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Demolition Basilica

The Saint Peters Basilica
Picture of the interior of the first Saint Peter’s Basilica

In the 400s, the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed. As the empire faded, the Roman Catholic Church grew. Over the centuries, it became the most powerful institution in Europe. Rome became its religious and cultural center. But in 1309, Pope Clement V decided to move the papacy (the center of the Catholic Church) to Avignon, France. All the clergy, teachers, visitors, artists, and architects moved away too. Rome began to decay quickly. Buildings began to crumble. Wild animals roamed the streets. Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome in 1376. The church began rebuilding the city, often using stones from ancient Roman buildings. The Basilica of Saint Peter was in bad shape, and the church made plans to restore it. But the basilica’s walls were leaning badly. People feared the whole building would fall over. By the 1400s, the church was discussing whether the eleven-hundred-year-old basilica needed to be completely replaced.

In 1505 Pope Julius II announced plans to tear down the basilica and build a new one. Julius was a strong and ambitious leader with a larger-than-life personality. He wanted to build a basilica that would be the greatest church in the Christian world. It would make Rome the glory of Europe. Many Roman Catholics did not share the pope’s enthusiasm for the project. In fact, they were outraged at the idea of tearing down the old basilica. It was an ancient and sacred building. Julius went ahead with his plans. But to avoid argument, he planned to begin building the new basilica directly behind the old church.

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