Rome, one of Europe’s most ancient cities and considered through the ages to be the birthplace of civilisation. As Italy’s capital, it is home to one of the largest football stadiums in Europe as well as to the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church who resides in Vatican City, a tiny, separate country that exists inside Rome’s city limits. Rome is eternally a Catholic city, having been officially the home of the Pope for over 1,000 years and as a result is home to a wide variety of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Rome. One does not need to be Catholic (or even religious) to visit and admire these stunning works of architecture, art and centuries-old history and be impressed, so enjoy our list of the 10 must-see Catholic Churches in Rome.
As Rome itself is not a particularly large city area wise, it is possible to visit a large group of the best Churches in Rome in a day or so simply by foot, as most are within 10-15 minutes walk of each other and grouped towards the centre of the city. On a recent trip to Rome we visited and photographed our 10 favourite best Churches in Rome, beginning with the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and finishing at the most amazing of all, St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
This is one of the most important churches in Rome and probably should be the first stop on your list due to it’s proximity to the centre. Every inch of the church is a part of religious history filled with artifacts and art. One of the cooler things inside are the 5th century mosaics on the triumphal arch above the main altar which continue along the nave walls, these depict 36 scenes from the Old Testament. Pictured below is the statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger, which is quite incredible in size when you stand next to it.
Basilica open daily from 7:00am – 6:45pm.
Museum open daily from 9:30am to 6:30pm – cost €4.
Address: Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Latium, 00185, Tel. 06-69886802
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
The name means ‘Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs’ and was built in 1561. The sheer size of this church is extraordinary, probably dwarfed only by St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Inside it, an extraordinary artwork exists which is the ‘meridian line’ built by mathmetician and astronomer Francesco Bianchini in 1702. It’s a sort of sundial beginning on the floor and continuing to the ceiling which apparently predicts Easter exactly, checks the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar and also gives a perfect meridian line. As the sheer size of this church is so enormous it’s definitely high on the list to see.
Adress: Piazza della Repubblica, Roma, Italy
San Giacomo in Augusta
The San Giacomo in Augusta in central Rome is a Baroque style church built during the 14th Century. The beauty of this church lies in the vault ceiling frescoes however there is actually several chapels inside here with beautiful artworks.
Open daily 8am – 12pm and 4pm – 6pm.
Address: Via del Corso, 499, 00186 Roma, Italy
Saint Carlo al Corso
Built in 1610, Saint Carlo al Corso is a basilica church dedicated to Saint Ambrose and Saint Charles Borromeo, both natives of Milan. Although there is a number of beautiful chapels inside to see, the main icon is the ‘Fall of the Rebel Angels’ fresco by Giacinto Brandi.
Address: Via del Corso, 437, 00186 Roma, Italy
La Chiesa di Santa Maria in Via
Another basilica church in Rome, the Santa Maria in Via was built in the 9th century but later rebuilt in 1256 following reports of a miracle. It’s small in comparison to other churches in Rome but this one is well worth a visit.
Address: Via del Mortaro, 24, 00187 Roma, Italy
San Bartolomeo all’Isola
The name meaning ‘The Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island’ comes from the location of this basilica church. It is built on the Tiber Island, which is a tiny island in the central area of Rome accessed by two bridges, one of which, the Pons Fabricius, is the oldest bridge in Rome being built in 62 BC and is still in it’s original stone form. This church contains the relics of St Batholomew the Apostle which are kept inside an ancient Roman bathtub adorned with lion heads sitting under the main altar. Be sure to check out the beautiful ceiling artworks which extend entirely through the church.
Address: Piazza di San Bartolomeo all’Isola, 22, 00186 Roma, Italy
This 4th Century church has a beautiful 12th Century bell tower. Look down before you look up, as the floor boasts a beautiful cosmatesque mosaic, although it is mostly concealed by all the pews, and 24 rows of reused antique marble columns adorn the sides. On the ceiling, the incredible Baroque style artworks entitled ‘Glory of Saint Chrysogonus’, by Guercino, as the church is dedicated to Saint Chrysogonus.
Address: Piazza Sidney Sonnino, Roma, Italy
Santa Maria in Trastevere
This is one of the oldest Churches in Rome, apparently built around 350 AD. It is simply stunning. It is likely this one the first church in Rome where Mass was openly celebrated and Rome’s first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The 22 rows of large columns were repurposed (or stolen) from ancient Roman temples and baths and the altar is covered in gilded mosaics. The incredible gilded ceiling was made by Domenichino in 1617.
Open daily from 7:30am – 9pm.
Address: Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, Latium, 00153, Tel. 06-5814802
St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
If you were only going to see one place, one church in Rome, I would highly recommend it be St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. It’s probably the most famous church in the world, built on the site of where St Peter was said to have been crucified, and took over 150 years to build. The Basilica dome, designed by Michelangelo, who is said to have taken inspiration from the Pantheon dome’s construction, is simply extraordinary. The sheer size of this place is hard to comprehend until you walk through it; it is one of the largest churches in the world. Close to 100 popes are buried in the crypt under the Basilica and incredible works of art and sculpture adorn every wall.
Basilica – open daily from 7am – 7pm.
Copula (Dome) – open daily from 8am – 6pm.
Scavi (Crypt Tombs) – open daily, only 250 people allowed per day so arrive early. Cost €14.
Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
I feel like this is one of the biggest disappointments in Rome thanks to Catholicism. This was a Roman Temple constructed under Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD. It is the world’s largest non reinforced concrete dome at over 2,000 years old! At the time this was built, Romans worshipped many gods, and the interior was adorned with enormous statues of the various Pagan gods in front of which many animals were slaughtered and burned as offerings. Christianity replaced Paganism during the 4th Century AD and the Pantheon was abandoned for a few hundred years before being converted in to a Christian Church in 609 AD (you can still go to mass here on Sundays even today). To be honest, it would have been splendid to have the original Pagan statues in it’s intended use for this building, but alas it’s no more. Still an incredible sight to see and definitely on the must-see list in Rome – 2 kings and Raphael (the Renaissance artist) are buried here.
Address: Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma, Italy
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
You’ll recognise it as the Church with the Blue Ceilings however this church gets it’s name from Sopra (meaning ‘over’) ‘Minerva’, as it is built on top of the site of an ancient Roman temple to Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom. It’s built in the 13th Century by the Dominicans and it is one of Rome’s few Gothic (as opposed to Baroque style) churches and arguably one of the prettiest Gothic churches in Italy. With beautiful blue ceilings adorned in 15th century frescoes, there is also a Michelangelo sculpture and the tomb of St Catherine of Siena (Italy’s primary patron saint).
Weekdays from 6:45am – 7pm
Saturdays from 6:45am – 12:30pm and 3:30pm – 7pm
Sundays 8am -12:30pm and 3:30pm – 7pm.
Address: Piazza della Minerva, Rome, Latium, 00186, Tel. 06-6793926.