At the intersection of the nave and the transept of the Saint Peter’s Basilica stands a huge bronze canopy of nearly 30 metres high. This canopy marks the place where the crypt of the apostle St. Peter lies. It was built between 1624 and 1633 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Even though all credit ususally goes to him, he has had a lot of help from assistants and from the architect Francesco Borromini, who also made a lot of design drawings for the canopy. Even Bernini’s dad helped him.
The pope at this time was Urban VIII. He and Bernini already knew each other well and this is why Bernini got a lot of important assignments, like this one. The legend around this canopy is that the favorite niece of the pope was pregnant and there were some complications. Urban VIII prayed to God and promised to build an altar to Saint Peter if the pregnancy would end well. His prayers were answered and he consequently ordered Bernini to build the canopy. This myth probably exists because of the female figure on the canopy.
The story is probably untrue though. Urban VIII most likely ordered the canopy to be built because at this time, the catholic church was experiencing a crisis. Not only were more and more people converting to protestantism, there were also some scientists doing experiments that questioned things the church had always said to be true. Urban VIII believed that beautiful art could convince people to remain catholic. The canopy is one of the many examples of expensive artistic projects under the papacy of Urban VIII.
So, what’s up with all the bees? Urban VIII came from the Barberini family and their family weapon was a shield with three bees. Family pride was very important for a lot of popes at this moment, so they incorporated their family weapon in almost every building and artwork they commissioned. If you pay attention while walking through Rome, you will see the Barberini bees everywhere!