St. Peter's Basilica or The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter is a Late Renaissance period church located within the Vatican City. St. Peter's is famous as a place of pilgrimage, for its liturgical functions and for its historical associations. The Pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter's Square.
These liturgies draw audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people. It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom". Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were the principal designer of St. Peter's Basilica. Contrary to popular misconception, Saint Peter's is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop.
It is properly termed a papal basilica and it is one of the four Major Basilicas of Rome. The other Major Basilicas being the Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul outside the Walls. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome. Its central dome dominates the skyline of Rome. It covers an area of 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres). The facade of the basilica, with a giant order of columns, stretches across the end of the square and is approached by steps on which stand two 5.55 metres (18.2ft) statues of the 1st century apostles to Rome, Saints Peter and Paul. The central space is dominated both externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world.
The entire interior is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also chapels surrounding the central dome. St. Peter's Basilica is neither the Pope's official seat nor first in rank among the Major Basilicas of Rome. Pope's cathedral, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, hold this honour.
There are over 100 tombs within St. Peter's Basilica, out of those many are located beneath the basilica in Vatican grotto. These include 91 pope's, Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, St. Ignatius of Antioch and the composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. After been granted asylum by Pope Clement XI, Exiled Catholic British royalty James Francis Edward Stuart and his two sons, Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati, are also buried here. The most recent interment was Pope John Paul II was on 8 April 2005. Beneath, near the crypt, is the recently discovered vaulted 4th-century "Tomb of the Julii".