PS. There are more than 900 other churches in Rome to explore.
Rome is home to some of the most beautiful and architecturally impressive churches in the world. You might automatically think of St. Peter’s (even though it’s technically not in Rome), but surprisingly, there are more than 900 other churches in Rome to explore. With such a daunting list to get through, we’ve narrowed down five that we think are definitely worth a visit.
Note: When visiting churches be quiet and respectful, and make sure you’re wearing appropriate attire. Some churches won’t let you in if you’re wearing sleeveless tops or shorts.
1. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore, 42, 00100 Roma RM, Italy
As one of the oldest churches in Rome, and the largest dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a definite must-visit on the summit of Esquiline Hill. Its medieval bell tower is the highest in Rome, and is still used today to call people to prayer. It is full of religious relics, including part of the Holy Crib, and pieces of the True Cross. You’ll also find relics and tombs of Pope Sixtus V, St. Jerome, and Pope Pius V. It is one of the Rome’s best examples of an Early Christian basilica and a very popular pilgrimage spot.
2. San Giovanni in Laterano
Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, 4, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
San Giovanni in Laterano boasts being the official seat of the bishop of Rome (aka the Pope) and therefore the official cathedral of Rome. Little remains of the original church, but that doesn’t make it any less magnificent. In fact, it contains some of the holiest relics in Rome, all surrounded by gorgeous frescoes, mosaics and sculptures. You’ll find wood from the table that was used at the Last Supper encased within the Altar of the Holy Sacrament, and two busts of St. Peter and St. Paul that supposedly contain the skulls, or at least part of, each saint. Across the street you’ll find the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs, which house the stairs from Pontius Pilate’s palace which Jesus climbed when he was sentenced to death.
3. Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Piazza di S. Croce in Gerusalemme, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
A short walk from San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme holds relics brought to Rome by St. Helena, some to be originals from the Passion of Christ. The most interesting relic is probably the Title of the Cross, found sealed behind a brick when repairing a mosaic in 1492. They say that it is the inscribed sign that was hung on the cross during Jesus’s crucifixion. Also found in the relic chapel are three fragments of the True Cross, a segment of one of the Holy Nails, two thorns from the Crown of Thorns. You’ll also see an exact replica of the Shroud of Turin in a side room by the chapel.
4. Basilica of San Clemente
Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
If you’re in and around the Colosseum, visiting the Basilica of San Clemente should be on your list of to-do’s. It draws more crowds due to its archeological features as opposed to its relics. This multilevel structure features a 12th-century Basilica, built on top of a 4th century church, built on top of a 1st century pagan temple. Each level is still available for visit today. In the main sanctuary of the basilica, you’ll find a stunning Byzantine mosaic, and the level under that holds the tomb of St. Clement himself. This church is an excellent visual example of the many layers of Rome, and how long it has stood as a city.
5. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Piazza della Minerva, 42, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
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@marcbrillantes sent us this picture he took and writes, "Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ~ The Temple of Minerva is an ancient Roman building in Assisi, Umbria, central Italy. It currently houses a church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, built in 1539 and renovated in Baroque style in the 17th century." Thanks for sharing Dr. Marc!
This basilica sits over the ruins of a temple to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva, which is how the structure got its name. Like San Clemente, it’s stunning architecture is what draws the crowds. While most churches in Rome are done in the Baroque style, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is done in the Gothic style. Within it you’ll find a sculpture by Michelangelo, frescoes by Filippino Lippi, and the tombs of Popes Leo X and Clement VII. The church’s most precious relic however, is the body of the Dominican nun St. Catherine of Siena, Italy’s (and Europe’s) primary patron saint.