It is known to many that Rome is one, if not the holiest city in the world. Hence, numerous churches were constructed all around the city. However, Rome’s churches aren’t just holy sites. They’re treasure troves of painting and sculpture, mosaic and relics, even ancient ruins. And the best thing about all these is they’re free.
It is a bit tough to select which one you visit first, since there are hundreds of them, literally. So, here are some of them to help you decide the church of your choice. And oh, just make sure to double-check the opening times: There’s nothing more disappointing than arriving at a Rome church midday, only to find that it’s closed!
On the top of the list is Basilica of Santa Prassede. A 9th-century church that still retains its original frescoes and mosaics, this church is a gem that, literally, sparkles. (Bring some change to light up the mosaics). Built on the spot where tradition holds Prassede hosted St. Peter in her house, it also has the tombs of the saints Prassede and Pudenziana.
An older church compared to Basilica of Santa Prassede is Basilica of Santa Sabina. It’s construction dates back during the 5th-century which still has its original, elaborately-carved wooden door and mosaic dedication, a cell belonging to St. Dominic that was turned into a chapel by Bernini, and underground 4th- to 2nd-century B.C. ruins. What more could you want?
Meanwhile, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere has the famous sculpture by Maderno of Cecilia’s body as it was found—incorrupt—when exhumed in 1599. Built in the 9th century on the spot where St. Cecilia was martyred in the 3rd century, the church has a beautiful 9th-century mosaic, 13th-century frescoes by Pietro Cavallini, and excavations of two ancient Roman houses below that you can visit. Not to mention their pretty courtyards!
Simple yet majestic is what the San Giorgio in Velabro is known for. Don’t let its seeming simplicity fool you: This church is a gem. Built in the 5th-century, today it’s a thoroughly Romanesque church, albeit one that boasts the bones of St. George and lovely frescoes from 1300. And, having survived a Mafia car bomb in 1993, it gets major points for endurance.
And finally, Rome’s only Gothic church, the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Gothic in a positive note, meaning a completely different style (one much more like, say, Paris’ Notre Dame) than the rest, it’s also got a sculpture by Michelangelo, lovely frescoes by Filippino Lippi, and the body of St. Catherine of Siena.