On our Basilicas of Rome Private Walking Tour we will visit four very important and outstandingly beautiful churches of Rome.
- Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni in Laterano – are two Basilicas out of four Papal Basilicas in Rome.
- Saint Clement Basilica and Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem are considered to be minor Basilicas of Rome.
Basilicas of Rome Highlights:
- Santa Maria Maggiore
- San Clemente (without underground)
- San Giovanni in Laterano and Scala Santa
- Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
We start our journey from St.Mary Major. Situated on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, St. Mary Major is the only patriarchal basilica of the four in Rome to have retained its paleo-Christian structures.
Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church’s construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius, she asked that a church be built in her honor on a site she would miraculously indicate.
The morning of August 5th, the Esquiline Hill was covered with a blanket of snow. The pope traced out the perimeter of the basilica in the snow, and John financed the construction of the new church. The Romanesque bell tower, built by Gregory XI after his return from Avignon, rises 75 meters high and is the tallest in Rome. The belfry contains five bells, one of which, “La Sperduta,” or “the lost one,” rings every evening at nine with its distinctive sound to call the faithful to prayer.
Basilica of Saint Clement
The second of our Basilicas of Rome is the Basilica of Saint Clement – a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I. The present Basilica built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages. The current basilica was rebuilt in one campaign by Cardinal Anastasius, ca 1099-ca. 1120.
Irish Dominicans have been the caretakers of San Clemente since 1667, when England outlawed the Irish Catholic Church and expelled the entire clergy. Pope Urban VIII gave them refuge at San Clemente, where they have remained, running a residence for priests studying and teaching in Rome.
The Dominicans themselves conducted the excavations in the 1950s in collaboration with Italian archaeology students.
Saint John Lateran
The basilica of Saint John Lateran was built under pope Melchiade (311-314), it’s the most ancient church in the world. Due to the fact that the pope is also the bishop of Rome, Saint John in Lateran – being seat of the bishop’s residence – is also Rome’s Cathedral.
The present structure of the Basilica resembles the Saint Peter’s basilica. The original plan had already five aisles. The ancient church was residence of the popes until the coming back from the exile in Avignone (1377), when it was moved to the Vatican.
The twelve niches created in Francesco Borromini’s architecture were left vacant for decades. When in 1702 Pope Clement XI and Benedetto Cardinal Pamphili, archpriests of the archbasilica, announced their grand scheme for twelve sculptures of the Apostles, of greater than life-size, to fill the niches, the commission was opened to all the premier sculptors of late Baroque Rome.
Each statue was to be sponsored by an illustrious prince with the Pope himself sponsoring that of St. Peter and Cardinal Pamphili that of St. John the Evangelist.
The Holy Steps
Right cross the street from Saint John Lateran we find The Holy Steps.
There is no pilgrim who has come to Rome without desiring to visit the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. It is one of the most important and renowned sanctuaries in the Roman Catholic Church. The Sanctuary houses the Sancta Sanctorum, recognized as the first private Papal chapel.
The sanctuary gets its name from the 28 marble steps of the Holy Stairs.
According to an ancient Christian tradition, Saint Helena (†335), the mother of Constantine, had the stairs transported from Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to Rome. It is believed that Jesus climbed these stairs several times the day he was sentenced to death, thus, they are known as the “Scala Pilati” or “Scala Sancta” (the Holy Stairs or Pilate’s Stairs).
Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem
The final of our Basilicas of Rome is the Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem in the Esquilino quarter, close to the Aurelian Walls and the Castrense Amphitheatre. The Basilica of the Holy Cross is part of the route of the “Seven Churches” that ancient pilgrims used to visit on foot.
The Esquilino at the time of the Emperor Augustus was a peripheral and residential area; it was chosen by the Severan Emperors in the third century. A.D. to build the imperial residence which included a palace, a Circus ( Circo Variano) and the Castrense Amphitheatre, later included in the Aurelian Walls, built between 271 and 275 AD.
The Emperor Constantine restored the complex and gave it the name “Sessorium”; in the year 324, when Constantine moved the capital of the Empire to Constantinople, the residence remained property of his mother Helen and underwent many changes, the most important was the transformation of part of the residential complex in a chapel designed to contain the relics of the Cross found by the Empress on Mount Calvary.
This chapel became the nucleus of the Basilica of the Holy Cross, originally called the Basilica Eleniana or Sessoriana. There have been numerous modifications over the centuries; during the restorations of Cardinal Mendoza (1478-1495) in a box hidden inside a wall of the Basilica was found the Titulus of the Cross. This inscribed wooden tablet (once placed on the Cross of Jesus Christ) is still visible inside the Basilica.
Our Basilicas of Rome tour is a unique tour not offered by any other tour operator in Rome, so book now and don’t miss this special opportunity to go off the beaten track to see the Real Rome!
SEE ALSO … Underground Rome Private Tour