Last Sunday evening, lightning struck the crucifix atop St. Peter's Basilica not once, but twice. The timing of this event only adds to its curiosity: it happened within hours of Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he would step down as leader of the worldwide Catholic Church--the first such resignation from a pope since the year 1415 by Pope Gregory XII.
Filippe Monteforo, professional photographer for the Agence France-Presse, just happened to capture the shot.
"I took the picture from St. Peter's Square while sheltered by the columns. It was icy cold and the rain was falling in sheets. When the storm started, I thought that lightning might strike the rod, so I decided it was worth seeing whether - if it DID strike - I could get the shot at exactly the right moment... The first bolt was huge and lit up the sky, but unfortunately I missed it. I had better luck the second time, and was able to snap a couple of images of the dome illuminated by the bolt."
Despite the popular expression "lightning never strikes the same place twice," repeat lightning strikes are possible (albeit very rare).
The storms that moved through St. Peter's Square were associated with a powerful system that brought up to a foot (305 mm) of snow to the northern parts of the country. It's unclear how often the Vatican receives lightning strikes, but if it's similar to other such structures, it could see them as often as several times a year.
To view a video of the strike, click here.