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Thursday, April 20, 2006


VATICAN CITY, APR 20, 2006 (VIS) - In the Holy See Press Office at midday today, a press conference was held to present the celebrations being organized to mark the fifth centenary of St. Peter's Basilica.

Participating in the event were Cardinals Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the basilica, and Albert Vanhoye S.J., rector emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical College; Archbishop Angelo Comastri and Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, respectively president and delegate of the Fabric of St. Peter's; Antonio Paolucci, superintendent of the Florentine Museums and curator of the exhibition, "Petros Eni;" and Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, bureau chief at the Fabric of St. Peter's.

In his talk, Cardinal Marchisano traced a brief history of the basilica, beginning with the emperor Constantine's original fourth-century construction. By the end of the 14th century, in light of the frailty of the Constantinian structure, pontiffs were desirous of building a new church, a project that finally began on April 18, 1506 when Pope Julius II placed the first stone of the current basilica. Work continued for a further 130 years and involved such artists as Bramante, Sangallo, Michelangelo and Bernini.

The basilica, said the cardinal, possesses an extraordinary archive composed of 3,050,000 documents concerning the work carried out from the beginning to our own times. It is, he added, one of the most visited sites in the world, with between five and 20 thousand people crossing its doors each day.

For his part, Archbishop Comastri recalled that in 1939, "by decision of Pope Pius XII, excavation work began under St. Peter's Basilica. To great astonishment, the ancient necropolis interred by Constantine's architects in the year 320 came to light. Moving up the slopes of the Vatican hill, a small monument was found, identified as the 'Tropaion of Gaius;' this discovery was followed by that of the famous red wall with the graffiti 'Petros eni' and a series of other graffiti all testifying to the devotion to Peter in this place."

Bishop Lanzani's talk concerned the issuing of stamps and coins to commemorate the anniversary.

"The Governorate of Vatican City State will issue a series of commemorative stamps of the value of 0.45 and 0.60 euros," he said. "The first represents the commemorative medal of Bramante, produced by Cristoforo Foppa between the years 1505 and 1506. ... The second depicts the medal placed in the foundations of the new St. Peters, also the work of Cristoforo Foppa." Both stamps bear the inscription: "Templum Divi Petri in Vaticano 1506-1606."

The Fabric of St. Peter's will also mint two medals for the occasion, one in silver and one in two different metals, the work of the Italian engraver Sergio Giandomenico. One side shows the consignment of the keys to St. Peter against the background of the basilica, with the emblem of the Fabric of St. Peter's underneath and the inscription "Patriarcalis Basilica Principis Apostolorum 1506-1606" around the edge. On the other side is an image of the Holy Father with the phrase "Benedictus XVI, Pontifex Maximus."

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