2015 Spring Jessica Benmen Temple Rome

Take Me to Church

Even though it’s now obvious that it was always my destiny to come to Rome and be Lizzie McGuire, it wasn’t always such an clear choice. With two majors, I had a lot of options—did it make more sense to be somewhere that would complement my studies in English lit, or was it better to go the Religion major route?

Clearly I went with choice number two, and it actually ended up being an easier decision than I had initially anticipated; the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that Rome had something special to offer. There are a ton of cities with rich literary traditions and impressive collections of relics from local literary power players, but Rome has way more than relics (saintly and otherwise). Rome has a living history, in which ancient traditions are still being performed while new conventions are simultaneously inaugurated. Plus, it’s probably one of the only places where you can find a Pope Francis bobble head (and calendar and t shirt and coffee mug and poster and key chain…not that I would know). 

Having said that, one of my favorite parts of being in Rome has been visiting the gorgeous churches scattered around the city. Here are some can’t-miss spots for when you visit!

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

1. St. Peter’s Basilica

It’s a big deal. You already knew that. Moving on.

2. Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

A magnificent construction designed by Michelangelo, this one holds a special place in my heart because it was my first church in Rome. It’s also right next to the Palazzo Massimo National Museum and the Baths of Diocletian (you can get into both with the same ­­ticket, meaning you can impress your friends with how thoroughly cultured you are in one fell swoop).

Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore

3. Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

This is a big one! As a Papal major Basilica it’s one of the four highest-ranking Roman Catholic Churches, plus it’s the largest and oldest Catholic Marian church in Rome, and a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot. The mosaics are 5th century and gorgeous, and it has an incredible monumental alter.

4. Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

It’s not terribly impressive from the outside, but don’t be fooled—this church is my favorite. The mosaics here are the most spectacular of everything I’ve seen so far in Rome, particularly the apse mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin. This church is also home to a 6th century Madonna della Clemenza icon, which is one of the oldest images of the Madonna in Rome.

5. Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua

Santa Maria Antiqua
Santa Maria Antiqua

Located in the Roman Forum, Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest Christian monument on the site, and it contains the earliest depiction of Santa Maria Regina, or the Virgin Mary as Queen. This church is really interesting because it demonstrates the evolution of Christian art, which can be seen in the various layers of fresco on the walls (it was redecorated by at least four different popes). Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to gain access to—I was lucky enough to get permission to visit with my Christian art seminar.

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