San Pietro in Vincoli

Church of Saint Peter in Chains
San Pietro in Vincoli al Colle Oppio (Italian)
S. Petri ad vincula (Latin)

Façade of the Basilica
Basic information
Location Rome, Italy
Geographic coordinates 41°53′37.94″N 12°29′35.05″E / 41.8938722°N 12.4930694°E / 41.8938722; 12.4930694Coordinates: 41°53′37.94″N 12°29′35.05″E / 41.8938722°N 12.4930694°E / 41.8938722; 12.4930694
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Year consecrated 439
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Titular church, minor basilica
Website Official website
Architectural description
Architectural type Church
Groundbreaking 5th century
Length 70 metres (230 ft)
Width 40 metres (130 ft)
Width (nave) 16 metres (52 ft)
For other churches of this dedication, see St Peter ad Vincula (disambiguation).

San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) is a Roman Catholic titular church and minor basilica in Rome, Italy, best known for being the home of Michelangelo's statue of Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II.

The Titulus S. Petri ad vincula was assigned on 20 November 2010, to Donald Wuerl. The previous Cardinal Priest of the basilica was Pío Laghi, who died on 11 January 2009.

Next to the church is hosted the Faculty of Engineering of La Sapienza University, in the former convent building. This is named "San Pietro in Vincoli" per antonomasia. The church is located on the Oppian Hill near Cavour metro station, a short distance from the Colosseum.


Also known as the Basilica Eudoxiana, it was first rebuilt on older foundations[1] in 432–440 to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem, the episode called "Liberation of Saint Peter". The Empress Eudoxia (wife of Emperor Valentinian III), who received them as a gift from her mother, Aelia Eudocia, consort of Valentinian II, presented the chains to Pope Leo I. Aelia Eudocia had received these chains as a gift from Iuvenalis, bishop of Jerusalem.

According to legend, when Leo compared them to the chains of St. Peter's final imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison, in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together. The chains are now kept in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica.[2]

The basilica, consecrated in 439 by Sixtus III, has undergone several restorations, among them a restoration by Pope Adrian I, and further work in the eleventh century. From 1471 to 1503, in which year he was elected Pope Julius II, Cardinal Della Rovere, the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, effected notable rebuilding. The front portico, attributed to Baccio Pontelli, was added in 1475. The cloister (1493–1503) has been attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo. Further work was done at the beginning of the 18th century, under Francesco Fontana, and there was also a renovation in 1875.


Interior of the basilica

The interior has a nave and two aisles, with three apses divided by antique Doric columns. The aisles are surmounted by cross-vaults, while the nave has an 18th-century coffered ceiling, frescoed in the center by Giovanni Battista Parodi, portraying the Miracle of the Chains (1706). In this scene, Pope Alexander heals the neck goiter of Saint Balbina by touching her with the chains that once bound St Peter.

Michelangelo's Moses (completed in 1515), while originally intended as part of a massive 47-statue, free-standing funeral monument for Pope Julius II, became the centerpiece of the Pope's funeral monument and tomb in this, the church of della Rovere family. Moses is depicted with horns, connoting "the radiance of the Lord", due to the similarity in the Hebrew words for "beams of light" and "horns". This kind of iconographic symbolism was common in early sacred art, and for an artist horns are easier to sculpt than rays of light.

Other works of art include two canvases of Saint Augustine and St. Margaret by Guercino, the monument of Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi designed by Domenichino, who is also the painter of a sacristy fresco depicting the Liberation of St. Peter (1604). The altarpiece on the first chapel to the left is a Deposition by Cristoforo Roncalli. The tomb of Cardinal Nicholas of Kues (d 1464), with its relief, Cardinal Nicholas before St Peter, is by Andrea Bregno. Painter and sculptor Antonio Pollaiuolo is buried at the left side of the entrance. He is the Florentine sculptor who added the figures of Romulus and Remus to the sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf on the Capitol.[3] The tomb of Cardinal Cinzio Passeri Aldobrandini, decorated with an allegorical skeletal representation of Death, is also in the church.

In 1876 archeologists discovered the tombs of those once believed to be the seven Maccabean martyrs depicted in 2 Maccabees 7–41.[4] It is highly unlikely that these are in fact the Jewish martyrs that had offered their lives in Jerusalem. They are remembered each year on 1 August, the same day as the miracle of the fusing of the two chains.

18th century fresco, The Miracle of the Chains in the center of the coffered ceiling by Giovanni Battista Parodi (1706).

The third altar in the left aisle holds a mosaic of Saint Sebastian from the seventh century. This mosaic is related to an outbreak of plague in Pavia, in northern Italy. The relics of Sebastian were taken there in order to stop a 680 outbreak of plague, since Sebastian was believed to have been born in Lombardy, and an altar was constructed for his relics at a San Pietro in Vincoli in Pavia. As a symbol of the subsequently reinforced relationship between Pavia and Rome, an identical altar to Sebastian was built at the Roman church of the same name, resulting in a parallel cult for the saint in both regions.[5]

List of Cardinal-Priests since 1405

List of the cardinal titulars of the church[6][7]


  1. Excavations in 1956–59 revealed older foundation of the same dimensions, rising on Roman remains of various periods, the oldest dating to Republican times (Touring Club Italiano, Roma e dintorni, Milan, 1965:337-39).
  2. "San Pietro in Vincoli". Sacred Destinations.
  3. "Sculpture" . The Oxford Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture. Ed. John B. Hattendorf. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  4. Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of the Catholic Christianity, Saint John Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-578-03834-6 page 170.
  5. Barker, Sheila (2007). "4". In Momando, Franco; Worcester, Thomas. Piety and Plague: from Byzantium to Baroque. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University. p. 92.
  6. "Cardinal Title S. Pietro in Vincoli". Retrieved 2014-06-10.
  7. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church". 2002-01-01. Retrieved 2014-06-10.
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