Act of God? Lightning Strikes St. Peter's Dome

Lightning strikes St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 11, 2013, a few hours after Pope Benedict XVI said he was resigning.
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Monday's (Feb. 11) surprising announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he was resigning from the papacy struck some observers like a bolt out of the blue.

And a few hours later, an actual bolt of lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica, the centerpiece of the Vatican and one of the holiest sites in Christendom, NBC News reported.

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Was the lightning strike, coming just hours after Pope Benedict's announcement, evidence of God's wrath, or some ominous sign from above? Perhaps, but it was more likely the natural result of a rainstorm that was passing over Rome at the time.

Lightning often strikes religious symbols, because they are usually placed high in the sky and are, in many cases, the highest thing around. Coupled with the fact that they're often made of metal, lightning striking religious statuary or other icons seems quite normal.

Brazil's 130-foot "Christ the Redeemer" statue atop Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf Mountain, for example, has been struck by lightning several times since it was completed in 1931.

Secular objects are also often struck by lightning. Airplanes are struck by lightning frequently, and the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and other tall buildings have all been hit.

St. Peter's Basilica is the tallest dome in the world at 448 feet (137 meters) from the floor to the cross that was added to the very top by Pope Clement VIII in the 16th century. A lightning rod points skyward from the top of that cross — it's likely that this is what was struck by lightning Monday.

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