The porphyry disc in St. Peter where Charlemagne was crowned in the year 800 is still there

A photo of the Red Porphyry Disk by Linda C. McCabe

A photo of the Red Porphyry Disk by Linda C. McCabe from Legends of Medieval France and Italy.



There is a place in Rome where you can walk over a floor that had Charlemagne on his knees on it.

The most amusing thing about it is that most people don’t even know that. In fact, if you’ve ever been inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you’ve probably already walked on it.

On the centerline of the church, in front of the main access door, lies a red porphyry disc. It is called the Rota Porphyretica.



Old St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Old St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

Today’s church is “only” 400 years old. It was built during the Renaissance in place of a previous basilica, which dated back to fourth century A.D.
That’s right, old St. Peter’s Basilica was erected during late Roman Empire era, and stayed there for 1200 years.

The red porphyry disc you see at the entrance of today’s St. Peter was present in the old basilica, located in front of the main altar. That makes it nearly 1700 years old.

During renaissance years the popes decided to build a new basilica. Therefore the old church was tore down and the current one was built in the same place.
At that point, little was left of the old building. However, the porphyry disc was spared and installed on the new basilica at its present location.


Friedrich_Kaulbach_-_Krönung_Karls_des_GroßenDue to its position in the first church, emperors were crowned throughout the Middle Ages on the porphyry disc.
Charlemagne kneeled there on Christmas night of year 800 AD while Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

That happened over 1,200 years ago, and the red disc was already 500 years old.


Many other kings and emperors were crowned on the red porphyry disc in the following centuries.
A legend wants King Alfred the Great of England to have been one of them. However, since he made is pilgrimage to Rome as a little child and since at that time he had three living older brothers, it was very unlikely that the Pope – and anybody else – could forebode him as a future monarch and thus thinking of crowning him.
However, even thou he wasn’t crowned there, King Alfred probably walked over the red disc as well, and so did other hundreds of European personalities throughout the centuries during the Middle Ages.

And so can we to this day.

St. Peter's Basilica today

Today’s St. Peter’s Basilica


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6 Thoughts on “The porphyry disc in St. Peter where Charlemagne was crowned in the year 800 is still there

  1. I’ve never been to Rome but the photos I see always keep me interested. I’m not an architecture aficionado but that one of St. Peter’s Basilica reinforces my interest in that exotic looking city.
    Mike@Earthdrifter recently posted..Captured For the Camera: 20 Photos From HindustanMy Profile

  2. @Mike: everywhere in Rome you can find something that tells a story or that physically dates back millennia, often unnoticed. This is an example. Plus, for a food-interested person like you, Rome features its own peculiar recipes, as any other region in Italy.

  3. Thanks for another enjoyable story. I will take it with me next time I walk over the ‘red disk’ in St. Peter’s:)
    Mette – Italian Notes recently posted..The Charterhouse of PaviaMy Profile

  4. Deb Novotny on June 29, 2014 at 8:48 pm said:

    When I visited St. Peter’s in 2010, I asked the guide about the red disk and she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I told our group about Charlemagne in 800!

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