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The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls Of Rome

Visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls for history that includes martyrdom, allied bombings, being grilled alive, chefs and even comedians.

Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls - Interior

Interior of The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls

The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls (Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura) is one of Rome’s minor papal basilicas, as well as being one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. It is outside of Rome’s large and historic Verano Cemetery (Cimitero del Verano) and is a shrine to its namesake, San Lorenzo.

The Patron Saint Of Chefs

St. Lawrence was strapped to the top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted him alive. The legend is that God gave him so much strength that Saint Lawrence was able to joke with his captors while he died. In addition to chefs, it is also claimed that St. Lawrence is the patron saint of comedians, as well.

Becoming The Saint Lawrence Catholic Church

An early version of the basilica was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine I near the tomb of the martyr Lorenzo. Major expansion began in the 13th century when this new basilica was decorated with frescoes of San Lorenzo and Saint Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr. There were continued transformations of the church through the 19th century, and in 1943, the Basilica was bombed by the Allied forces and restoration continued until 1948 with further transformation of the original structures.

Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls - Locked Tomb

Locked Tomb Entrance

Because the Basilica of Saint Lawrence was built Outside The Walls, which meant that it was built outside of the protective Aurelian Walls, it was at risk of attack by barbarian tribes. Because of this risk, between the 12th and 13th centuries a fortified citadel was formed around the church, surrounded by walls and defense towers. These protections mostly disappeared in the Renaissance age, except for the bell tower (campanile) on the right of the basilica.

The Seven Pilgrim Churches Of Rome

The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started back in the 16th century in order to combine conviviality and the sharing of a common religious experience through the discovery of the history of the early Saints. In the beginning, a few friends and acquaintances would gather before dawn and set out on their walk. At each church, there would be prayer, hymn singing, lunch breaks and a brief sermon. The path covers twelve miles in Rome, but if you aren’t interested in walking that far, public transportation and taxis can make the journey that much easier. 

Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls - The Pulpit

Readings From The Pulpit

In addition to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, there are six other basilicas that make up the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

The Seven Churches Visitation is a Roman Catholic tradition to visit seven churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday during Lent, but it is also done on Wednesday of Holy Week. During the Seven Churches Visitation, the faithful visit several churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church. Depending on the timing, you might encounter church services that you can either attend or wait until they are finished, before you can have a detailed tour of the church.

The Basilica Of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls

The central nave of the building became the part of a church reserved for the officiating clergy. To adapt it to this new function, the ancient nave, which originally coincided with the martyr’s sepulcher, was raised by 9 steps, creating space for a small decorated crypt. The wide nave is illuminated by 12 windows on each side, but the narrow aisles are almost dark because the openings are very small.

Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls - Outside The Nave

One Side Of The Nave

The aisles are divided by 22 columns, surmounted by Ionic capitals whose distance varies because the shafts are different from each other. There are 6 columns in cipollino marble, and the remainder are in granite of different levels of quality. There are also inconsistent colors that range from gray to red and  from white to black.

At the bottom of the left aisle there is the entrance to the Catacombs of Ciriaca, so called because they are located on the property of the Roman matron Ciriaca, in which St. Lawrence was buried, so much so that they also had the name of Catacombs of San Lorenzo. The staircase leading to the chapel and the catacombs of St. Ciriaca is decorated with bas-reliefs with the souls in purgatory.

How To Reach The Basilica

If you are arriving at Termini Station, it is an easy, flat 20 minute walk that is approximately a mile away from the station. If you would prefer to take bus, find the #310 (VESCOVIO) and ride it for 5 stops and get off at the UNIVERSITA’/REGINA ELENA stop. You will need to walk for a few minutes until you reach the front of the Basilica and the Verano Cemetery. You can also walk 4 minutes from Termini to the Volturno bus stop and take the #492 bus 9 stops to Verano, and you will find yourself right outside the basilica. One final option would be if you find yourself near the Colosseum. You can take the #3 tram, which will wind you around the city and you can exit at the Verano stop near the church.

Hours Of Operation

Admission to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence is free, but this church is so close to the cemetery that it is used for funerals frequently. On my first visit to the basilica I was unable to enter because of a funeral, so I returned the following week during normal business hours and the church was mostly empty. You should be flexible when visiting. The hours are:

  • Winter: Everyday, 7:30am to 12:30pm, and 3:30pm to 7:00pm
  • Summer: Everyday, 7:30am to 12:30pm, and 4:00pm to 8:00pm

More Amazing Religious Sites In Rome

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Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside The Walls - Bell Tower

Basilica Exterior With Bell Tower On Right

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