Catholics are currently observing the season of Lent, a solemn religious period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later on Good Friday, before Easter Sunday. The Catholic religion is headquartered in Vatican City, a sovereign state located within the city of Rome, Italy. It has the distinction of being smallest state in the world by both area and population, and it known around the world as a beloved religious and cultural site.
The city contains the Vatican Museums, which feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. But both Vatican City and Rome proper are also home to some beautiful, world-famous churches. If you’re ever in Rome, make sure to add these three churches to your must-see list.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Featuring the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, St. Peter’s is the largest church in the world and one of the holiest Catholic shrines. The Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, an Apostle of Jesus and the first Pope of the Catholic church. Saint Peter’s tomb is located directly below the high altar of the Basilica.
The epicenter of Roman Catholicism, St. Peter’s Basilica is at the center of Vatican City and open every day for free tours. It is also an active church with daily Mass services, with the Pope making appearances on Wednesday mornings. A stringent dress code, with no short skirts, hats or bare shoulders, is strictly enforced. Make sure to climb the 323 steps to the summit of the dome for an exceptional view of Rome
What was initially created as a pagan temple to the gods, the Pantheon now operates as a Catholic church, with masses celebrated on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and occasionally hosting weddings. It was originally constructed in 27 B.C. and rebuilt following a fire in the early 2nd century. Once the city abandoned pagan gods, an altar was added for Christian worship. After the Renaissance, it became a designated burial and final internment space for famous artists, including the painter Raphael, and Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I
The Pantheon is known for its perfect proportions, and it’s architecture of tall columns has inspired copycats around the world. It features an expansive interior and a large dome with the sun shining through a 27-foot hole in the center of the rotunda.
Basilica di San Clemente
Rome is full of great architecture, but this church is also a really interesting site for archaeology buffs. It’s a three-tiered complex of buildings. The present basilica was built during the height of the Middle Ages, just before the year 1100. Beneath the that structure is a 4th-century church that was once the home of a Roman nobleman. And then the basement was built in the 2nd century as a pagan temple with a shrine for Mithras, a god popular in the second and third centuries.
There are more than 900 churches in Rome, the vast majority of which are Roman Catholic. Here are some other great ones to visit:
- The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
- San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura
- San Giovanni in Laterano
- Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
- Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
- Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
- Basilica di Sant’Agostino