The Church of St Peter in Chains, also known as San Pietro in Vicoli, is a basilica for both art lovers and pilgrims. The church was originally built in the fifth century to house the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned by the Romans in Jerusalem, which eventually made their way to Rome, where they arrived in two parts. One part of the chain was sent to Eudoxia, the wife of emperor Valentinian III, and when compared to shackles held by Pope Leo I, legend says they miraculously fused together to form a single chain, which is now kept in a big bronze and crystal urn under the main altar.
The church is maybe best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, a part of a never completed funeral monument for Pope Julius II. Forty statues were planned, but Julius’ constant efforts to immortalize himself with giant projects soon had Michelangelo’s attentions diverted to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo begrudgingly obliged but above all saw himself as a sculptor rather than a painter, and was unhappy about only being able to work on his beloved marble sporadically. In the end, only a few of the planned statues were completed before his death.
This leads back to the Moses statue, the most prominent figure of the whole composition. It is recognized as one of Michelangelo’s best works, with Moses looking more brushed than chiseled with two controversial horns protruding from his head, the result of a mistranslation of a biblical passage from Hebrew to Latin, where a word was wrongly interpreted as “horns” instead of the traditional beams of light. It is unknown whether Michelangelo was aware of this and what his intentions were. He definitely had a taste for pranks though, as it is said that he hid his own profile and those of his patrons in the tangles of Moses’ beard.
From April to September, the church is open daily from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. In fall and winter, it closes a bit earlier at 6 p.m. While St Peter in Chains is only a short walk from the Colosseum, the closest metro stop is Cavour. Walk up the flight of stairs, turn right into the piazza and you will see the basilica to your left.