Via Francigena: Rome, Italy. The Seven Pilgrim Churches
San Pietro, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, San Sebastiano fuora la Mura, San Paolo fuora la Mura, Santa Maria Trastevere.
Pilgrims throughout the ages have walked to or visited the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome as have popes, several saints and many members of the nobility.
As Rome was founded on her seven hills, so her Christian foundations rested on these seven churches. The traditional route which included all seven churches stretched for 22 kilometers.
We had arrived in Rome after travelling on the Via Francigena. We took the metro to San Paulo Station. From there it was a short walk to the surprising Church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le mura).
A little history about the church. Paul was executed in 67 AD as a Roman citizen at Aquae Salviae, about 3 km from the present church. According to legend, his head bounced three times, creating three springs, now the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane (Abbey of the Three Fountains).
The most likely site of his burial was near the road to Ostia, about two kilometers from the city walls. Constantine built the first church here over his grave in 324. The original basilica proved to be too small for the number of pilgrims drawn to the tomb and in 385 plans were drawn up to build what was to become the largest church in the world until the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in the 16th century.
In 1700 the Tiber flooded making St. Paul’s inaccessible to pilgrims so its Jubilee functions were temporarily transferred to St. Mary’s in Trastevere. In 1823 an overnight fire destroyed the treasure filled church of St. Paul’s. Although much restored over the centuries, the rebuilt basilica retained much of the sense of the original.
The basilica was a marvel. Architects and historians say that it remains the closest in design and construction to Constantine’s original building. You can easily spend an hour here, and make sure you get your pilgrim’s passport stamped in the church office.
Six more Pilgrim Churches to visit!