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A Guide to some of Rome’s Most Beautiful Churches.
St Peter’s is one of the most impressive churches in the world, so it’s easy for travelers to forget that Rome has over 4,000 churches, and many of them are frankly, incredible. If you just want to pop into St. Peter’s thats understandable – but if you want to branch out just a little more there is a staggering collection of beauty and religious significance awaiting you. Here’s a short list of the best churches in Rome to visit on a pilgrimage to Rome or if you are just visiting and love amazing architecture and beautiful art.
As the largest of the churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Major is one of the city’s most important. Filled with artifacts and art, every inch of the church seems to be a part of religious history. Though its beautiful 18th-century façade appears Baroque, it’s actually one of the oldest churches in Rome, built around 440. Some of the best examples of the church’s long history are the 5th-century mosaics on the triumphal arch above the main altar along with those on the nave walls, which depict 36 scenes from the Old Testament. Since it hasn’t been remodeled or rebuilt like Rome’s other major basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the Rome’s best examples of an Early Christian basilica. Today, it’s considered a top church for anyone considering a Rome pilgrimage from around the world.
Each year on August 5th, thousands of white petals fall from the ceiling during the Basilica’s Miracle of the Snows celebration, an event commemorating the legend of a miraculous summer snowfall.
The Basilica is free and open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. The museum costs €4 and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Latium, 00185, tel. 06-69886802
Constantine built the St. Lawrence Outside of the Walls Basilica, just outside of Rome over the tomb of St. Lawrence, a martyr and one of the first deacons of Rome. Today it remains a shrine to the saint, as well as St. Stephen and St. Justin. The church dates back to the 6th century, and the triumphal arch still shows Byzantine mosaics from that era depicting Christ with the saints. 13th-century frescoes decorate the exterior and opposite the tomb of St. Lawrence is the “stone of St. Lawrence,” a marble slab with a large stain where the saint’s body was laid after his execution. The Basilica has been funded by nearly every Pope since its construction, changing the small shrine into one of the largest religious complexes just outside the walls of Rome. It remains an important place of worship and site for Rome pilgrimages.
Piazzale Del Verano, 3 Quartiere San Lorenzo, 00185, tel. 06 44 66 184
St John Lateran is actually the official cathedral of Rome (not St. Peter’s!) and is the seat of the bishop of Rome – a.k.a. the Pope. One of the four major basilicas in Rome, the cathedral was built in the 4th century AD and is believed to be one the first Catholic churches in Rome. Unfortunately, fires, vandals and earthquakes over the years mean little remains of the original church. It now has a more Baroque style with 16th- and 17th-century restorations. Though the façade isn’t the most impressive, the inside more than makes up for that. Frescoes, columns, mosaics and sculptures decorate nearly every inch of the ornate Roman church. The must-see sites for Roman pilgrims are the column fresco by Giotto, the altar’s rich 1367 Gothic tabernacle—holding what the faithful believe are the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Baptistery built by Emperor Constantine in AD 315. Today it’s one of the oldest surviving Christian structures in Rome, and another one of the main Roman pilgrimage churches.
The church is free and open daily from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Baptistery is open daily from 7:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 4 – 6:30 p.m.
Piazza di Porta San Giovanni, Rome, Latium, 00185, tel. 06-69886433
No list of amazing churches is complete without Santa Maria in Trastevere. Not only is it one of the oldest churches in Rome, supposedly built around 350 AD, it is also one of the most impressive. This 4th-century church was likely the first church in Rome where Mass was openly celebrated and is also said to be Rome’s first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was rebuilt by Pope Innocent II, native of Trastevere, in the 12th century and today it boasts impressive mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries. Two rows of 22 large columns lead up to the nave, most of which were repurposed from ancient Roman temples or baths, and the altar is covered in gilded mosaics. Don’t forget to look up to admire Domenichino’s gilded ceiling, completed in 1617. If you’re a lover of mosaics, don’t miss our list of where to see the best Byzantine mosaics in Italy.
Church open daily from 7:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, Latium, 00153, tel. 06-5814802
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva gained its name from the site it was built upon – over (sopra) the ruins of a temple for Minerva, the ancient goddess of wisdom. Actually, the present-day Basilica sits over the ruins of three ancient Roman temples: one for the Roman goddess Minerva, one for the Egyptian goddess Isis and one for the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis, according to the Basilica’s website.
But the location isn’t what makes it one of the best churches in Rome for pilgrims, it’s the architecture. Built by the Dominicans in the 13th century, it is one of Rome’s few Gothic (as opposed to Baroque-style) churches, and one of the most impressive Gothic churches in Italy, along with the controversial but absolutely incredible Milan Duomo. Enjoy the deepest blue vaulted ceilings or, for just 1 euro, illuminate the Cappella Carafa, where Filippino Lippi’s frescoes are located among other 15th-century frescoes. You can also see a sculpture by Michelangelo and the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, Italy’s primary patron saint.
Open weekdays from 6:45 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sat. 6:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.– 7 p.m.
Piazza della Minerva, Rome, Latium, 00186, tel. 06-6793926. For more information click here. www.basilicaminerva.it
Travelers to Rome might overlook the inconspicuous church of Santa Maria del Popolo in the large Piazza del Popolo, but the inside is a treasure trove for art lovers. The church has seven chapels, each of which contain some of the best examples of works by Renaissance artists, including Pinturicchio, Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio.
Legend has it that the church was built in 1099 to dispel residents’ beliefs that the ghost of Emperor Nero was haunting the area.
The Basilica is open Mon.–Thurs. 7:15 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 4–7 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sun. 7:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 4:30–7:30 p.m.
Piazza del Popolo 12, near Porta Pinciana, Rome, Latium, 00186, tel. 06-3610836. For more information click here. www.santamariadelpopolo.it
St. Clement’s Basilica is located just a few blocks away from the Colosseum and named after St. Clement, Catholicism’s third pope. It’s real draw, however, is archeological. The 12th-century Basilica is built on top of a 4th century church, which in turn was built on top of a 1st century pagan temple – all three of which you can visit today. It’s history directly shows that Rome was built layer after layer: the difference between the 1st century ground level and today’s ground level is nearly 60 feet! Check out the church’s fabulous frescoes and mosaics on the top floor, such as the glittering 12th-century mosaic in the apse showing Jesus on a cross that turns into a living tree. Then head below to tour the mithraeum, a shrine dedicated to the god Mithras, whose cult came from Persia to Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries before it was stamped out by Roman christians. Today it’s one of Rome’s greatest hidden underground sites. If you’d like an expert guided tour of the church, along with some incredible crypts and catacombs, contact Substantia for help.
Full text: Pope Francis’s Urbi et Orbi message.
The Pope said his Christmas message ‘goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war’
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!
Today the Church once again experiences the wonder of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they contemplate the newborn Child laid in a manger: Jesus, the Saviour.
On this day full of light, the prophetic proclamation resounds:
“For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given.
And the government will be upon his shoulder;
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6)
The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power which created the heavens and the earth, which gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals; it is the force which attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence; it is the power which gives new birth, pardons faults, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God. This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.
Peace to men and women in the war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled. Above all in the city of Aleppo, site of the most awful battles in recent weeks, it is most urgent that assistance and support be guaranteed to the exhausted civil populace, with respect for humanitarian law. It is time for weapons to be still forever, and the international community to actively seek a negotiated solution, so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country.
Peace to women and men of the beloved Holy Land, the land chosen and favoured by God. May Israelis and Palestinians have the courage and the determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony. May Iraq, Libya and Yemen – where their peoples suffer war and the brutality of terrorism – be able once again to find unity and concord.
Peace to the men and women in various parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria, where fundamentalist terrorism exploits even children in order to perpetrate horror and death. Peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so that divisions may be healed and all people of good will may strive to undertake the path of development and sharing, preferring the culture of dialogue to the mindset of conflict.
Peace to women and men who to this day suffer the consequences of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, where there is urgent need for a common desire to bring relief to the civil population and to put into practice the commitments which have been assumed.
We implore harmony for the dear people of Colombia, which seeks to embark on a new and courageous path of dialogue and reconciliation. May such courage also motivate the beloved country of Venezuela to undertake the necessary steps to put an end to current tensions, and build together a future of hope for the whole population.
Peace to all who, in different areas, are enduring sufferings due to constant dangers and persistent injustice. May Myanmar consolidate its efforts to promote peaceful coexistence and, with the assistance of the international community, provide necessary protection and humanitarian assistance to all those who gravely and urgently need it. May the Korean peninsula see the tensions it is experiencing overcome in a renewed spirit of cooperation.
Peace to those who have lost a person dear to them as a result of brutal acts of terrorism, and to those who have sown fear and death into the hearts of so many countries and cities.
Peace – not merely the word, but a real and concrete peace – to our abandoned and excluded brothers and sisters, to those who suffer hunger and to all the victims of violence. Peace to exiles, migrants and refugees, to all those who in our day are subject to human trafficking.
Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery. Peace to those affected by social and economic unrest, and to those who endure the consequences of earthquakes or other natural catastrophes.
Peace to the children, on this special day on which God became a child, above all those deprived of the joys of childhood because of hunger, wars or the selfishness of adults.
Peace on earth to men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just world, sustained by the conviction that only with peace is there the possibility of a more prosperous future for all.
Dear brothers and sisters,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”: he is the “Prince of peace”. Let us welcome him!
[after the Blessing]
To you, dear brothers and sisters, who have gathered in this Square from every part of the world, and to those in various countries who are linked to us by radio, television and other means of communication, I offer my greeting.
On this day of joy, we are all called to contemplate the Child Jesus, who gives hope once again to every person on the face of the earth. By his grace, let us with our voices and our actions give witness to solidarity and peace. Merry Christmas to all!
For this reason, the birth of Jesus was accompanied by the angels’ song as they proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).
Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.
Pope Francis Names New Female Director of Vatican Museums.
The Vatican Museums, one of the world’s pre-eminent art collections, announced Tuesday that Barbara Jatta, an Italian art historian and longtime Vatican official, will become its new director, making her the first woman to hold one of the most prestigious jobs in the art world.
The appointment by Pope Francis, which is effective Jan. 1, will also make Ms. Jatta the most prominent female administrator at the Vatican. The pope has spoken about expanding the roles of women in the Catholic Church, but most high Vatican offices are reserved for cardinals and bishops, who must be men. (Margaret Archer, a British sociologist, was named president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, an advisory body to the Pope, in 2014.)
The Museums, which include priceless masterpieces including the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, regularly appear among the world’s top 10 museum complexes by attendance, with over six million visitors in 2015. The collections include 70,000 objects, dating back from antiquity through the 20th century.
Ms. Jatta, 54, will oversee an institution that is one of the Holy See’s major sources of funds, with about €300 million ($311 million) in gross revenues a year and at least €40 million in profits. The financial importance of the Vatican Museums has only grown in recent years, as the Holy See seeks to close a budget shortfall that amounted to €26 million in 2014.
A native of Rome, Ms. Jatta has worked at the Vatican since 1996, until this year within the Vatican Library, where she oversaw the library’s collection of rare prints. She previously taught at the University of Naples.
She will succeed Antonio Paolucci, who has served in the job since 2007 and has been at the forefront of the Museums’ efforts to modernize and cope with an increasing number of visitors—a problem for many cultural attractions in Italy.
During Mr. Paolucci’s tenure, the Museums witnessed a surge in attendance, with a 40% increase in the number of visitors between 2007 and 2015. To help spread out the increased flow of visitors, Mr. Paolucci extended the Museums’ opening hours, including evening visits.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Rome daily “Il Messaggero,” Mr. Paolucci said he was proudest to “have changed, with many openings to the outside world, a kind of self-referentiality that characterized the Museums, and to have brought in the culture of conservation and systematic maintenance.”
During his tenure, the Sistine Chapel installed new air conditioning aimed at filtering out pollutants brought in by visitors. A new lighting system in the Chapel increased illumination by at least five times while cutting energy consumption by at least 60%. Mr. Paolucci also oversaw the restoration of frescoes by Raphael, including “The School of Athens,” and the 16th-century Gallery of the Maps.
Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace in DRC.
Pope Francis appealed for peace and reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.
The central African nation has been experiencing another period political crisis ahead of the expiry of President Joseph Kabila’s term of office.
The DRC is preparing for unrest – including protests and violence, when the mandate of President Joseph Kabila, whom critics accuse of seeking to stay in power indefinitely, expires on Monday.
“I ask you all to pray that dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo might unfold with serenity,” the Holy Father said in remarks to pilgrims and tourists that followed the traditional Sunday Angelus prayer, “in order that all manner of violence be avoided, and [to pray] for the good of the whole country.”
In Kinshasa, the capital, police have set up checkpoints, while soldiers in armoured vehicles have been deployed to strategic points throughout the city, which has some 12 million inhabitants.
Flights into the DRC have been empty, while many members of the country’s wealthy elite have already fled.
Pope to receive young patients of ‘Bambino Gesù’ Hospital.
Fifteen children from the Central African Republic accompanied by their new Cardinal, the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, will be amongst those present on Thursday morning for a special audience with Pope Francis.
It’s special because the children the Pope will be meeting are patients of the Vatican’s Children’s Hospital: the ‘Bambino Gesù’.
A press release from the Hospital reveals that the first few rows in the Paul VI Hall are reserved for some 150 young patients; many of them come from Italy but some of them, it says, come from the “peripheries of the world”.
They come from far, having travelled to this medical center of excellence and research from countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Pakistan, Nepal, Russia, Lebanon, Moldavia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Poland, Congo and Nigeria as well as from the Central African Republic.
Hospital doctors and medical staff, employees, volunteers and the families of the little patients will also be present together with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
During the audience, the President of the ‘Bambino Gesù’, Mariella Enoc, will talk about how the Pediatric Hospital has become the largest of its kind in Europe, with connections to leading international centres in the sector.
She will explain how, in various ways, the hospital staff of almost 2,500 people treats and cares for a large number of patients, and of how over 1.550.000 healthcare services are provided each year to children and adolescents from all over the world.
Enoc will also talk about how the hospital, which was founded in 1869, has developed a ‘Bambino Gesù System’ that stretches well beyond regional boundaries with the establishment of Centres in Southern Italy that aim to eliminate the long “journeys of hope” that weigh not only on young patients but also on their families, with demanding relocations that have significant financial and social costs for all.
Equally important are the Hospital’s international missions in developing nations. Today the ‘Bambino Gesù’ is present in 12 countries, with the goal of providing care and passing on its experience in the poorest areas of the world. It is also active with special cooperation projects in Jordan, Palestine and the Central African Republic.
The papal audience will be broadcast live by the Vatican CTV and by the Italian Bishop’s Conference television station, TV2000.
Vatican Christmas tree and crib installed.
This year’s Christmas tree and crib were inaugurated and lit up on Friday afternoon in St Peter’s Square. Earlier in the day in the Paul VI hall, Pope Francis met with the donors of the tree and the nativity scene, telling them that these gifts “form a message of hope and love.”
The 25 metre high spruce tree was donated by the Lagorai Forests Association which is located the Trentino region of Northern Italy and the Pope remarked that, “the beauty of those views is an invitation to contemplate the Creator and to respect nature, the work of his hands.”
Welcoming the donors of the tree and crib, Pope Francis thanked them for their gifts which he said, would be admired in Saint Peter’s Square “by pilgrims from around the world during Advent and the Christmas holidays.”
The Pope also had a special word of thanks to the children who decorated the tree, with the support of the ‘Lene Thun Foundation’ that organises the ceramic therapy workshops in various Italian hospitals for children undergoing treatment for cancer and other illnesses. He told them that, “the multicoloured ornaments you have created represent the values of life, love and peace that Christ’s Christmas proposes to us anew each year.”
This year’s crib in the Square, was donated by the Bishops and the Government of Malta and is the work of artist Manwel Grech from Gozo.
The Nativity scene features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese costume as well as a replica of a traditional ‘Luzzu’ Maltese boat.
The Holy Father said that this typical Maltese vessel, recalled “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats making their way toward Italy”, and he expressed the hope that “those who visit this nativity scene would be invited to rediscover its symbolic value”, which, he said, was “a message of fraternity, of sharing, of welcome and solidarity.”
Pope Francis concluded by telling those gathered that, “the crib and the tree form a message of hope and love, and help create a Christmas spirit that can draw us closer to living with faith the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer who came to this earth in simplicity and meekness.”
Vatican calls for trust, responsibility on nuclear technology.
In order to realize the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons the discourse of the international community surrounding nuclear security must be based on an ethic of trust, responsibility, and cooperation – not fear and suspicion, Vatican official Msgr. Antoine Camilleri said Tuesday.
“The logic of fear and mistrust that is epitomized by nuclear deterrence must be replaced with a new global ethic,” Msgr. Camilleri said Dec. 6. “We need an ethic of responsibility, solidarity, and cooperative security adequate to the task of controlling the power of nuclear technology.”
The Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, Msgr. Camilleri spoke at the International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions held in Vienna Dec. 5-9.
Put on by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the conference was comprised of two main parts: state officials delivering messages, commitments and actions, and policy discussions based on six broad themes central to nuclear security.
In his speech Msgr. Camilleri recognized the considerable progress that has already been made to nuclear security and safety internationally through measures such as the UN Security Council Resolution 1540, the Nuclear Security Summits, the Nuclear Terrorism Convention, and the work of the IAEA.
Despite these advancements, however, he stressed the importance of not becoming “complacent” about nuclear technology, emphasizing that discussion and agreement among countries must be encouraged.
“The promotion of nuclear security faces significant challenges,” he acknowledged, “including the limited, insufficient and often stalled efforts to prevent proliferation and move toward a world free of nuclear weapons.”
“Therefore,” he continued, “to respond adequately to the challenges of nuclear security, the Holy See believes it to be essential that the international community embrace an ethic of responsibility, in order to foster a climate of trust, and to strengthen cooperative security through multilateral dialogue.”
In no way downplaying the “serious technical and diplomatic challenges” represented by threats to nuclear security, Msgr. Camilleri conveyed the issue’s significant importance to the Holy See, explaining how the root causes that encourage nuclear weapons cannot be ignored.
The challenges must be “tackled by addressing the wider security, political, economic and cultural dynamics that lead state and non-state actors to seek security, legitimacy, and power in nuclear weapons,” he said.
“Therefore,” he said, “the critically important work of strengthening nuclear security” must happen in the context of “broader efforts to promote socio-economic development, political participation, respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.”
Among the many different areas requiring increased efforts, the Holy See delegation would emphasize two, he said – the physical protection of nuclear material, and the counteraction of insider threats, and the prevention of cyber-attacks.
“Ensuring that nuclear and other radioactive material is safely contained must remain central for the work of nuclear security,” he said, “as failure to control nuclear material could have catastrophic consequences.”
As well, “increasing attention has to be paid to the strengthening of information security and computer security as well as to ensuring the confidentiality of information which pertains to nuclear security.”
On both of these issues, he clarified, the responsibility for maintaining the effective security of all nuclear and radioactive material within a state “rests primarily with that state.”
Though “cooperation between states is essential” because many threats to nuclear security “do not respect borders and are facilitated by the political instability and crises that sadly plague numerous parts of our world.”
Msgr. Camilleri presented the greeting of Pope Francis to participants, quoting from the Pope’s Sept. 25, 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, which urged the international community “to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
Continuing the Pope’s words, he said the “security of our own future depends on guaranteeing the peaceful security of others, for if peace, security and stability are not established globally, they will not be enjoyed at all.”
Italians vote in reform referendum.
Italians are going to the polls Sunday in a referendum to change the constitution in a way that would potentially streamline Italy’s legislative process. Sunday’s referendum sees Italians voting on whether to amend the constitution to make it easier for the Italian government to pass laws.
The bill involves a proposal to shift power from the Senate in such a way that would allow the lower house of parliament to pass legislation without Senate approval.
Under the current Italian constitution, both the Senate and the House of Deputies are needed to pass legislation, resulting in a process that is costly and time consuming.
The bill was put forward by Prime minister Matteo Renzi who has claimed that such a reform would improve efficiency in the government, reduce bureaucracy, and lower government spending.
Arguments from those opposing the bill have expressed fears that the move would reduce vital democratic checks and balances in the government.
Earlier this year, Renzi announced he would resign as prime minister if the bill failed to pass.