Rome, St Peters

Also known as Old St Peters
Era 12AD - 13AD
Location Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City

A few fragments of twelfth-thirteenth-century mosaic survive from Old St Peter’s and when I saw them were on display in the grottoes below St Peter’s (where the popes are buried). Innocent III (1198-1216) repaired the apse mosaic of Old St Peter’s before his death in 1216. This seems to have shown an enthroned Christ, flanked by Paul and Peter, with a river landscape running along the bottom fed by the four rivers of Paradise. Below this, the familiar procession of sheep trotting out from Jerusalem and Bethlehem towards the Lamb of God was interrupted by the figures of Ecclesia Romana (the Roman Church) holding a standard and Innocent himself either side of the Lamb. The heads of the pope and Ecclesia , and a dove, survive.

Gregory IX (1227-1241) restored the façade of St Peter’s, adding a new mosaic of which the heads of the pope himself and of St Luke survive. The overall mosaic may have had three registers with the twenty-four elders on the lowest level, then a band of acclaiming evangelists, and above them all, the evangelist symbols flanking an enthroned Christ, Virgin and St Peter, with the pope at his feet.


Old St Peter’s is the church built by Constantine the Great in the fourth century over what was (and is) believed to be the burial place of St Peter. It was one of the most venerated churches in the Christian world, a major pilgrimage church. Throughout the Middle Ages, popes restored and renewed it. Pope Julius II (1503-1513) commissioned its destruction, an act of unsurpassed vandalism.