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The Oldest Church In Rome Is Hidden Among The Better Known

The oldest church in Rome is hidden among many more popular ones and finding the oldest church can be difficult to determine, but not with this as your guide.

Oldest Church In Rome - Altar

Basilica of Santa Pudenziana

If you spend any time trying to determine what is the oldest church in Rome, you will quickly realize that there is no agreed upon answer to that question. Some include historically significant churches like: Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint John Lateran and Saint Mary Major, but because most churches in Rome have been rebuilt, any site that is more or less in its original form from almost 2,000 years ago might have a murky provenance.

Is The Oldest Church In Rome Santa Pudenziana?

Among the charming streets of the Monti neighborhood, the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana can make a believable claim to being Rome’s oldest church. At the very least, it’s one of the only structures in the city that has been continuously occupied and never reduced to rubble for almost 2,000 years. According to legend, Pudenziana was the daughter of the Roman senator Pudens. Pudens converted to Christianity and hosted Saint Peter himself at his house. After the building was gifted to the church in 154 AD, a church was apparently built over the site 200 years later honoring Pudenziana. Along with her sister Prassede, Pudenziana had become well-known for collecting the remains of Christian martyrs and giving them appropriate burial. As legend tells it, the church still houses a well where the sisters supposedly disposed of gallons of blood they mopped up from the bodies of the fallen faithful.

Today the church is a mix of medieval and Baroque artwork, but the apse mosaic that shimmers above the high altar in particular shouldn’t be missed. This is the oldest Christian mosaic in Rome, and it dates from the end of the 4th century.

So, Is Santa Pudenziana The Oldest?

For centuries, the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana was believed to be the oldest Christian church in Rome. The church is believed to have been built on the home of Senator Pudens, which is located nearly 30 feet below the current day basilica. Senator Pudens, with his two daughters Pudenziana and Praxedes, was believed to have been converted by the apostle Peter, who lived in his friend’s home for seven years.

Oldest Church In Rome - Basilica of Santa Pudenziana

Façade of Oldest Church

Although there is no historical proof that this is definitely true, the most recent studies have confirmed the existence of a home from the first or second century, the one linked to Titulus Pudentis, which at least would confirm the belief that Santa Pudenziana is the oldest Christian church in Rome.

The Apse Mosaic Of Santa Pudenziana

The current form of the Basilica of S. Pudenziana is believed to have been built in the 4th century, during the papacy of Damasus. The apse mosaic is believed to have originated from 410-417 AD, during the reign of Pope Innocent I, immediately after “The Sack of Rome” in 410 AD.

Was St. Peter’s Basilica The First Church?

If you believe in the legends that surround the history of the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana, then the answer is: No. Emperor Constantine I ordered the construction of Old St. Peter’s Basilica between the years 326 and 333 to commemorate Saint Peter. The Basilica of Saint Peter that we see today is not the original.

Oldest Church In Rome - St. Peters

Vatican At Night

More Amazing Churches In Rome

If you enjoyed learning about what is considered the oldest church in Rome, here are some other articles about churches and sites around Rome that you might also enjoy with links to more detailed articles and guides.

The Nearby Papal Basilica Of St. Mary Major

Oldest Church In Rome - Basilica

Basilica In Rome

Built on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore) is one of the four major papal basilicas in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Johns and St. Paul are the other three), and among these basilicas, St. Mary Major is the only one to have kept its original structure, though it has been updated and expanded over the years. It is also one the seven pilgrim churches of Rome, which I’ve detailed below.

The Enduring History Of The Basilica Of St. John Lateran

The Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is part of the Diocese of Rome, serves as the seat of the bishop of Rome, also known as The Pope. This Basilica in Rome, Italy goes my many names: 

  • Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Arcibasilica del Santissimo Salvatore e dei Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano), 
  • the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John in Lateran (Arcibasilica Pontificia di San Giovanni in Laterano), 
  • Saint John Lateran (San Giovanni Laterano), 
  • the Lateran Basilica (Basilica Lateranense).

The San Giovanni church is outside of Vatican City, however, as properties of the Vatican, the church and its offices have a unique status from Italy, pursuant to the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929.

The Most Unique Churches In Rome

Being the home to Vatican City and having such a long history with the Roman Catholic church, it is no surprise that there are a seemingly endless number of churches in Rome. There is an often cited 900 as the number of churches, which can grow to 1600 if you broaden the definition to include chapels, convents, private residences and palaces.

Oldest Church in Rome - Round

Round Church

Mixed in among these churches are some of the most unique churches in Rome you will find. There is a round church, a small church, 3 churches stacked on each other, and an extra amazing church, even though the draw is the stairs. Also San Saba, Rome is a Jesuit basilica you need to explore and the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria has some amazing works by Bernini to check out.

After The Oldest Church In Rome, Visit The Mysterious Egyptian Obelisks In Rome

As you walk around any of the favorite Rome sites and Vatican City, you will probably notice the large number of obelisks that are ever present. There are more obelisks in Rome than anywhere else in the world, including Egypt, and you might have a few questions. You might wonder how they got here, if they are real and what they symbolize. Check out the fist part of the Obelisks in Rome and more Egyptian Obelisks in Rome. If there is more about Egypt you would like to know, check out the Egyptian Pyramid in Rome.

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