Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, located a short distance from the Baths of Trajan on the slopes of the Fagutale, the westernmost of the hills that made up the Esquiline, is also known as the Eudoxian Basilica: according to tradition it was founded in 442 by Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Valentinian III. The empress is said to have built the church to house the relic of the chains – vincula in Latin, from which the church’s current name derives – that bound the apostle Peter in the Mamertine prison. According to the ancient sources, the two chains were given by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to the empress Aelia Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II and mother of Eudoxia. The chains are now kept in a reliquary beneath the main altar of the church. The historical basis of the legend according to which the church was founded on the site of an earlier building of Christian worship, the titulus Apostolorum, is obviously impossible to prove. Recent excavations have identified the structures of some houses of the second and third centuries AD beneath the basilica. Though restored several times over the centuries, the church preserves the typical plan of early Christian basilicas with three halls divided by two rows of columns. In San Pietro in Vincoli, the columns represent a classic example of the reuse of older materials and probably come from a nearby public building of the Roman period, perhaps the Porticus Liviae. The church owes its current appearance to Pope Julius II, a member of the Roman aristocratic Della Rovere family, who in 1503 added the entrance porch and restored the nearby convent, entrusting the construction of the cloister to the famous Giuliano da Sangallo. After the Unification of Italy, the fine convent building was assigned to the Faculty of Engineering of La Sapienza University, which still occupies it today.

Inside, the church hosts the funeral monument of Pope Julius II, decorated with the famous Moses by Michelangelo Buonarroti. When the pope died in 1513, the funeral monument was not yet finished, and his remains were buried in St Peter’s Basilica, where they were desecrated during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Only in 1610 were his remains definitively buried in San Pietro in Vincoli.