The most important ancient churches in Christendom
The city of Rome is home of over 400 Christian churches, including the Four Major Papal Basilicas that are essential to visit for the traditional Jubilee pilgrimage. Apart from being famous religious destinations, these cathedrals are popular tourist destinations with rich history, commemorating some of the best examples of Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture.
What are the The Four Major Papal Basilicas of Rome?
St Peter’s Basilica
First on the list is the sacred UNESCO heritage site and the residence of the Pope, the St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) in the Vatican. This cathedral is the largest Catholic religious complex in the world. Full of timeless masterpieces of Michelangelo and Bernini, it is believed that the basilica was built on top of St Peter’s tomb.
Basilica of St. John Lateran
Second both in size and in order of importance in Catholicism, is the mother-cathedral (mater et caput), the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni). Built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 320, this is indeed the oldest church in the Eternal City. Apart from the impressive exterior facade, it is also famous for hosting colossal Baromini statues of the 12 Apostles. Today it serves as a cathedral for the weekly Thursday Mass conducted by the Bishop of Rome.
Basilica of St. Paolo Outside the Walls
The third major basilica in Rome is the Basilica of St. Paolo Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura) located two kilometers outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome. One of the most famous features of the basilica is the series of 271 papal portraits in the special slots along the walls of the nave in front of the sanctuary. The cathedral’s facade is embedded with the original Pietro Cavallini’s mosaic. The basilicas also includes a beautiful cloister, largest among the four Papal Basilicas.
Papal Basilica of St Mary Major
Last but not least is the Papal Basilica of St Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) the largest cathedral dedicated to the Holy Virgin in the world. The original paleochristian structure of the Basilica was kept preserved throughout the years of renovations. One of the most prominent parts of this structure is the tallest Romanic bell tower of the Basilica. The walls and the dome of the basilica contain depictions of many important figures and scenes from Old and New testimony by Buonarroti.
What is special about the Four Major Basilicas?
Each of the listed cathedrals have one special feature that apart from the historical significance unites them into this Major Papal quartet, the Holy Doors or Porta Sancta. These doors represent the threshold of the holy, the passage into the presence of God. Opening the doors during the Holy Year during the ruling of Pope Boniface VII. It is believed that upon passing through all four, the pilgrims are granted a temporal remission of their sins.