PHOTOS: Discover 8 Beautiful Images of the Virgin Mary in St. Peter’s Basilica
‘Virtual tour’ for the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church
To honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Vatican offers a special Marian pilgrimage within St. Peter’s Basilica each Saturday afternoon during the month of May.
The Marian itinerary brings pilgrims from the moving marble sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pietà to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a 12th-century painting brought into the basilica in 1578 in a solemn procession.
For those unable to travel to the Eternal City, CNA is providing the following “virtual tour” of eight beautiful images of Our Lady in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.
In the basilica’s Chapel of the Choir, a large altarpiece reveals Mary, Virgin Immaculate, in the glory of heaven above angels and saints. The mosaic, based on an 18th-century painting by Italian artist Pietro Bianchi, depicts St. John Chrysostom St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Anthony of Padua venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The chapel can be found on the left side of the basilica behind an iron gate designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. John Chrysostom is buried beneath the altar, which also contains relics of St. Francis and St. Anthony.
When Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary on Dec. 8, 1854, he had a golden crown added to the mosaic of Mary. Pope Pius X later added a larger diamond crown to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration in 1904.
The original painting by Bianchi can be found in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
Mother of the Church
The basilica contains an icon of the Virgin Mary titled Mater Ecclesiae, which means “Mother of the Church.”
The original image of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child was painted on a column in old St. Peter’s Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. It was later transferred to the 16th-century St. Peter’s Basilica. Paul VI honored the icon with the title Mater Ecclesiae after the Second Vatican Council.
The icon can still be seen above one of the basilica’s side altars in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column, which also contains the remains of Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461).
A mosaic of the Virgin Mary overlooking St. Peter’s Square was inspired by the original Mater Ecclesiae image. The mosaic was installed after the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II in 1981.
When he blessed the mosaic, John Paul II prayed “that all those who will come to this St. Peter’s Square will lift up their gaze towards you [Mary], to direct, with feelings of filial trust, their greetings and their prayers.”
In 2018, Pope Francis added the memorial of “Mary, Mother of the Church” to the liturgical calendar for the Monday after Pentecost.
Mother of Pilgrims
A restored 16th-century painting of Our Lady holding her Son can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica above the sarcophagus of Pope Gregory XIV.
The image is titled Mater Peregrinorum (Mother of Pilgrims). The original artist is not known, but Italians also refer to the painting as the Madonna di Scossacavalli because it came from Rome’s Church of San Giacomo Scossacavalli, which was demolished in 1937 to create the current Via della Conciliazione leading to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
A 12th-century painting on wood titled Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Succor, was transferred to an altar in St. Peter’s Gregorian Chapel on Feb. 12, 1578, with a solemn procession.
The painting was the first artistic restoration completed under Pope Francis’ pontificate during the Year of Faith, according to a book published by the Knights of Columbus.
The remains of the doctor of the Church St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390) are preserved in an urn beneath the Altar of Our Lady of Succor in the Gregorian Chapel, found on the right side of the basilica.
Ark of the Covenant
A colorful mosaic altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple brightens the wall above the tomb of Pope St. Pius X (d. 1914) in the Presentation Chapel near the left-front entrance of the basilica.
A young Mary is depicted on the steps of the Temple with her parents, Sts. Anne and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus.
The mosaic completed by Pietro Paolo Cristofari in 1728 is based on a painting by 17th-century artist Giovanni Francesco Romaneli, the original of which can be found in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
Gate of Heaven
The central door leading to basilica was retained from the old St. Peter’s Basilica and is known as the Filarete Door. Created by a Florentine artist in 1455, the door depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul.
According to Father Agnello Stoia, the pastor of the parish of St. Peter’s Basilica, the 15th-century image of Mary on the door is a reminder of Mary’s title of Gate of Heaven.
Queen Assumed Into Heaven
Looking up at the soaring cupola, or dome, of St. Peter’s Basilica, one sees mosaics depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary next to Christ the Redeemer, along with St. John the Baptist and the apostles.
The mosaic of the Virgin Mary on the Great Dome, completed in 1610 by Orazio Gentileschi, is based on drawings by Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Cesari.
Mother of the Redeemer
Michelangelo Buonarroti carved the Pietà from a single slab of Carrara marble when he was 24 years old. The sculpture was unveiled in St. Peter's Basilica for the Jubilee of 1500.
The moving sculpture conveys the faith and emotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she cradles in her arms the dead body of her only Son after witnessing him crucified.
The sculpture sits above a side altar near the front entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica, where Mass was sometimes offered before recent restrictions. Visitors to the basilica can only see the Pietà behind bulletproof glass after a man attacked the sculpture with a hammer in May 1972.
The Pietà was the only work of art that Michelangelo ever signed.