After 120 years as a building site, the current St Peter’s was consecrated on 18 November 1626 by Urban VIII – exactly 1,300 years after the consecration of the first basilica on the site.
Here, pilgrims head straight for the last pilaster on the right before the main altar, to kiss the big toe of Arnolfo da Cambio’s brass statue of St Peter (c1296), worn down by centuries of pious lips, or to say a prayer before the crystal casket containing the mummified remains of much-loved Pope John XXIII, who was beatified in 2002. Tourists, on the other hand, make a beeline for the first chapel on the right, where Michelangelo’s first major work, the Pietà (1499), is found. He signed his name on the thin sash across the Virgin’s chest in response to cynics who claimed that he was too young at 24 to have produced the piece himself. The statue’s position behind bullet-proof glass means the signature is only visible with strong binoculars or on postcards.