The Basilica of St. Peter in the Gold Sky (or Sky of Gold) is one of the great Romanesque churches of Northern Italy. Despite being dedicated to Peter the Apostle, it houses the Tomb of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of early Christianity’s greatest theologians. Interestingly, Augustine has two other full basilicas named in his honor, in Algeria and in Rome. It has been a popular pilgrimage destination since the 8th century as it is located along one of the major roads to Rome. In addition to Augustine and other relics enshrined here, the basilica’s great draw is its fabled gold-leaf dome, one of the most breathtaking pieces of decorative architecture of the Middle Ages.
Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original Doctors of the Church, was among the most important Christian figures of the late Roman era. Born to a Christian mother and a Pagan father, Augustine’s early life is one of history’s great studies in religious experimentation. He practiced, at one time or another, Paganism, Manichaeism and Neo-Platonism. He was also a hedonist and was known to seek pleasures of the flesh in numerous forms; all of this despite his mother’s earnest efforts to convert him to Christianity.
In the end he did fully embrace a Christian life. While working as a teacher of rhetoric in Milan, the city’s bishop, Ambrose (another of the four original doctors) finally converted Augustine. From that time on, he dedicated his life to the study and teaching of Christian theology. Interestingly, he applied much of what he learned from experiences in his earlier life to enhance and expound on his Christian views. Some of his ideas, including his thoughts on original sin and the relationship of grace to true freedom, went on to become cornerstones of Christian theology.
Augustine was active at a time when the Roman Empire in the west was crumbling before the onslaught of German invaders. Many of his works, including City of God, appear to have been written to address the great changes that were taking place at the time. His later years were spent in Hippo in modern-day Algeria where he served as the city’s bishop. According to legend, several miracles of healing were attributed to him during his life. Not long after his death, Vandal invaders destroyed Hippo, leaving only the church that Augustine founded standing.
Augustine was interred in his church in Algeria in 430, but the remains were soon moved to Sardinia for safety. They were moved again in 720, when he was reinterred in the Church of Peter in Pavia near Milan where he converted. A new church, the present structure, was built over the site in the 12th century. In later years, the corpse was moved several more times, but ultimately was returned to Pavia in 1896 after the church underwent a complete renovation.
The Basilica of St. Peter in the Sky of Gold is probably one of the most overlooked Catholic churches in Italy, both religiously and artistically. Despite its proximity to Milan, it is off the beaten tourist path. While dedicated pilgrims still make their way to Pavia, casual visitors are not common. The current church was completed in 1132 and is among the better examples of Romanesque architecture in Northern Italy. After briefly being used for storage during the Napoleanic wars, the basilica was completely restored in the 19th century.
The Tomb of Augustine is impressive, and features a stunning reliquary adorned with carved figures and engravings featuring scenes from the Bible and from the saint’s life. Also located in the church is the Tomb of Boethius, a Christian martyr of the early 6th century. Directly above Augustine’s tomb is the fabled ‘sky of gold’, a half-dome decorated in gold-leaf and mosaics which depict St. Peter before the throne of Christ in Heaven, one of the finest pieces of pre-Renaissance Christian art.
Tucked away in a suburb of Milan, and dominated by numerous other churches, the Basilica of St. Peter in the Sky of Gold is an absolute delight for those pilgrims and visitors who make their way there. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: Not Available.
Pavia has a surprising number of historically and architecturally important churches. The Church of St. Michael Maggiore was the site of the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1155 (a predecessor on the same site was visited by Charlemagne). The Cathedral of Pavia boasts the third largest dome in Italy. Other important churches in the city are the Basilica of St. Theodore of Pavia and the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. For Augustine enthusiasts, the Basilica of St. Augustine in Annaba, Algeria marks the place of the saint’s ministry.
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