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Rome's best cathedrals

In Rome you can see an infinite number of churches, but the most important of them all are the Major Basilicas or Papal Basilicas - there are only four in the world!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

8 min read

Rome's best cathedrals

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City | ©Sonse

Rome is the seat of the Catholic Church and as such its streets abound with churches. In every corner of the Eternal City it is easy to come across a church or a small chapel. Spiritual and artistic temples that are well worth a visit as an essential part of the places to visit in Rome. But among all the churches in Rome, four in particular stand out as having a higher rank than all the others: the Major Basilicas.## 1. St. Peter's Basilica

Facade of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Mike McBey
Facade of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Mike McBey

Visiting the Vatican City and all the wonders it houses is the dream of many travelers who land in Rome. One of them is St. Peter's Basilica, the largest temple in Christendom. Besides being a spiritual symbol for Catholics around the world, it is also a masterpiece of the arts. As much of painting and sculpture as of architecture. In fact, the dimensions of St. Peter's Basilica were so colossal that building it was thought to be an unfeasible project.

The works lasted for almost two centuries and involved artists of the stature of Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante, Giacomo Della Porta and Carlo Maderno to fulfill the commission of Pope Julius II, who wanted to build a great temple on the necropolis where the apostle St. Peter was buried and where the emperor Constantine also erected a basilica that remained standing for over a millennium until it was demolished to build the current one.### What will you see on the tour?

Outside St. Peter's Square and its famous colonnade, one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Europe. Inside St. Peter's Basilica you will have the opportunity to see wonderful works of art such as Bernini's Baldachin, Michelangelo's Pietà, the Nave of the Basilica or the statue of St. Peter on his throne by Arnolfo di Cambio, among many others. Ah! And you can't miss going up to the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica for anything in the world. In the post Visit St. Peter's Basilica you will find out how to get the most out of the experience, so I advise you to read it before buying your tickets. Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120. How to get there: Metro, line A, Ottaviano station - Hours: From October 1 to March 31 from 7 AM to 6 PM and from April 1 to September 30 from 7 AM to 7 PM.

Book a visit to St. Peter's Basilica and dome

2. St. John Lateran Basilica

Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome| ©Cristian Martinez
Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome| ©Cristian Martinez

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the most important of the four Major Basilicas of the Eternal City (above St. Peter's) as it was the first church to be built in Rome back in the fourth century A.D. when Emperor Constantine put an end to the persecution of Christians through the Edict of Milan. That is why this temple is so important in the history of Rome. In addition, it is the cathedral of the city and the place where not so long ago all the Popes were proclaimed. It is also one of the most beautiful. The interior is a marvel and everything is richly decorated, from the floor to the ceiling. If you are passionate about sacred art and architecture, you will definitely enjoy a visit to such a jewel as St. John Lateran, and if you have some time to spare, I recommend you to enter its medieval cloister in Cosmatesque style because it is one of the most romantic places in Rome- Address: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 4 - How to get there: Metro, line A, San Giovanni station - Opening hours: Open every day of the week from 7 AM to 6:30 PM.

Book a guided tour of the Christian basilicas

3. The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls| ©Warren LeMay
Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls| ©Warren LeMay

Just as the Emperor Constantine ordered to erect the Basilica of St. Peter on the place where the first Christian pope was buried, he wanted to do the same for the apostle St. Paul who also suffered martyrdom in Rome and whose tomb was located outside the city at that time. The original Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls became an important place of pilgrimage in Rome since the first century and soon became too small to accommodate so many faithful. For this reason several emperors decided to replace it with a larger one, which was the one that existed until the nineteenth century when a catastrophic fire destroyed part of the temple. Then it was rebuilt to give this basilica the splendor it had in the past and so it has come to the present day. I recommend you to visit San Pablo Extramuros because it is a beauty. The interior is decorated with beautiful golden mosaics and large alabaster columns. During the visit to St. Paul Outside the Walls you can also contemplate the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle under the altar of the basilica - Address: Piazzale San Paolo, 1. - How to get there: Metro, line B, Basilica San Paolo station - Hours: Every day of the week from 7 AM to 6:30 PM.

Book a tour of the Basilica of St. Clement and others

4. The Basilica of St. Mary Major

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore| ©Pierre-Selim Huard
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore| ©Pierre-Selim Huard

Another of the most important churches in Rome that you have to visit during your stay is Santa Maria Maggiore, the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the world and the largest of all the churches in the city. Along with those mentioned above, Santa Maria Maggiore is part of the four Major Basilicas of Rome and has a curious origin. Did you know that Pope Liberius ordered to build this church on top of Mount Esquiline following the "miracle of the snow" that covered this hill in the early morning of August 5, 358 AD? If you travel to Rome in summer I recommend you to go to the basilica that day because a special celebration is held to commemorate this miracle by throwing white petals into the air from the top of the temple. It is a very nice experience to see! Inside Santa Maria Maggiore is a marvel. Of all the Major Basilicas in Rome, it is the only one that keeps intact its original paleochristian floor plan, which together with the paleochristian mosaics of the 5th century that it possesses, make it a historical relic worth seeing. Beyond this, little of the original temple is preserved because over time it has undergone numerous modifications. As a result, it currently presents different architectural and decorative styles, although reflected with great harmony and taste - Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore - How to get there: By subway, line A, Termini station - Opening hours: Every day of the week from 7 AM to 6:30 PM ---.## What are the Major Basilicas of Rome?

Touring

the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome| ©Raffaele Pagani
the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome| ©Raffaele Pagani

The Major Basilicas are by papal designation the most important temples of Christianity. This is because in the fourteenth century Pope Boniface VIII established by the bull "Antiquorum fida relatio" a holy year and indulgences to forgive sins to those who confess them and who visit the tombs of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul in the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

To these conditions Pope Clement VI later added the visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran and later joined by St. Mary Major. In fact, visiting all of them is still the requirement for the Roman Jubilee indulgence today.## How do the Major Basilicas differ from the Minor Basilicas?

St. Peter's Dome| ©Aldo Loya
St. Peter's Dome| ©Aldo Loya

The word "basilica" means "notable church" and refers to a Christian temple that, because of its antiquity, majesty or because of the services held in it, enjoys certain privileges. While the Major Basilicas are located in the Vatican and Rome, there are four and can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the Minor Basilicas are more than a thousand and are spread throughout different countries of the world.## What privileges and attributes do the Major Basilicas of Rome have?

Basilica of St. John Lateran| ©Ana Rey
Basilica of St. John Lateran| ©Ana Rey
  • High Altar: Only the Pope and his special delegates can celebrate Mass at the altars of the Major Basilicas - Holy Door: Each of the Major Basilicas in Rome has a Holy Door that is always sealed except in Jubilee years, when it is opened so that pilgrims can pass through it and obtain the plenary indulgence.## Are all the Major Basilicas of Rome worth visiting?
Inside the Basilica of St. Mary Major| ©Michiel Jelijs
Inside the Basilica of St. Mary Major| ©Michiel Jelijs

Absolutely! Whether you are a religious person or not, visiting these very special temples is a fantastic opportunity to discover the more spiritual side of Rome, to learn about the roots of Christianity and to admire the architecture and art of past eras. Moreover, because of their history and origins, a visit to the Major Basilicas is the perfect complement to other tours such as the tour of Rome's catacombs.## How much does it cost to enter the Major Basilicas of Rome?

Calculating Payment| ©Karolina Grabowska
Calculating Payment| ©Karolina Grabowska

Admission to the Major Basilicas of Rome is free of charge. However, when visiting St. Peter's Basilica I advise you to purchase a skip-the-line ticket or book a guided tour to avoid the long lines at the entrance.

Book a visit to St. Peter's Basilica

Tips for visiting the Major Basilicas of Rome

Visiting the Basilicas in Rome| ©Spencer Davis
Visiting the Basilicas in Rome| ©Spencer Davis
  • Clothing: Apart from being precious works of art, the Major Basilicas of Rome are also sacred places where Christianity is practiced. For this reason, to enter all visitors must follow a strict etiquette that consists of wearing clothes that cover both shoulders and knees and remove the cap or hat when entering in case you are wearing one.

  • Photographs: If you wish to take pictures inside the Major Basilicas, my advice is to first find out if you can use flash indoors, as some temples do not allow it in order to protect the works of art. Donations: Although the entrance to the Major Basilicas is free, donations are always welcome for charity and to carry out the conservation and restoration work of the temples. If you wish to make a donation, you can leave it in the church's brush or light a candle.