The two colossal marble statues of St Peter and St Paul, which flank the steps leading up to St Peter's Basilica, were originally commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831-46) for the Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura (Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls).
St Paul's Basilica had been almost destroyed by a fire, which broke out during the night of July 15th/16th, 1823, and was in the process of being rebuilt. However in 1847, owing to delays in its reconstruction, Gregory's successor, Pius IX (r. 1846-78), decided to erect the statues in their present position.
The two colossal statues stand on equally colossal pedestals (5 m). Each pedestal sports the coat of arms of Pope Pius IX and of the Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro (R.F.S.P.), the body responsible for the conservation and maintenance of St. Peter's Basilica.
The statue of St. Paul (1838) was created by Adamo Tadolini (1788-1863), a student of the great neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova. St. Paul holds a long sword, the instrument of his martyrdom, and a scroll. On the scroll is written in Hebrew: 'I can do all things in him who strengthens me' (Phil. 4:13).
The statue of St Peter (1835-8) is the work of Giuseppe de Fabris (1790-1860). The apostle holds two keys in his right hand and a scroll in his left. On the latter is written in Latin: ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORUM (And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew: 16:19, KJV).
St Peter and St Paul are the patron saints of Rome. Their joint feast day is held on June 29th, which is a public holiday in the Eternal City.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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