Rome is famous for the standard tourists sites. The Trevi Fountain, the Forum, Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Pantheon—and many other historic places lay alongside modern streets and buildings.
But I’d like to show you 6 Christian sites, those sites relevant to believers, including one place that isn’t even on the map.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans of his plans to see them:
I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while (Romans 15:23-24).
To be sure, Paul would go to Rome—but not like he thought he would.
Paul went to Rome before there were Christian sites to see. He went as a prisoner in chains. Acts 27-28 tells us the story. Arrested in Jerusalem, imprisoned at Caesarea for two years, Paul appealed to Caesar and suffered a shipwreck on his way to Rome as a prisoner.
After two years, Paul was released from his imprisonment, after which he traveled and wrote two more epistles before his final Roman imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison. Here Paul wrote these words to his protege, Timothy:
I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6–7).
Tres Fontane Abbey
Tradition tells us Paul was martyred outside the walls of Rome at a place most folks have never heard of—one of the Christian sites not on the tourist maps. (You can find it here.)
Don’t confuse Tres Fontane with the famous Trevi Fountain. It’s called Tres Fontane (“Three Fountains”) because, according to legend, after Paul’s head was cut off, it bounced three times and three fountains sprung up! Although the fountain story is apocryphal, the location of his death is historical.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs relates Paul’s martyrdom as follows:
Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declareth that under his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death. They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptised at His sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword.
The Church of St. Paul Outside the Wall
Tradition points to this location as burial place of Paul, about two miles away from Tres Fontane Abbey. The Emperor Constantine erected a building over the site where Paul’s followers had venerated the burial spot of the apostle.
The structures that marked this spot changed and expanded throughout the centuries. The grand basilica we see today largely reflects 19th– and 20th-century architecture. Paul’s grave is clearly marked inside the ornate church.
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square
Contrary to popular belief and Hollywood movies, it’s unlikely any Christians were killed in the Colosseum. Instead, they were almost all martyred in the Circus of Gaius/Nero—the site where St. Peter’s Square now stands. Of all Christian sites in Rome, this place has received most attention. The Egyptian obelisk in the center of the square is original to the circus, though it stood in a different spot.
Here Peter was crucified, according to tradition, upside down (see John 21:18-19). He is most likely buried deep beneath the basilica in the original burial cave.
The Arch of Titus
Constructed in AD 82 by the Emperor Domitian, the arch venerates his older brother Titus’ victories.
Most notably, the inside relief of the arch portrays Roman soldiers carrying off treasures from the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by Titus in AD 70. Jesus predicted this destruction in AD 33 (Matthew 24:1-2).
Most famous for the early Christians who were buried here, the catacombs offer an essential contribution to early Christian art. Early frescoes and sculptures still exist in the catacombs.
Most touching for me were the smaller burial spots carved out for children who had died.
Reflections from Rome
Paul, Peter, and the early Christians are the reason we have Christian sites in Rome.
When I think of Paul’s desire to go to Rome, it reminds me how God will give a dream and we head off towards it.
- We plan that we’ll go by means of A-B-C, but God often gets us there by means of 10-9-8.
- We can expect the same as Paul. We dream, but we should not put God in a box in regard to His methods.
- He will fulfill His purposes, but He will do it His way.
We should make long-term plans for a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness. But be ready and willing for God to redirect.
Because He most certainly will.
Tell me what you think: If you have been to Rome, what site meant most to you? If you have never been, what site would you most like to see? To leave a comment, just click here.
Here’s a map of all the sites I recommend: