Christian Rome, Rome
After mistakenly entering the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria I did manage to make my way a few doors south on Via Settembre to the American Church of Santa Susanna. It was crowded and Mass was in progress - in English and accompanied by a full choir singing and the music of Easter. A wonderful double "doubting Thomas" First Sunday after Easter. The two churches were both designed by the same architect, Giovanni Battista Soria (a favorite architect of Cardinal Scipione Borghese) but depict very different styles.
The American Catholic Community in Rome has been a thriving parish for 80 years. They provide a home-away-from-home for English-speaking people living in Rome and their mission states their calling to be a place of welcome. There is a volume of information and extraordinary services for the visitor - including a web form to request a Papal audience or blessing. Check them out before you come to Rome.
The Church is open every day from 9 to 12 Noon and again from 4 to 7 PM. Rome churches are closed in the afternoon.
(photos courtesy Roberto Piperno)
This church, newly restored and only recently re-opened, is unmissable. It's an entirely different experience to the magnificent grandiosity of so many Roman churches.
Tucked away between the Colosseum and San Giovanni in Laterano, it's hard to believe that this quiet (ish) area is so near the centre of the modern city. The round church really is ancient; it was built in the 460s AD.
It's a hugely atmopheric place, its two concentric rings of columns touched by the light that floods in through the 22 windows. There are four chapels (all closed off when I visited, for restoration work is ongoing, so that the structure forms a cross shape. Some of the original Roman black-and-white mosaic flooring has been left in situ, and the whole structure overlies and earlier Mithraeum (as is often the case in Rome).
Around the inner wall are frescoes of martyrs, showing in detail the manner of their deaths. Fascinatingly gruesome, and an indication of the workings of the Medieval religious mind (they date from the sixteenth century).
It's worth taking some time out to visit this church: it is really special. My travelogue has more photos:
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo runs from Piazza S. Giovanni in Laterano, or you can access it by walking up Via Claudia from the Colosseum (it's on the right). The church is at the Via Claudia end, but the entrance isn't very obvious (which is why I've put it as the main photo). Open usual Roman church times, roughly 7/8 - 12 and 3- 7.
The catacombs where the young Santa Agnes was laid to rest after her martyrdom in 304AD became a place of pilgrimage almost immediately after her death and when Constantine's daughter Constantia was cured (legend says of leprosy) by praying to the saint they became important enough for an imperial princess herself to be entombed there. Constantia ordered the building first of a baptistry (where she and her sister Helena were baptised) and later a funerary hall over the catacomb, but a princess requires a grander burial place than this and so a mausoleum was raised over the site and decorated in style befitting her noble ancestry.
Now known as the Chiesa di Santa Constanza (although she was neiher officially canonized nor even buried here - she died before the building was completed) the mausoleum was more probably used for the burial of Helena, who was both the daughter of one emperor and the wife of another. Constantia's body was moved here to lie beside her sister in a magnificent porphyry sarcophagus. Her body was later buried beneath the central altar and the building consecrated as a church in her name.
The church is circular, with 12 pairs of elegant pillars supporting the dome and a barrel-vaulted ambulatory set with delicate mosaics of fruit and flowers, birds and beasts, the oldest surviving Christian ones known. Although not all have survived - those in the dome were said to be of astonishing beauty but were destroyed in the 17th century and a now-fading frescoed ceiling put in their place - the ones that remain give us an idea of just how lovely this little building must have been. The symbols used have significance to both pagan and Christian beliefs - an intriguing reminder of the duality of Constantine's position at this time. Later mosaics (6th or 7th century) in the niches are totally Christian and considerably less sophisticated in their execution though their original borders remain and give some idea of the richness of the images these have replaced.
You can acces the church either through a gate in the far corner of the garden of the adjacent Basilica of Saint Agnes or via a short road at th end of the wall around the church garden. The church looks best in afternoon light but it is a popular wedding venue so you may have to wait before you can enter.
Open: Monday 0900-1200; Tuesday-Saturday: 0900-1200, 1600-1800; Sunday: 1600-1800
The church can be found in the area known as Nomentana, a short distance outside the city walls, north-east of Termini.
Address: Via Nomentana 349. Take Bus #36 from Termini or #60 from Piazza Venezia
This is the strangest thing I have ever seen. It is a dedication to death. And yes, those are all real bones from the monks who lived there and believed in this order. The dirt was transported from Jerusalem. Even the lightbulb holders were made from bones!
It is called the Cemetery of the Capuchins-3rd Chapel and located at Via Veneto 27.
La Maddlena- ay dios mio, I feel like it is my little secret, but I guess I can share. Okay, so anyone who has read anything about Rome knows about the Pantheon, one of the most touristed sights in the city. Well, now I'm going to tell you about this adorable little church only steps away that almost nobody discovers. Say you are facing the Pantheon. Turn around. There are two streets leading away from the pantheon in this direction, take the one on the right. Walk about a block until you come to a little piazza with Ristorantte Clemente and a very beautiful, ornate church. That church would be La Maddalena. Go inside, becasue it will be the best thing you do on your entire trip to Rome. I did this after reading a little article about the church and I am so thankful for that. it is the most beautiful church I have ever seen in my life. Everything is golden and perfect and beautiful in every way. I swear I sat in there for nearly an hour looking around. While I was there, the organ player even began to play. it was wonderful. Do youself a favor, and dig just a little deeper into Rome, and you will be greatly rewarded.
UPDATE: Jan 2005 - open again after being closed for a year.
The slightly bizarre Capuchin Crypt in Santa Maria della Concezione, is located on Via Veneto, near Piazza Barberini. It's definitely worth a visit. Seven rooms deocorated with mosaics, designs, even lanterns hanging from the ceiling, made from thousands of the brothers' bones.
Yes, really their actual bones! Piles and piles of them. Rosettes made of hip bones and vertebrae. Arches made of skulls.
It's fascinating and creepy at the same time.
Most kids LOVE this place.
A lovely, tucked-away church on the Celian Hill. Only 10 minutes walk from the Colosseum, but very peaceful.
Giovanni and Paulo were two weathy-ish Romans who were beheaded on the spot (their houses) in 361AD, because they refused military service. What is supposed to be their house(s) is accessible under the church (the Case Romane: see tip), along with part of a Roman street.
The two were supposedly buried on the spot of their martyrdom, so the church has a shrie marking the spot. It also has lots of chandeliers and is a popular church for weddings. There was one when I visited, which meant I couldn't really explore it properly (it would have been somewhat intrusive!), but I think it would be worth a visit.
The separate campanile is very pretty: some of its decorative ceramic discs were originally ancient Arabic plates !): they are now displayed in the Case Romane museum. Underneath the campanile is part of a massive temple to Claudius.
On Clivio de Scauro; access from Via Claudia (on the right at the top of the hill) or from Via di S. Gregorio (on the left with the Colosseum behind you).
The facade of the Santa Maria in Trivio(1570-1580) is beautifull incorporated in the facade of the building behind it.
This church is standing very close to the Trevi fountain, just around the corner. And again worth visiting if you are at the fountain.
Inside the church are some frescoes at the ceiling made by Antonio Gherardi (1644-1702). They depict scenes from the new testament.
This church is the Lombard national church. It was built in 1612 by Onorio Longhi and dedicated to Saints Ambrose and Charles Borromeo. The architect died before the work was completed. In 1684 the facade was finished by Gian Battista Menicucci and Mario da Canepina. The interior was designed by Martino Longhi, son of Onorio, in 1642. It was a little altered by Pietro da Cortona in 1651. He also erected the dome and apse in 1668.
The interior was renovated in 2001.
On the outside is a façade which can't be overlooked, it is very large. It has a single story divided into three parts by pilasters with Corinthian capitals.
Address: 437 Via del Corso
If you're up early on Sunday, here's a lovely way to spend the morning. Take a taxi to Santa Sabina in the Aventine (or walk, south of the Bocca della Verita) . Plan to get there before nine, because by 10, the churches will likely be filled with a bridal party. Weddings often take place on Sunday mornings, but this makes visiting the churches even better -- as they are often decorated with flowers in this upscale residential area. Facing Santa Sabina, first, walk right along Via Santa Sabina to the Parco di Sant'Alessio, the perfect little orange tree park. Walk to the edge and spend a few minutes admiring one of the lovliest views in Rome. Then visit Santa Sabina, and next to it Sant' Alessia. Continue on -- the street comes to a dead-end. On the right, you'll pass a large dark green gate (at least it was green in March of 2006) with a large key hole. Look through it for the amazing and surprising miniature view. Then follow Via Porta Lavernale (stop and see Sant'Anselmo) down to Via Marmorata, and across the bridge to Ponte Sublico, to the Porta Portese market, or see my tip on what I think is a better local market nearby.
In the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva lies the body of St. Catherine of Siena. I think I read that she is the little known patron saint of Italy. He claims to fame are that she levitated around the streets of Siena, was the first woman Doctor of the Church and helped persuade the pope to return to Italy from France (Avignon). I said her body lies in the sepulchre pictured here, but not all of it. For some reason her head and one index finger are still in Siena! I have not been able to find out why she was beheaded and de-digitized but I think it was after her death. It was probably to spread the relics around. I guess it made sense then, but it sure seems macabre to me. The church is just behind (to the southeast) of the Pantheon.
When we were leaving the Campidoglio we encountered, in a vaulted recess just below sidewalk level, an ancient looking fresco depicting the Nativity. I have no idea how old it is or by whom it was done, but it is a good example of the unfathomable artistic and architectural wealth of Rome. A corollary to this was a conversation we had with a young woman who lives in Rome. When we asked her why there was such a limited underground rail system, unlike London or Paris or New York, she told us that whenever they dug a few feet down they encounter some ancient artifact and the site immediately becomes an archeological dig. Of course!
Piazza San Pietro is of huge proportions although it visually doen't look so because of semicircular wings around it central part. The square was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, from 1656 to 1657, and under the direction of Pope Alexander VII. The idea was to make a forecourt designed so that great numberof people could see the Pope give his blessing. By trapezoidal shape of the square Bernini created a hightened perspective for a visitor leaving the basilica. On the other side, the colonnade forms the solemn entrance to St. Peter's and the Vatican. The two great open semicircular wings seem as if they were the outsteched arms of the church, receiving all of mankind in one universal embrace. The colonnade shows the height of Bernini's genius.
There are 140 statues of saints decorating the colonnades, all designed by Bernini but were sculpted with the help of his pupils.
This church sort of stood out because Rome has only one true Gothic church (Santa Maria Sopra Minerva- which has a Michelangelo sculpture- go there!) and this one looked so different from the other churches you will see.
If you think its old, its not! It was only consecrated in 1917. Despite its very ornate (and very French) look, its actually all concrete.
Its official name is Sacro Cuore di Gesù in Prati but its also known as Sacro Cuore del Suffragio. Its located in Prati, right by the Palace of Justice.
Inside it has three naves, great stained glass work. It was inspired by the Cathedral of Milan and is often referred to as Il piccolo Duomo di Milano.
Inside there is also a small museum about the Souls of Purgatory, which I didn't entirely understand. A number of bibles and other documents are shown with what appear to be burned in hand prints or marks. What I was told was that this is sign that the souls in purgatory, a way station between heaven and earth, are asking their relatives on earth to pray harder so that their sins may be forgiven. I was skeptical to say the least. A very small museum if it can be called that at all, it is more just an exhibition.
The Basilica di San Clemente really is a 'must see' church, however a lot of people unfortunately miss this place. Three churches in one- the street level is a 12th century church behind a 17th century facade. Walk down one flight of stairs, and you're in the 4th century; one more flight down, you're in the original 2nd century street and can even hear the sewers of Rome murmur in the background.