Halfway via Cavour, coming from via dei Fori Imperiali, on the right, you meet the staircase of via San Francesco di Paola. At the top, you will find Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, dominated by the 16th-century facade of the homonymous basilica, also known as the Eudoxian Basilica. This was, in fact, built in the V century by Licinia Eudossia, wife of Valentinian III and daughter of Theodosius II, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Her mother, Elia Eudocia, received the chains that had kept St. Peter bound in Jerusalem from Giovenale, Patriarch of the city. She sent them to her daughter, who wanted to donate them to Pope Leo the Great, who already possessed the ones used in the Mamertine Prison. When the two chains were brought together, they miraculously merged into one. The church was built to celebrate and remember this miracle and to worthily keep this precious relic. The basilica owes its name to the chains. The word chain, in fact, can be translated into Latin with the term vincula. They are today preserved under the high altar and are visible every August 1st.
The restorations commissioned by Julius II at the beginning of the 16th century, which affected the facade and the porch, gave the church its current appearance.
The Basilica, however, is mostly famous because, since 1545, it houses one of the masterpieces of Renaissance art: Michelangelo Buonarroti's Moses, the colossal statue, sculpted in 1513, to adorn the funeral monument of Julius II.
The artist designed a grandiose architectural and sculptural complex, but had to suspend its execution, as the pope's interest was directed entirely to the reconstruction of the St. Peter's basilica. The idea of the mausoleum seemed shelved.
For Michelangelo, it was a disappointment, a pain that led him to define it: "the tragedy of the burial". Abandoned any idea of architectural grandeur, the sculpture was finished after the death of the pope, who was then buried in the basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano. The tomb of San Pietro in Vincoli is, therefore, empty.
The work portrays a sumptuous Moses sitting with the Tables of the Law just received by the Lord. The moment represented by Michelangelo follows the delivery of the Commandments on Mount Sinai. Upon his return, Moses finds the Israelites adoring a golden calf, a pagan idol. Michelangelo's Moses is so angry that he seems about to get up and destroy everything. Michelangelo masterfully depicts the terrible anger of the prophet, sculpting realistic veins that seem to pulse, tense muscles, and a solemn and furious face.
A curiosity: the horns on the head of Moses would derive from a wrong translation of the Exodus Book. In it, it is said that, while descending from Sinai, Moses had two rays on his forehead. In Hebrew, rays translate to karan or karnaim, while horns translate to the term keren. It must be admitted that the two words are very similar; it is easy for the translator to have fallen into error.
In addition to Moses, inside the basilica, you can also admire works by Guercino, Domenichino, and Pomarancio.
Between 1956 and 1960, remarkable buildings were discovered under the floor of the central nave of the church: patrician domus dating back to the republican and imperial age, two houses dating back to the end of the II century BC, and another large Domus, with a rectangular courtyard with central basin and gardens, that was probably part of the Domus Transitoria or the Domus Aurea.
For the timetable of the masses and visiting conditions, please consult the contacts.
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