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How to plan a Christmas pilgrimage to Rome


Matteo Volpone | Shutterstock

V. M. Traverso - published on 09/20/18

A once-in-a-lifetime experience: celebrating the Birth of Jesus in the Eternal City.

It’s fall again. Days are getting shorter, leaves are falling and many of us are starting to plan out Christmas trips before things get too expensive. For those of you interested in a Christmas pilgrimage, no city rivals the appeal of Rome, Italy, where the Pope celebrates Christmas Mass in Saint Peter’s Square every year.

Enjoy these photos of Christmas in Rome:

Here are some not-to-be-missed sights when planning a Christmas pilgrimage to the Rome.

St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica

Why not start with the most famous Catholic site in the world? Built by Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667, St. Peter’s Square can host up to 300,000 people in its more than 300,000-square-foot area, encircled by two sets of colonnades topped by 140 statues depicting popes, martyrs and saints that helped build the Catholic Church. It hosts St. Peter’s Basilica, considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and Christianity’s Mother Church, which is home to masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and the remnants of the 13th-century mosaic “La Navi Celli” by Giotto. Right beneath the main altar are the remains of St. Peter, the first pope in Christian history and one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. But he is not the only pope that was buried in his eponymous square. The body of St. John Paul II rests under the altar of St. Sebastian in a side chapel of the basilica; the body of St. Pius X is visible under the altar of another side chapel. Several other popes are buried in the Vatican Grottoes, beneath the Renaissance basilica.

Alvesgaspar | CC BY-SA 4.0

St. Peter's Basilica is probably the most iconic site of Christianity.

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Throughout the centuries, generations of popes have collected an estimated 70,000 works of art from international masters, and some 20,000 are offered for public display in the Vatican Museums, founded in 1506 after Pope Julius II bought a marble statue depictingLaocoön and His Sons from a local vineyard owner and put it on public display. It can take more than a day to explore the interconnected museums in their entirety, but for those on a tight schedule, the not-to-be-missed rooms include the stunning Sistine Chapel,painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and considered one of the pinnacles of Renaissance art, the private apartments of Julius II and the the “Raphael Rooms,” featuring beautiful frescoes by the Renaissance master.

© User:Colin | CC BY-SA 3.0

The Vatican Museums hold art works collected by popes throughout the centuries.

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Donated by Emperor Constantine to the Bishop of Rome in the 4th century, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran has been the cathedral of Rome’s diocese ever since. Often considered the archetypal Christian church, it owes it current look to restoration performed by Baroque master Francesco Borromini in the 17th century and to later annexes, such as the two-story portico on the facade, added in the 18th century. Its sumptuous exterior is matched by a magnificent interior featuring colossal statues, mosaics and frescoes as well as what for a long time was the only baptistery in the city. This beautiful setting was the place where popes were enthroned up until 1870 and it is now home to the Holy Thursday Mass, celebrated by the Bishop of Rome every Holy Week. And don’t forget to check out the Holy Stairs, across from the Basilica. Believed to be the stairs of Pilate’s quarters in Jerusalem that Jesus climbed during his Passion, they were brought to Rome in 326 by St. Helena.

Livioandronico2013 | CC BY-SA 4.0

The Archbasilica of St John Lateran is home to Rome’s Diocese.

Saint Mary’s Church and Paleo Christian Churches in Trastevere

Known as the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (Our Lady of Trastevere) it is one of the oldest churches in the capital. Founded around 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I as as “house-church” (a church for private, as opposed to public, worship), back when Christianity was not recognized as a legitimate religion, it was later re-erected on its foundations under Pope Innocent II in 1140-43. Its somewhat simple exterior should not deceive you, as the church features some lavish golden mosaics in its interior apse dating from the 12th and 13th century. Other major ancient churches in the area include St. Crisogono, St. Clemente and St. Cecilia, which house the remains of ancient paleo-Christian basilicas and well-preserved frescoes from the 4th century. And last but not least, don’t forget to pay a visit to the nearby Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains), located near the Colosseum, where Michelangelo’s statue of Moses is displayed.

Public Domain
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (Our Lady of Trastevere) was founded in the 3rd century, when Christianity was yet to become a legitimate religion.

The “Fuori le Mura” (Outside the Walls) Churches

Some of Rome’s treasures lie outside the city’s Roman walls, and are therefore referred to as “fuori le mura,” literally “outside the walls.” From the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Basilica of St. Paul, which was built during the 4th century and is believed to house the remains of St. Paul, to the Basilica of St. Sebastian, built in honor of the famous 3rd century Roman martyr, to the Church of St. Lawrence, dedicated to one of the seven deacons of Rome who was martyred in 250, the external ring of the eternal city is not short of holy destinations.

Public Domain
It is believed that the remains of St. Paul are housed inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

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