The most beautiful and least visited churches in Rome
One of the most popular places to visit in Rome is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Hardly anyone coming to Rome for the first time skips this gorgeous, artwork-packed church. Yet, this is not the only religious masterpiece worth your time. Discover here some pretty stunning and least visited churches in Rome to delve deeper into the city’s culture, history and faith.
Gorgeous and least-visited churches in Rome beyond St. Peter’s Basilica
1. St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome (San Paolo Fuori Le Mura)
Slightly far from the tourist path, St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome and a must-see. Located between Ostiense and Garbatella neighbourhoods, this is one of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome and the second largest after St. Peter’s.
Emperor Constantine ordered the building of the basilica where St Paul was buried not far from where his martyrdom happened. In 324 it doors were officially opened and it contained the tomb of the saint.
READ MORE: Check out our detailed article for our experience visiting St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica.
2. Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme)
This beautiful church is in the Esquilino neighbourhood between San Giovanni in Laterano Basilica and Porta Maggiore. Although hardly included in most guided tours, it’s a very important worship place for the Catholic religion.
One of the relics preserved in Santa Croce di Gerusalemme church is, in fact, a piece of Christ’s cross found by Empress Helen mother of Emperor Constantine, in Mount Calvary. This makes it an important pilgrimage site in Rome and one of the seven churches that back in the day pilgrims used to reach on foot.
READ MORE: See our article to read more about Santa Croce in Gerusalemme church.
3. Santa Maria in Cosmedin Basilica in Rome
Built on the 6th century on the site of a temple of Hercules, Santa Maria in Cosmedin Basilica is famous mostly for the sculpture of the Mouth of Truth in its portico.
This medieval church in central Rome was named with the Greek adjective “kosmidion”, meaning beautiful, for the stunning decorative patterns when it was erected. Today, the interior is pretty plain and unadorned, but among the remaining decoration we can still admire are the mosaic floor, the choir, the canopy and the seat of the bishop.
4. San Pietro in Vincoli
Located in Monti neighbourhood, this San Pietro in Vincoli church is pretty central. Yet, you won’t find it crowded. Probably because getting there usually requires climbing a steep staircase or maybe because it’s a little hidden in its square. Whatever the reason, it’s a pity.
Home to the important relics of the chains that kept Saint Peter captive in Jerusalem first and then in Rome, this church is a must-see in Rome.
READ MORE: See our article to know more about San Pietro in Vincoli church and why it’s worth a visit.
5. San Giorgio in Velabro
Another one of the churches to visit in Rome is San Giorgio in Velabro.
Likely built in the 6th century, San Giorgio Al Velabro was completely renovated in 682 under Pope Leo II. It was named after the Latin word “Velabrum”, the river-close marshland where according to the myth, Faustolo found the twins Romolo and Remo.
The Romanesque-style bell tower and the colonnade are an addition dating back to the 13th century. The Greek Pope Zachary brought to Rome the head of the martyr St. George from Turkey and now the main relic of this church is the tomb of St. George. The layout of the church is irregular due to the many stages of renovation and a double row of marble pillars divides it in three naves.
In 1993 this Rome church was almost fully destroyed by a car bomb attack by Mafia criminals, but three years of excellent renovation works brought it back to its original splendour.
6. Sacro Cuore del Suffragio Church
One of the few examples of sacred Gothic architecture in city, Sacro Cuore del Suffragio is also one of the least-visited churches in Rome that I think it’s a pity to miss.
Located in Prati area along the Tiber River, it was built in 1890 by Italian architect Giuseppe Gualandi. Leaning directly on a traffic road, the facade of the church is protected by a high iron gate. In a proper Gothic style, it shows finely decorated spires. In the middle of the main body of the facade is a huge rose window.
Inside, you can visit the Museum of the Souls of the Purgatory devoted to the visible testimony of the souls who tried to get in touch with the clerics.
7. Santa Prassede Basilica in Rome
One of the best churches in Rome that you can’t miss is Santa Prassede Basilica in the Esquilino neighbourhood. I absolutely loved this church. It’s one of the best places in Rome to see
The Basilica is named after St. Prassede, sister of St. Pudenziana (church below). According to the myth, the two sisters, daughters of Roman senator Pudente, were killed because they used to give a proper burial to the Christian martyrs in the land of their father.
This church is close to the more well-known Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica and it’s also decorated with wonderful mosaics.
READ MORE: First time in the Eternal City? See what are the places you can’t miss in Rome.
8. Santa Pudenziana Basilica
One of Rome’s oldest Christian churches, also Santa Pudenziana Basilica is located in the Esquilino neighbourhood not far from Santa Maria Maggiore.
This beautiful Basilica is one of the lesser-known churches in Rome, even though it hosts one of the oldest and most stunning religious mosaics in the city. The church was built around 380 AD on the site of what seems to be the residence of Roman Senator Pudente, who was converted to Christianity together with his two daughters Prassede and Pudenziana by the Apostle Peter. St. Peter, friend of Senator Pudente, stayed in his house for some seven years.
From the garden of the church it’s possible to access the undergrounds where diggings have resumed the ruins of a two-floor insula, block of flats in ancient Rome, and a thermal space.
READ MORE: Check out our guide to the best tours of Rome.
9. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica
Located in Piazza della Minerva not far from the Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica is home to the remains of St. Catherine of Siena and the Italian painter Beato Angelico.
The basilica was built on the site of three temples devoted to Isis, Minerva and Serapis. Already in the 8th century next to the basilica was a smaller church that Pope Zachary gave to the Basilian nuns escaped from the persecutions in the Orient.
The architectural style is Gothic, one of the few in Rome. The construction started in 1280 and lasted several century with several changes and additions. The whole work ended in 1725.
The only Gothic medieval church in Rome, it’s worth visiting at least for the great wealth of artwork displayed in its chapels by masters of the likes of Michelangelo, Bernini, Filippino Lippi, Antoniazzo Romano, Maderno, Barocci e Melozzo da Forlì.
10. San Nicola in Carcere Basilica
San Nicola in Carcere Basilica lies on the site of three temples of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, of Janus, of Spes (Hope) and Juno Sospita, that in the Middle Ages were used as prison. In imperial Rome, the square where today is the church was known as Forum Holitorium, the place for the market of legumes and vegetables.
The church of San Nicola in Carcere was built before the 11th century upon commission of Pope Paschal II and went through several renovations in 1599, 1865 and 1932. Today we can spot the ruins of the three ancient temples in the underground of the church, embedded in the external walls and the same staircase to enter the Basilica, originally the altar of the temple of Juno Sospita.
11. Santi Cosma and Damiano Church
Very close to the Colosseum Santi Cosma and Damiano is also one of the lesser-visited churches in Rome. Showing beautiful mosaics, the church dates back to the 6th century and lies on the site of one of the libraries of the Temple of Peace and Temple of Romulus.
Amalasuntha, youngest daughter of the Ostrogoth king Theoderic the Great, donated the land to Pope Felix IV in order to build there a Catholic church. The Pope devoted the new worship place to the Saints Cosma and Damiano, the two Roman doctors twin brothers martyred in 303 under the Emperor Diocletian.
You can access the church from Via dei Fori Imperiali, through a long corridor decorated with beautiful frescoes. Inside is a stunning painted and golden ceiling, the altar embellished by the painting of the Holy Mary with the Baby and the apse with wonderful mosaics.
12. Santa Maria della Pace Church
Located between Piazza Navona and the Tiber, Santa Maria della Pace Church lies on the site of the former “St. Andrea de Acquarenariis”, place where in ancient times the water sellers used to clean the water of the river from the mud.
According to the myth, a drunk soldier hit the painting of the Virgin Mary with a stone and the image started bleeding. Pope Sixtus IV visited the place himself promising to take care of the crumbling church.
Architect Pietro da Cortona added the beautiful round convex facade in 1656 commissioned by Alexander VII Chigi, while the dome was added in 1524.
The entrance of the church is through a 15th-century gate and the interior counts only one nave and the beautiful chapel devoted to the Chigi family.
13. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere Basilica
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere Basilica is an extremely fascinating building for so many reasons. First of all its tragic history as it’s the house as well as the martyrdom place of the patroness of musicians St. Cecilia.
But it’s absolutely worth visiting also for all the areas you will see inside. In fact, there isn’t only the main, more modern church to view here. After you admired the decorations of colorful marble and the sculpture representing the tomb of St. Cecilia, don’t miss the amazing Byzantine-style crypt and the archaeological site underneath to discover more of underground Rome.
There are plenty of things to do in Trastevere, but I totally recommend you take some time to stop here, too. You won’t regret it.
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