Date of Award

Spring 2011

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Dr. Kim Dennis


New St. Peter’s Basilica is the second largest church in the world and considered by many to be the most beautiful. Built mainly during the sixteenth century, it took over a century to complete, and withstood corruption, wars, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, good popes and evil ones, and inched its way toward completion in 1626. The main funding for the early stages of building New St. Peter’s came from the sale of indulgences. Indulgences did more than help pay for the basilica, however. The abusive means of selling indulgences, including lies from priests and the papacy about their efficacy, resulted in an uprising, led by Martin Luther of Germany, and the result was the Reformation and split in the Church. For those who were seduced away from the Church by the allure of the Renaissance and the secular aspects of humanism, Luther’s protestations offered an alternative ideology and the Protestant Church was born. Indulgences also paid for some of the most exquisite art in the world. The project brought together some of the world’s greatest minds and talent, including Michelangelo, Bramante, Bernini, and Raphael. They worked in concert, along with many others, toward a common goal: creating the most spectacular and inspiring religious site of all time. Its artwork is unsurpassed, making it a pilgrimage even for non-believers. This work focuses on the period from Nicholas V (r. 1447-1455) to the death of Michelangelo in 1564, chief architect of St. Peter’s at the time and argues that in spite of the avarice and corruption that surrounded indulgences, building the basilica was worth the cost. With the enormous help of indulgences, New St. Peter’s brought together the greatest visionaries, artists, and architects—possibly of all time—to build the greatest basilica to the glory of God. Indulgence sales, in spite of their abuses, left their mark on history in a positive way. To this day, the basilica inspires thousands of Christians who come to view its splendor and rejuvenate their faith.