Constantine, who reigned from 306 A.D. to 332 A.D.,
ended the persecutions of Christians, by proclaiming
the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., which established
freedom of worship. It favours the construction of
places of Christian worship, especially that
commemorating the Apostle.
He ordered the
erection of a place of worship above his tomb
One might think that this first building was very
small because probably, prior to its construction,
there lied the structure of a domus ecclesiae, that
is a domestic church. On November 18, 324 A.D. the
Basilica was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I (314
A.D. - 335 A.D.).
important restoration work of 2006, one can notice
by observing the ground that the apse was oriented
eastward following the custom of the times.
Basilica of the Three Emperors
In 395 it was consecrated by Pope Silicius
In order to enlarge the Basilica, by that time too
small for the continuous influx of pilgrims, it
became necessary to change its orientation, from
East to West.
The style of its structure was Byzantine, measuring
131,66 meters long, 65 meters wide and 30 meters high.
It was built according to a design which specified
five naves (a large central nave 29,70 meters long,
flanked by four lateral naves) all sustained by a
so-called “forest” of 80 monolithic columns made of
granite and its quadriportico (70 meters long), that
is, a courtyard with four rows of columns. It had
been the largest Roman Basilica until the
re-construction of St. Peter’s.
Witnessing to the Church’s love for this place,
throughout the following centuries the Popes would
not cease to restore and embellish it by adding
frescoes, mosaics, paintings and chapels.
The apse of the first Basilica of Constantine, which
dates back to the fourth century and is currently
visible through a transparent glass floor, was
discovered thanks to these important excavations
around the tomb. One should not exclude the
possibility that these foundations could also
contain the remains of the ancient
tropaeum, that is,
the commemorative monument which was erected above
the tomb of the Apostle.
2) In 386
A.D. Theodosius, Arcadius and Valentinian II
assigned the work for the new Basilica to the
architect Cyriades. The Basilica was completed under
Emperor Honorius, according to the inscription on
the Triumphal Arch named after Galla Placidia, the
sister of the Emperor who financed the project.