Artifact Corner: Victorian Souvenir Sketch – St Peter’s Basilica

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at one of the souvenirs brought back from Frances Henrietta and Henry Webb’s honeymoon to Europe in 1833. The couple spent over a year touring Europe, and spent time in France, Italy and England. During their travels to Rome, they picked up a souvenir book, which contains many sketches of famous landmarks. This is one of the pages, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We know Frances and Henry visited The Vatican City thanks to Frances’ journal from their honeymoon.

Here is an excerpt from that journal entry:

Saturday, February 2 (1833)
At nine this morning we set out in a carriage proceeding to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The chapel is filled with frescoes by Michaelangelo. Where the seats are for ladies is a very open grating about the height of a person. This being the exclusive chapel of the Pope the ladies cannot look at him except through a grate. Knowing that he was to officiate we were informed that we must go in dress and the ladies with their veils. I was fortunate in procuring a stand directly by the grate. The Swiss guards gazed at me for trespassing so much nearer the grate than the other ladies. But as my view was decidedly the best, I was seemingly ignorant of my encroachment. Today is Candlemas Day. The Pope was seated on a throne with Cardinals surrounding him very richly dressed, then the different orders of priests, Monks, etc. Among the most conspicuous ceremonies was the blessing of the candles. The Cardinals one by one presented a candle to the Pope, he blessing it and they kneeling kissing his toe and finger ring.

Let’s learn a bit more about St. Peter’s Basilica. The original basilica of St. Peter was constructed under the orders of Constantine in the year 319. It was the belief that this was the spot where St. Peter was crucified by the Romans in 64 AD. 250 years later Christianity was spreading across Europe like wild re, and churches began to spring up everywhere. The original church was over 350 feet long and 125 feet high, a massive and impressive structure. Many smaller chapels, each with holy relics were formed in the church over the years. The church stood for over 1,000 years, and was a holy pilgrimage for Medieval travelers. By the 1400’s, the church was really showing signs of it’s age. Some sections of the wall were leaning so badly, they were measured at being 5 feet o from vertical. Sections of the ceiling started to come down during mass, causing many people to flee. This was when Pope Julius II decided it
was time to replace the crumbling basilica. Construction of the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626. The current basilica is comprised of stone from the old basilica as well as ancient Roman ruins. Many of the greatest Renaissance artists contributed works to St. Peter’s, such as Michelangelo and Raphael.

Having been to St. Peter’s personally, I must say, it is an amazing work of Renaissance architecture, and if you are in Rome, it is a must see! This sketch of the basilica is in fantastic shape, and it’s amazing how similar St. Peter’s looks 190 years after this drawing was done. We are so lucky to have this piece in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website: