Discover the Churches of Rome

Interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Dive into Rome's hidden history as you experience some of the city's 900 incredible churches! Discover the largest of the churches, those dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the only Gothic church in Rome, the official cathedral of Rome (no, it is not Saint Peter’s Basilica!), and many others. The city's churches are also the perfect places to uncover unique architectural designs, archaeological collections, and art.

Suggested Churches to Visit: 
  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore: The largest of the churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this is one of the city’s most important religious sites. Though its beautiful 18th-century façade appears Baroque, it’s actually one of the oldest churches in Rome, built around 440 CE. 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 Rome’s best examples of an Early Christian basilica. Today, it’s considered a top church for anyone on a Rome pilgrimage.

  • San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura: This church dates back to the 6th century, with a triumphal arch showing Byzantine mosaics depicting Christ with the saints. Its 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 made by the saint’s body 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.

  • San Giovanni in Laterano: This 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 CE and is believed to be one of the first Catholic churches. Unfortunately, fires, vandals, and earthquakes over the years mean little remains of the original structure. It now has a more Baroque style with 16th- and 17th-century restorations.
    • Though the façade isn’t the most impressive, the inside is completely decorated. Frescoes, columns, mosaics, and sculptures decorate nearly every inch of the ornate Roman church. Today, it’s one of Rome's oldest surviving Christian structures and one of the main Roman pilgrimage churches.

  • Santa Maria in Trastevere: This 4th-century church was likely the first spot where mass was openly celebrated in Rome. It's also believed to be Rome’s first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was rebuilt by Pope Innocent II, a native of Trastevere, in the 12th century, and today it features impressive mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries.
    • Two rows of 22 large columns lead up to the nave, most repurposed (or stolen) 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 CE. If you’re a lover of mosaics, ask your travel specialist for our list of where to see the best Byzantine mosaics in Italy! 

  • Santa Maria Sopra Minerva: The present-day church sits over the ruins of three ancient Roman temples: one for the Roman goddess Minerva, one for the Egyptian goddesses, and one for the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis. 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's one of Rome’s few Gothic (as opposed to Baroque-style) churches and Italy's most impressive Gothic churches. You can also see a sculpture by Michelangelo and the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, Italy’s primary patron saint. 

  • Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo: Travelers to Rome might overlook this inconspicuous church in the large Piazza del Popolo, but the inside is a treasure trove for art lovers. The church has seven chapels, each containing some of the best examples of works by Renaissance artists, including Pinturicchio, Raphael, Bernini, and Caravaggio.

  • The Basilica of San Clemente: St. Clement’s Basilica is located just a few blocks away from the Colosseum and named after St. Clement, Catholicism’s third pope. The 12th-century Basilica is built atop a 4th-century church, which in turn was built atop a pagan temple — all three of which you can visit today. Its history directly shows that Rome was built layer after layer. Check out the church’s fabulous frescoes and mosaics on the top floor, then head below to tour the shrine dedicated to the god Mithras. Today it’s one of Rome’s greatest hidden underground sites.

  • Santa Cecilia in Trastevere: The entrance to this church is slightly hidden by a façade and a beautiful Roman courtyard. A 9th-century mosaic and a remarkable 13th-century fresco titled Last Judgement by Pietro Cavallini, a forerunner of Giotto, decorate the inside.

  • Basilica di Sant’Agostino: A Roman Renaissance church, St. Augustine is filled with famous artwork that makes it one of the best of the lesser-known churches in Rome. Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Pilgrims is most notable, a scandalous painting for the realistic kneeling pilgrim with dirty feet. Raphael’s Isaiah is also said to be inspired by Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel; Sansovino’s sculpture, St. Anne and the Madonna with Child, and the Madonna and Child by Jacopo Tatti, a student of Sansovino.

  • The Pantheon: Although the Pantheon was originally a pagan construction, it was turned into a Catholic church in the early 7th century and is still used as a church today. The dome is still the single largest unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world, making this a major highlight for most people visiting Rome!
Read more about unique and interesting activities in Rome.