Although it was difficult to narrow them down, I wanted to make a list of the churches that really made an impression on me. It’s crazy to think that even though I was in Rome for four months I still did not see every church. Too soon, it was my last day, and I was counting the churches on my map that I had missed. I’m pretty sure that it is impossible to see them all. I guess I will have to go back someday and make it my personal challenge.
Here are my top ten, must-see, churches in Rome.
10. Santa Sabina
Unlike other Roman churches, the interior of Santa Sabina is simplistic, elegant, and pristine. It is located in a beautiful area right next to the garden of oranges, which has a scenic terrace overlooking the Vatican. The main attraction is the special keyhole that tourists can look through to see a perfect view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. In Rome, all roads point to St. Peter.
9. Santa Maria della Concezione and the Cappuchin Crypt
Commonly referred to as the “Bone Church” this church hosts a crypt where you will see thousands of human bones from the long deceased Cappuchin friars. Every bone in the body is hanging decoratively on the walls of numerous underground chapels as a jarring reminder of the swift passage of life into death. Ever seen a chandelier made of bones?
8. San Luigi dei Francesi
The main attraction of this beautiful church is the collection of three paintings by Baroque master, Caravaggio: The Calling of St. Matthew, St. Matthew writing the Gospels, and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew. Caravaggio’s use of naturalism depicts a raw depiction of biblical scenes, which is unmatched by other artists featured in Roman churches.
7. Santa Croce in Gerusaleme
This simple basilica holds genuine relics of Christ’s passion that were brought to Rome from Jerusalem. In the reliquary, you can see wood shavings from the cross, a thorn from the crown of thorns, the name plate that hung on the cross, and St. Thomas’ finger which touched the wounds of Christ. You can also see a replica of the famous shroud of Turin, which carries the miraculous impression of Christ’s body after he was taken down from the cross.
6. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
This church is dedicated to the Roman martyr, St. Cecilia. Outside is a beautiful courtyard, and inside are stunning golden mosaics and a altarpiece depicting St. Cecilia’s death. Be sure to visit the crypt because it features floor to ceiling mosaics. Located in Trastevere, the 13th district of Rome, the area is rich with history and definitely worth a visit.
5. Santa Cuore de Suffrigio
Located right along the Tiber River, this is one of the only Gothic churches in Rome. It is dedicated to the suffering of souls in purgatory, and you can visit the museum of the souls in purgatory within the sacristy. A miracle occurred in its chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage of Souls when a deceased soul appeared to the congregation and made an imprint on the wall which is still there today.
4. San Clemente
This church is actually a three-tiered set of buildings, one on top of another. The top tier, the church you see today, was built in the 12th century during the peak of the Middle Ages. The second, was built in the 4th century as a nobleman’s house, which often served as a church. The third was a republican era building that was mostly destroyed in the Great fire of 64 AD. These fascinating layers of history, ruins, and excavations are open to tourists.
3. Santa Maria Maggiore
This is the largest Catholic church in Rome that is dedicated to Mary. It is famous for holding relics from the manger where Jesus laid as a newborn baby, which is why the church is also referred to as St. Mary of the Crib. This is also the burial place of St. Jerome, who translated the bible into Latin in the 4th century.
2. St. John Lateran
This is the oldest church in the Western world, often called the “Mother of Christendom.” It was built under Emperor Constantine not long after the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity. Much history has taken place in these walls. This includes five ecumenical councils, twenty general councils, many coronations of popes and kings, the baptism of Charlemagne, and much more. Walking into this Archbasilica, you are greeted by larger-than-life statues of the twelve apostles to remind us of God’s calling to follow him.
1. St. Peter’s Basilica
Technically in Vatican City, this is often viewed as the heart of Rome. With a floor plan larger that two foot ball fields, this is easily the largest church in the world. Standing outside in St. Peter’s Square, you are surrounded by one hundred and twenty statues of saints, and you are greeted by St. Peter’s obelisk, which is three thousand years old. Inside, you can see Michelangelo’s carving of the Pieta, Bernini’s canopy, and many other famous historical art work. Take the scavi tour to see St. Peter’s bones and the tombs of the popes, and climb up to the top of the dome for a fantastic view.