Learn 8 Sights For a 2-Day Tour of Christian Rome

Colosseum – The best known symbol of Rome, the Colosseum is usually associated with gladiatorial contests, fights with wild animals and other similar events. You must remember, though, that many Christians were put to death in its arena during extremely cruel spectacles. In memory of its martyrs, Christianity, particularly since the 17th century, has come to regard the Colosseum as sacred ground and has raised its crosses in various places inside this structure. To stress the importance attributed to this site, every Good Friday the Pope leads a Way of the Cross procession in the Colosseum.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Started in 1506, this Basilica was only completed in 1626 – an enormous span of time, even for those days, and there is a saying in Italy, when something is taking far too long – this is taking as long as building St. Peters. The structure is impressive, weather you are looking at it from the outside or from its interior. It is safe to say that practically all major Italian architects and artists worked to its construction and its size and magnificence are such that visitors are literally amazed at the sight of the biggest church in the world.

Monastery of Santa Maria in Grottaferrata – Also known as Greek Abbey of St. Nilus. This Catholic church has a very peculiar history. It was founded in 1004 A.D. by St. Nilus, a monk who moved away from Calabria together with other brethren to escape Barbarian raids. Basilian monks are in charge of the Monastery. Their Order was established 50 years before the Schism between Catholics and Orthodox and, since it was based in Italy, it remained within the Catholic Church, though it kept the Byzantine-Greek rites. Obviously, the buildings have undergone various alterations, but the overall impression is of an ancient church and Monastery which have retained the power of mysticism and profound religiosity. The library is stocked with over 50,000 invaluable books partly dating from the Middle Ages.

Basilica of St. John Lateran – This Basilica holds the title of ecumenical mother church, which means in practice that it is considered the # 1 church for Catholics around the world. Contrary to what most people think, it is this Church, not St. Peters Basilica, the Cathedral of Rome. Its history dates back to the early centuries of Christianity and the structure of the Basilica and its adjoining buildings has been erected, altered and extended many times. The view of the Basilica from St. Johns Square is particularly impressive and the interior is equally striking because of its decorations and the abundance of colours.

Basilica of St. Mary Major – All of Rome’s Basilicas are extremely old in the sense that either they were built over existing churches or they are rebuilt versions of previous churches. St. Mary Major is no exception since its history goes back to the 5th century A.D.. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Rome – apart possibly from St. Peter’s. The term Major is due to the fact that, being a “papal Basilica”, it has a special significance for the Catholic Church and is also the biggest church in Rome to be dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls – Founded originally by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century A.D. over the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, this church had to be rebuilt and expanded only a few years later because of the increasing number of pilgrims visiting the grave of the Apostle. Though embellished and somewhat altered over the centuries, the church retained its original structure and character until a fire destroyed a large portion of it in 1823. Its reconstruction successfully endeavoured to preserve the general structure of the church, though it was even more lavishly decorated. Every year, on January 25, in connection with the celebration of St. Paul’s Conversion, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is opened here.

Basilica of St. Peter in Chains – One of Michelangelo’s masterpieces is housed in this church. It’s the famous Moses, a statue that, for various reasons, the great artist took 40 years to complete. The result, however, is so incredibly lifelike that, according to tradition, Michelangelo himself was so astonished at the realistic result of his work that he picked up a hammer and struck one of the knees of the statue, saying: Why don’t you speak? It is also interesting to note that the name of this Basilica is due to the fact that the chains that were used to shackle St. Peter when he was in prison in Jerualem are preserved in this Basilica, in a reliquary under the main altar.

Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano – This is truly one of the oldest churches in Rome, since it actually incorporated a building previously used as a pagan temple, as well as the Library of the Forum of Peace, also known as Vespasian’s Forum. Turning whole or parts of pagan temples into Christian churches was not unusual in the early days of Christianity. Thus, when in the 6th century A.D. Pope Felix IV was donated the Temple of Romulus and the Library by Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, he merged the two to make a new church dedicated to two Christian saints and martyrs, Cosmas and Damian. Though it underwent considerable alterations over time, the church is delicately beautiful, particularly in the areas that are preserved in the original Byzantine style.