St Peter's Basilica, the largest and most important Catholic church in the world, built on the tomb of the first Pope, marked its 500th anniversary on 18 April. The centre of liturgical life at the Vatican, St Peter's is not a cathedral. But it holds pre-eminent place because it is built at the site of the first Pontiff's martyrdom. The Governorate of Vatican City State will issue a series of commemorative stamps to mark the occasion, the Vatican Information Service reported. At a press conference on Thursday, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the basilica, traced a brief history of the basilica, beginning with the Emperor Constantine's original fourth-century construction. By the end of the 14th century, the structure put up by Constantine was in danger of collapse. The pontiffs decide to build 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. St Peter's Square can easily accommodate 50,000 people. The basilica itself, with its huge central nave, can also accommodate thousands of worshippers, and is the site for papal liturgical celebrations. The basilica, said Cardinal Marchisano, 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 said, one of the most visited sites in the world, with between five and 20 thousand people crossing its doors each day. Source: VIS
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