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Rome's Famous Churches

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 Best Places To Visit In Rome - Churches 1

Fifteen of Rome's Famous Churches

The Virgin Mary as shown in a ceiling fresco at Santa Maria Maggiori

Rome is the city known as the wellspring of the Roman Empire and for the breadth of political and cultural innovations that derived from this unique period of history.  In addition, Rome known as the fount of the Roman Catholic religion, which has also had a worldwide, dramatic impact on culture and politics.

Many of Rome's churches are places of almost indescribable beauty and contain impressive artwork that can be found nowhere else in the world. The history of the churches in Rome  mirror the ebb and flow of political power wielded by the Catholic Church and its popes  during the centuries since its founding.

There are over 900 churches in Rome and each offers a unique snapshot of history and, in many cases, stunning architectural and artistic treasures.  Join us as we tour just of few of these interesting centers of religious faith in Rome.

 

Touring Rome's churches  can be complicated, as there are so many  to see that you will run out of time before you run out of opportunities to explore unique and, perhaps, unanticipated treasures.  In order to simplify things a bit, we have selected only a few of  Rome's churches to try and whet your appetite to see more.   Our list is clearly not exhaustive, although moderately selective.  We will introduce you to churches that are important, interesting, beautiful, usually hundreds of years old and not too far off the beaten track.  We are sure you will develop your own favorites, but if you have some spare time, each of these churches deserves a visit.

              St. Peter's is especially beautiful when viewed from the Tiber River.

Papal Basilicas

There are four Papal Basilicas in the world and all are in Rome.  The Papal Basilicas include  Saint Peter's in the Vatican, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls .  The most important of these is St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City by virtue of the fact that it is the Vatican's principal church, although as Bishop of Rome, the "official" church of the Pope is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

Saint Peters (San Pietro)                  

              St. Peter's marvellous dome is an artisitc and architectural masterpiece.

Saint Peter's Basilica is regarded by many Catholics as their most important church.  St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, was selected by Christ to lead his religion and, after Christ's death, he migrated to the heart of the Roman Empire to continue this task.  St. Peter, who was the first bishop of Rome (and  Pope), was martyred during Nero's reign in the mid-first century and is believed to have been buried with great secrecy in a crypt that is some distance beneath what is now the main altar of Saint Peter's Basilica. 

There have been at least two of churches built at this location in the past and the construction on the present St. Peter's started in the 16th century with completion in the early-17th century.   As can be imagined, the construction of Saint Peter's occurred across the reigns of several popes and the plans for the basilica often changed when new pope's began their reign. 

Saint Peter's is truly a glorious building and we direct you to our one-page guide to St. Peter's Basilica for a detailed description of its interior and exterior. 

For additional information on visiting St. Peter's Basilica, see the official Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/index_it.htm

Saint Peter's Basilica is located in the Vatican City at the top of Saint Peter's Square.

Basilica of Saint John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterno)  

The exceptional Baroque facade of St. John LateranSaint John Lateran is the official cathedral of the church of Rome and the official seat of the Pope in his role as the Bishop of Rome.  The church was built to honor both Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.    The original church in this location was founded in the 4th century, but fell into disrepair and was damaged by fire when the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church was  moved to Avignon during the 14th century.  The church was not restored to its former glory until the 18th century.  Saint John Lateran is a beautiful building that is known for its excellent Baroque facade, which dates from the 18th century restoration. 

The  interior of John Lateran showing the statues  of the Twelve ApostlesThe interior of the Basilica is dramatic and well worth seeing.  Be sure to view the Scala Sancta (the Holy Steps), which are believed to include original components of the staircase ascended by Jesus Christ during his judging and sentencing by Pontius Pilate. Don't miss the statues of the Twelve Apostles and take a quick look at the cloister that survives  from a monastery that once graced the complex.

The obelisk  in the piazza fronting the church  was a creation of Thutmose III and designed for erection at  the Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak.  It was re-discovered there by Constantine the Great who arranged its transport to Constantinople.  However, he died before it  could be shipped and his successor rerouted it to Rome where it was originally displayed at the Circus Maximus. 

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is located on Piazza San Giovanni.

Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore)  

Saint Mary Major, on the Esquiline Hill,  is one of the most visited churches in Rome, as it is theSanta Maria Maggiore has a beautiful interior and stately exterior major Papal Basilica dedicated  to  the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the Christ. 

Portions of the basilica date back to the 5th century and the initiative to build the basilica dated from the Council of Ephesus, which proclaimed the Mary as the mother of God.  Later in life, after the Crucifixion, the Blessed Virgin Mary migrated to Ephesus, which became her final home. 

Be sure to see the mosaics in the central nave, as well as the beautiful Borghese Chapel and the Sistine Chapel (not to be confused with its more famous version in the Vatican).  St. Mary Major also sports an excellent facade by Fuga that becomes even more appealing at night when light spills out from the interior and highlights the beauty of the entrance.  

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is located in the Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore.

 

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura)  

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls has an intricate ceilingIn the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica outside of the Aurelian Walls at the purported location of the grave of Saint Paul the Apostle, who had been martyred during Emperor Nero's reign  in the mid-first century.

The Basilica was enlarged, expanded, restored and redesigned a number of times, with each action contributing an important addition to the church. The new mosaics, cloister, altars and frescos contributed to the beauty and mystique of St. Paul’s basilica.

In the early 19th century a fire destroyed the basilica, although it was rebuilt incorporating several sections that survived the fire.  It was re-consecrated in the mid-19th century. The basilica complex includes the remains of a Benedictine Abbey dating from the tenth century.

See the official Vatican website for almost every detail you could ever hope to know about this Papal Basilica.  

The Basilica of Saint Paul is located on Via Ostiense .

 


Christian Rome Afternoon Tour
 
From Viator Tours

Santa Maria in Trastevere    

Take some time to view the exquisite interior details of Santa Maria in TrastevereSanta Maria in Trastevere (at the Piazza Santa Maria) is thought to be one of the oldest churches in Rome, although its exact age is indeterminate.  Some believe that portions of the church date from the early third century, while others suggest that the construction started in the mid fourth century.  Whatever the real date of construction, Santa Maria in Trastevere feels very old and is one of the most elegant churches in Rome.  It is thought that the columns in the interior of the church were taken from the Baths of Caracalla, as well as other locations and, if you inspect them, you will see designs that are clearly non-Christian.  Several of the interior mosaics are stunning and add to the ambiance of this attractive church.  In addition, Santa Maria in Trastevere  houses a relic known as the "Holy Sponge", which is reputed to be a piece of the sponge that was used to offer Christ a drink during his crucifixion.

Before entering the church, be sure to examine the large mosaic over the top of the arcade, which dates from Medieval times, as well as the four statues of the saints above the entrance portal.  The elegant facade was restored by Fontana in the early 17th century. 

Santa Maria in Trastevere is located in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria del Popolo  Santa Maria del Popolo has one of the richest and colorful interiors of any church in Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo began as a Chapel that was built in the 11th century and later enlarged and modified to the structure we see today.  Santa Maria del Popolo is a stunning church that benefits from works by Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bramante,  Pinturicchio and other famous Renaissance artists and artisans.  The altars, statues, mosaics, frescos and painting represent a virtual "who's who" of Italian Renaissance Art.

The Chigi Chapel, which plays a role in Angels & Demons, was designed and worked on by Raphael, although  finished by Bernini. 

Santa Maria del Popolo is located in Piazza del Popolo.


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The churches we cover  are "working" churches and hold services daily. Try to plan your visit when you will not inconvenience those attending mass or other devotions.

In addition, immodest dress is considered  inappropriate and may deny you entry to these churches and the Vatican.

Bare shoulders and  legs bare above the knee are forbidden in most churches, so shorts and tank tops are usually out of the question.  Try something with sleeves, wear pants (jeans) or a skirt or dress that falls below the knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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While the churches we cover in this section are well worth visiting, we doubt that most of you want to spend two or three days on this task.

If this is your first time in Rome, you need to see Saint Peter's Basilica. 

You will pass by many of the other churches we mention on the way to other attractions.  Use this guide to decide if you want to make a quick stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page
St. Peter's
St. John Lateran
Santa Maria Maggiore
St. Paul Outside the Walls
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria del Popolo

Next Page
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Santa Maria ad Martyres
San Clemente
San Ambrogio e Carlo
Trinita dei Monti
Santa Sabina
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Santa Maria degli Angeli
Sant Andrea al Quirinale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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