Rome has over 3,000 years of important human history concentrated in just over 1,000 square kilometres which makes it perfect for any visitor to explore. Most people only think of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica which is great but they are not nearly close to all the religious sites in the city. Now, you don’t have to be a catholic to enjoy the sacred sited in Rome. Anyone that loves human history and architecture and has a thirst for exploration to quench will love every inch of Rome. The old architecture and engineering dating back to a world long gone make every inch of the city precious to visit but these 10 holy sites are what you don’t wanna miss.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
This is one of the papal basilicas in Rome owned by the Holy See but actually located outside the bounds of the Vatican. It dates back to the fifth century having been built by Celestine I. Its history draws back to Liberius in the fourth century who apparently drew the sketch of the church in mysterious summer snow on Esquiline Hill one night which is referred to as the miracle of the snow. The building still bears 5th-century mosaics depicting Moses leading Israelites through the Red Sea as Egyptian chariots drown. It is the largest basilica dedicated to St. Mary with several chapels commissioned by various popes and bishops through the years. It also has a museum with artefacts that speak to the various events that happened in the city and the basilica over the years.
Archbasilica of St. John, Lateran
This is the oldest church ever built in Rome and was the official residence of the pope until the Pope moved to France in the Avignon era. The church has fallen into ruins multiple times but it has always been renovated and now looks magnificent with the statues of Jesus and the 12 apostles adorning its roof. The church also houses wood believed to have been part of the table Jesus and his apostles used for the last supper. It houses the remains of two popes and multiple saints buried there over the years and is still referred to as the mother church making it more important to the Catholic church than St. Peter’s Basilica.
San Pietro in Vincoli
The church is St. Peter in Chains is one of the most popular minor basilicas in Rome with many visitors coming to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses made in 1505 at the request of Pope Julius II. Under the altar, you get to see the chains that were used to tie the first pope as he was held, prisoner. The chapel’s name translates to St. Peter in Chains, built as a tribute to the biblical miracle when Peter’s chains were loosed allowing him to walk out of jail. With chapels and timeless mosaics to behold, this little basilica is a must-see for anyone visiting Rome.
Santa Maria Degli Angeli
When you approach this papal basilica, the first thing you notice are the sculptures of the martyrs killed in different horrific ways including being quartered and dismembered. It was commissioned by Pope Pius IV in 1561 in dedication to the Virgin Mary, angels and all the martyrs. The pope’s tomb is also located in the basilica. The basilica also houses multiple chapels including the famous chapel within a chapel. You will also get to enjoy lots of contemporary work accumulated over the years into a perfect story of Roman history.
The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola
This is one of the few historical structures that you can access all sections for free which is why so many people go there. It has a heavily decorated marble interior with majestic pillars and beautiful alters. The most impressive aspect is the optical illusion of a dome when the building is actually flat at the top. You are welcomed by a statue of St. Ignatius and even a better painting of him ascending into paradise when you enter the church. It is an all-Loyola and Jesuit affair on the inside with beautiful serene chapels and gardens for some peace and quiet.
The Sistine Chapel
Located within the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel is considered one of the most important places in Rome with more than 5 million visitors flocking in every year. The chapel was painted in the 1500s. The entire 5,000 square feet of ceiling and wall are covered in Michelangelo’s paintings depicting biblical stories from creation to the judgement. You can read the whole bible through the magnificent paintings which are designed to be understood from all directions guiding you from the period of darkness to the light.
The Basilica of St. Clement
Dating back to the first century, this church dedicated to St. Clement is one of the must-see holy sites in Rome. The church’s structure in itself tells the story of Rome over the years with the very lowest level having been a Roman house from the first century where Pope Clement I prayed when Christianity was still illegal in Rome. The church is home to the largest collection of Byzantine Mosaics in Rome with the crypt housing the remains of St. Clement. The church was destroyed in 1084 by the Normans but rebuilt in the 11th century with reinforcements to the 4th-century pillars.
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Wall
Everyone knows the St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest but the second largest is just as beautiful with frescoes and sculptures. St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the most visited sites in Rome thanks to its association with the most prolific writer in the Bible. You are welcomed to the church by the statue of St. Paul at the main entrance but next to it, you see the statue of Emperor Constantine who commissioned its construction in 324AD. The church is the best place to follow the history of the church with the centre having the tomb of St. Paul and the Marble walls and dome covered in mosaics of popes and saints.
This is the only Roman temple that was not destroyed since one Byzantine donated it to Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century. The church boasts of having the largest unsupported dome in the world all thanks to the ingenious of Roman and Baroque architecture. It is free to enter but you can also enjoy food and entertainment from the steps. It was built in 27BC by Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to “Pan Theos” (all Roman gods) before Boniface rededicated it to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs which is why it is now a church and still stands.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
This one is hard to miss since it is right behind the Pantheon with a huge Obelisk sitting on an elephant base at its door. The huge bronze doors speak to the building’s originality as it is the only truly gothic church in Rome with little interference from Baroque architecture. The church is epic with its dome adorned with paintings of stars, saints and angels in blue and gold. It is also home to the Christ the Redeemer sculpture made by Michelangelo. It is also home to the tombs of some of the most important people in Roman Catholic history including Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII.