San Pietro in Vincoli (Moses Statue)

The Moses by MichelangeloThis small church was built around 440 AD to house a reliquary believed to contain the prison chains of Saint Peter. The chains are actually two sets (one from Rome’s Maritime Prison and the other from the time of Herod) with a splendid story behind them. Legend states that when the Jerusalem chains were brought to Rome to join those from the Maritime Prison, the two sets linked together miraculously. The chains and their reliquary are still kept here on display beneath the altar.

The vincoli, or chains, may have given the church its name, but today it’s best known for Michelangelo’s Moses. This amazing work of art captures Moses, armed with the Ten Commandments, just at the moment he makes ready to return to the Children of Israel. The dazzling statue was originally intended to be part of a gargantuan, monumental tomb for and commissioned by Pope Julius II. About a year into the project, however, the Pope changed his mind and ordered Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Four years later he returned to his work on the tomb, but in an on-again/off-again fashion. He died having only completed Moses and The Dying Slaves (now housed in the Louvre). His students eventually completed the few other figures that he started, but they remain a far cry from his intended number of 48 statues.

Regarding Moses’ little horns: They should really be beams of light and are the result of a wrong mediaeval translation of the Old Testament. The artist knew about the mistake, but chose to use it in order to capture the prophet’s anger. After all, he caught his people worshiping a golden calf god!

The church is located relatively close to the Colosseum and is open daily from 7am to 12:30pm and again from 3:30pm to 7pm. Even if no admission fee is charged, donations are appreciated.