Pope Benedict XVI today marked the 500th anniversary of the laying of the first stone of the current St. Peter’s Basilica, saying he hoped it would awaken Catholics’ desire to be “living cornerstones” of the church’s growth.
Benedict made the remarks after delivering the traditional Regina Coeli blessing the day after Easter from his window at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
He noted that on April 18, 1506, Pope Julius II laid the first stone of the new basilica. The modern-day basilica was erected over one built in the 4th century by Constantine, the Roman emperor who was a strong supporter of Christianity.
Pope Julius II, a warrior-pontiff who expanded the borders of the Vatican state, then extending over most of central Italy, had wanted an awe-inspiring monument that would give a tangible image of the greatness and power of the church.
Amid financial difficulties and artistic bickering, it took 120 years until Pope Urban VIII consecrated the new basilica in 1626.