No other city is as strongly connected to the Catholic faith as Rome, so it is not surprising that the city has over 900 churches. It is impossible to describe them all, but some of these important churches are certainly worth mentioning.
Four papal basilicas
The four most important churches of Rome are the papal basilicas. These four patriarchal basilicas each have their own “Holy Door”. These sacred doors are opened every 25 years during the so-called Jubilee. Believers can earn a treat by walking through all the sacred doors during an anniversary:
- St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the most famous church in Rome.
- San Giovanni in Laterano.
- Santa Maria Maggiore.
- Saint Paul outside the walls.
Before the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, this was the largest church in Rome. The church, built in honor of the apostle Paul, was originally built during the time of Emperor Constantine, but had to be rebuilt in the 19th century after a devastating fire. The church is called ‘Fuori le Mura’ because it was built outside the city walls on the place where Paul the Apostle was buried. The basilica contains medallions with mosaics for all 265 different popes.
Seven pilgrimage churches
When pilgrims visited Rome, they should visit seven churches to earn the indulgence that came with their pilgrimage. The number seven symbolizes the seven hills of Rome as well as the “list of seven” within the Catholic Church. In addition to the four papal basilicas we have discussed, the following three churches are considered pilgrim churches:
- Basilica San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura, the Basilica of Saint Sebastian outside the walls. This church is on Via Appia, or the Appian Way, a famous street outside the city walls and lined with catacombs. More info.
- The Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is close to Saint John Lateran and has several cross relics. It is said that the Empress Helena brought parts of the Holy Cross to Rome in the 4th century.
- Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura or the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the walls. Lawrence was one of the first Christian martyrs in Rome. The church is located next to Rome’s oldest cemetery, Campo Verano. The church has been rebuilt many times, including after a devastating air raid during World War II that destroyed many frescoes. Unfortunately, this means that it is now the least interesting church visited by the seven pilgrim churches.
Other notable churches in Rome
- The Pantheon: It might not be a building you would expect on a list of churches, but the Pantheon is an official church.
- Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano: This church consists of several layers of churches built on top of each other. Here you can visit the excavations that will tell you all about the history of the church.
- San Pietro in Vincoli: This church is located on the Esquiline Hill in Rome and the name ‘Vincoli’ refers to the chains that tied Peter and which are venerated under the high altar. The main attraction of this 5th century church is one of the most famous sculptures by Michelangelo. the Moses statue from 1513 next to the grave of Emperor Julius II. The statue shows Moses descending Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.
- San Luigi dei Francesi: The highlight of the 16th century basilica for the French community is the Contarelli Chapel with paintings from the Mattheus cycle by Caravaggio.
- The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere: This church is located in the popular Trastevere district and was originally the oldest Marian church in the city. After several renovations and restorations, the church has retained a large part of its medieval character, also thanks to the many authentic mosaics. More about Trastevere.
- Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyale: This 17th century in Piazza Sant’Ignazio is dedicated to the founder of the Order of the Jesuits, Ignatius van Loyala. The pictorial and literal highlight of this baroque church is the ceiling fresco by Andrea Pozzo. The ceiling – a false dome – appears to open to Saint Ignatius in this remarkable painting.
- Santa Maria in Cosmedin: This church became famous for the “Mouth of Truth” or the “Bocca della Verità”. Originally used as a drain cover for the Cloaca Maxima, it depicts a river god. The myth has that the mouth will bite off any liar who sticks his hand in it. Today it is a popular photo (address: Piazza della Bocca della Verità).
- Santa Maria della Minerva: This 13th century Dominican church is located near the Pantheon and was built on the foundations of a temple to Isis. It’s also special as it is the only Gothic church in Rome. To the left of the main altar is the ‘Cristo della Minerva’, a famous work by Michelangelo from 1521. In the square in front of the church is the famous statue. ‘Elephant and Obelisk ‘by Bernini.