to have a prayerful experience in St Peter's Basilica. A moment of quiet reflection in such a beautiful and sacred place shouldn't offend anyone.  It's easy to find images of Pope Francis praying in many locations throughout the basilica, and Pope Benedict XVI asked that St. Peter's be an authentic place of prayer, of adoration and praise to the Lord.

"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."

"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."
- Pope Benedict XVI, 8 October 2007

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Catholics believe that the mass is the greatest prayer, and masses are held everyday that all may attend.  But the reality is that the Vatican Basilica gets more visitors than pilgrims.  Understanding this, we present the 'Top 7 Places to Pray in St Peter's' if you're just making a quick visit. While prayer should be taken seriously, this list is only one opinion on where you might offer a prayer inside the Basilica. This information is unofficial and not endorsed by the Vatican. If you experience a better place to pray, please 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.  The beauty and serenity of Mary, who
lost her son Jesus, invokes a spiritual response.

The overwhelming popularity of the Pieta actually prevents it from being higher on this list, because it's always crowded in front of the Pieta Chapel. Additionally, the glass wall separates you from the sculpture, and it catches the constant flash of cameras.

Though it may not be one of the best places to pray, the Pieta 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.

    # 6 The Tomb of St Peter

Confessio AreaThe 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. The shrine can be viewed on three levels; the basilica floor, the grottoes below, and the ancient Necropolis on the lowest level.  Let's look at locations where we can get in touch with St Peter.

The only way to visit the Necropolis is if you're fortunate enough to book a Scavi tour,  where you get to see a piece of his ancient tomb memorial.  The end of the tour provides a time for prayer while you view the bones found there.

The grottoes offer the most direct view of the tomb area.  Here you can look directly into the Confessio area at the Niche of the Pallium (the wall in front of the tomb).   Behind the Niche, is the Clementine Chapel, where early morning masses are said by special reservation. 

To pay a little visit to St Peter from the basilica floor, stand before the Papal Altar and look into the Confessio below. The great cupola above and the baldachino around the altar, are there to remind you that "Peter is here".

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 worn away toes on St Peter's foot.

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

    # 5  Right Transept
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 obsolve you of your sins. Only those participating in the
Sacrament of Penance are allowed into this area. The sacrament is
offered in multiple languages.

This area of solitude is conducive to prayer, and provides pews for you to sit
or kneel and pray before and after Confession. Just getting away from
crowds and cameras on selfie sticks for a moment has a very calming effect.

TIP: When it gets busy, lines form 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 TranseptWeekday masses are held in this area at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00 noon. 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, take in the beauty and offer thanks.

For the faithful who hold a devotion to St Jude, this is the place to be. The relics of Sts Simon and Jude lie under the central altar. 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 to where St Peter was crucified.

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

    # 3 The Body of St 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 since become a popular devotion site.

He called Vatican Council II (1962–1965), 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 are always people before the body of John XXIII. While kneeling in the pews and viewing the body of this pope, prayer seems to be a natural response.

TIP: Get to St Peter's early in the morning (7-8am) and you might be able to attend mass at the St Jerome Altar.

    # 2 The Tomb of John Paul II

Tomb of John Paul II - St Sebastain AltarSANCTUS JOANNES PAULUS PP II
It's certainly no secret that the tomb of St John Paul II has become one of the main reasons people visit St Peter's. Even before he was declared Blessed, large crowds went down into the grottoes to visit the simple tomb of this great pope.

On 1 May 2011, after being declared Blessed, the body of Pope John Paul II was
placed inside the altar of St Sebastain. On April 27, 2014 the Pope was canonized
and the altar frontal was changed from BEAUTUS to SANCTUS.

John Paul II died on 2 April 2005, and his beautification process began on 9 May 2005.  Normally it takes five years for this process to begin, but the waiting period
was waved for 'exceptional circumstances', which may have been the cries at his funeral of 'Santo Subito' .

TIP: The tomb is at the St Sebastain Altar, which is next to the Pieta Chapel.
During the day, access is often only through the Pieta Chapel.

    # 1 The Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St Peter'sThe Blessed Sacrament Chapel is the place exclusively for prayer. The sign
at the entrance, states this in six languages.

Here, after the 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 we're looking for the best places 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.  The story may be too good to be true, but the point remains, this is the best place to pray.

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


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