Travelers to Rome wouldn’t miss a stop at the world’s most famous church, St. Peter’s Basilica — but did you know that the Eternal City is home to more than 900 other churches? Ranging from soaring basilicas to humble chapels, Rome’s houses of worship are the resting places of saints and the repositories for priceless works of art.
The best-known churches attract as many tourist hordes as the city’s major museums and ancient sites, but travelers seeking a little serenity can find it in the following less visited churches in Rome, including the basilica where St. Paul is buried and a chapel adorned with exquisite Byzantine mosaics.
Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori le Mura
Thanks to its location, set amidst tranquil gardens outside the historical center of Rome, San Paolo Fuori le Mura boasts incredible historical significance without the teeming crowds. Here you’ll find the tomb of St. Paul, a chapel of relics (including the chain that attached Paul to a soldier who was guarding him), and a cloister displaying sarcophagi and tombstones dating back hundreds of years.
The basilica itself is the second largest in Rome, behind St. Peter’s, and is a faithful reconstruction of the 4th-century church that stood here until a fire destroyed most of the structure in 1823. Part of the nave, including some mosaics, survived the blaze and can still be seen today.
You can access the church by Metro, bus or taxi.
Where: Piazzale San Paolo 1
Chiesa di Sant’Ignacio di Loyola
This stunning Jesuit church is a feast for the eyes. Start by looking up, where a vast fresco by Andrea Pozzo creates the impression that the ceiling is curving overhead (it’s actually flat). Another optical illusion is a fake painted dome, which had to suffice when the church ran out of money before it could build a real one. The rest of the interior is just as striking, particularly the side chapels with their thick, fluted columns and expressive sculptures.
The church dates back to the 17th century and is dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. It’s within easy walking distance of the Pantheon.
Where: Piazza di Sant’Ignazio
Its official name is Santa Maria in Vallicella, but this Baroque masterpiece near the Vatican is more commonly known as Chiesa Nuova, or “new church.” Of course, it’s not that new — the current structure dates back to the late 16th century, when it was built at the behest of St. Philip Neri (who is now buried in a chapel to the left of the choir).
When you walk in, you’ll be offered a free audioguide that gives a quick tour of some of the church’s highlights, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and frescoes by Pietro da Cortona. Be sure to look up — the ceiling is breathtaking. The church is a short walk from Piazza Navona.
Where: Via del Governo Vecchio 134
Basilica di Santa Prassede
Art lovers won’t want to miss this gem of a church, hidden just around the corner from the larger and better known Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. The main draw? The intricate 9th-century Byzantine mosaics, which cover the apse and the Chapel of St. Zeno (the only chapel in Rome entirely lined with mosaics).
The most famous relic here is what’s believed to be a portion of the pillar to which Jesus was tied as he was flogged before his crucifixion.
Try to visit in the morning, as Santa Prassede closes for much of the afternoon. It’s within walking distance of Termini Station and various other Metro stops.
Where: Via di Santa Prassede 9
Sant’Andrea della Valle
When visitors step into this soaring Baroque church, many of them are struck by the light; the whole interior seems to glow a magical greenish-gold. Others are stunned by the height of the dome, which in Rome is second only to St. Peter’s. Still others are drawn in by the large frescoes in the apse, particularly the crucifixion of St. Andrew (painted by Mattia Preti).
Sant’Andrea della Valle dates back to 1650 and is the burial site of two popes, Pius II and Pius III. Another distinction: It’s the setting of the opening act of Puccini’s opera “Tosca.” The church is just a few blocks from the Pantheon.
Where: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II/Piazza Vidoni 6
What’s your favorite church in Rome?