On hand for the
historic event were Cardinals Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the
basilica, and Albert Vanhoye S.J., rector emeritus of the Pontifical
Biblical College; Archbishop Angelo Comastri and Bishop Vittorio
Lanzani, respectively president and delegate of the Fabric of St.
Peter's; Antonio Paolucci, superintendent of the Florentine Museums and
curator of the exhibition, "Petros Eni;" and Maria Cristina
Carlo-Stella, bureau chief at the Fabric of St. Peter's.
Marchisano began by briefly outlining the history of the basilica,
which is actually the second to be built on the site of St. Peter’s
crucifixion. The first was built in the fourth century by the emperor
Constantine but because of structural frailty it was replaced with the
current building, the construction of which began on April 18th, 1506
by Pope Julius II, who himself placed the first stone.
also pointed out that the basilica possesses an extraordinary archive
composed of some 3,050,000 documents concerning work carried out on the
church from its conception to the present day.
It is one of the most visited sites in the world, welcoming between five and 20 thousand people each day.
During his own
brief address, Archbishop Comastri pointed out that in 1939, "by
decision of Pope Pius XII, excavation work began under St. Peter's
Basilica. To great astonishment, the ancient necropolis interred by
Constantine's architects in the year 320 came to light.”
“Moving up the
slopes of the Vatican hill,” he recalled, “a small monument was found,
identified as the 'Tropaion of Gaius;' this discovery was followed by
that of the famous red wall with the graffiti 'Petros eni' and a series
of other graffiti all testifying to the devotion to Peter in this
Lanzani noted that "The Governorate of Vatican City State will issue a
series of commemorative stamps of the value of 0.45 and 0.60 euros" to
commemorate the anniversary.
"The first”, he
explained, “represents the commemorative medal of Bramante, produced by
Cristoforo Foppa between the years 1505 and 1506. ... The second
depicts the medal placed in the foundations of the new St. Peters, also
the work of Cristoforo Foppa." Both stamps bear the inscription:
"Templum Divi Petri in Vaticano 1506-1606."
The Vatican also
plans to mint two medals for the occasion, one in silver and one in two
different metals. Italian engraver Sergio Giandomenico was commissioned
to work on the coins.
The Holy See
said that one side of the coin will show the consignment of the keys to
St. Peter against the background of the basilica, with the emblem of
the Fabric of St. Peter's underneath with the inscription "Patriarcalis
Basilica Principis Apostolorum 1506-1606" around the edge.
The other side
of the coin will bear an image of the current Holy Father with the
phrase "Benedictus XVI, Pontifex Maximus" engraved therein.
the Church begins its celebrations for the 500th birthday of the
largest church in the Christian world, Vatican officials today held a
press conference to discuss the rich history of St. Peter’s Basilica
and outline plans for the birthday year.