A Guide to Churches in Rome

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Have you ever thought about making a pilgrimage to Rome to soak up some religious culture, but you’ll be damned if you’re going to trawl through every Wikipedia and TripAdvisor entry under the sun? Well if that sums up your woeful apathy, then this handy list is right up your alley. Below is an almost preposterously subjective breakdown of the vital statistics of the most famous, majestic, and unmissable churches in Rome. Reading this list will make you feel so close to standing before the altar in the presence of the Almighty that, in the end, there may not be a point in that pilgrimage after all.

The greater the magnitude of each category the better, with the obvious exception of distance to nearest bar.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

7992706847_31bc056cdb_o Kicking things off is the adorable San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Designed by the achingly troubled Baroque master Francesco Borromini, the major features of this miniscule church are the undulating convex and concave surfaces, so far removed from the brutal ecclesiastical planes of antiquity and the Renaissance.

  • Size (meters squared): 240
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 3
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 14
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 22
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 9
  • Average number of tourists: 9
  • Date consecrated: 1646
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.6
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 54
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 25

Basilica di San Pietro: the Vatican

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What to say about the baddest boy in all of Christendom? If this list is the first you’re hearing about Saint Peter’s then may God have mercy on your soul (and please read a book once in a while). Other than that, it has countless artistic and architectural wonders conceived by geniuses like Michelangelo and Bernini, and the result – if I may say so – is quite nice.

  • Size (meters squared): 33,000
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 14
  • Charm of surroundings  (out of 50): 46
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 97
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 8
  • Average number of tourists: why even bother to count them – too many
  • Date consecrated: 1626
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.8
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 505
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 600

Sant’ Andrea della Valle

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The headquarters of the depressingly abstemious Theatine order of monks, it is perhaps no surprise that their poverty bleeds over into a total lack of artificial lighting in Sant’Andrea. Come at the right time of day and it will be lit up by heavenly golden beams; miss that half an hour window and you’ll just be squinting at the paintings until boredom sets in.

  • Size (meters squared): 4,200
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 6
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 13
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 82
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 3
  • Average number of tourists: 45
  • Date consecrated: 1650
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.7
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 322
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 40

Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola

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Prepare to be bathed in gaudy stucco, dazzling gilt, and a veritable rainbow of marble when stepping inside this borderline garish affair. Its renowned ceiling is dominated by the imaginative architectural trickery of painter and master illusionist Andreas Pozzo. This sanguine bastion of faith is the titular church of the militant Jesuit order of monks, founded at the beginning of the Counterreformation. From relics and a monumental façade, to tombs, and Japanese tourists, this church has it all.

  • Size (meters squared): 4,500
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 16
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 31
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 33
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 5
  • Average number of tourists: 200
  • Date consecrated: 1640
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.5
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 155
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 15

Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano

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It’s enormous, has a ridiculously pompous name, and is all the way across the city from anything else of religious note. So why visit the Lateran? Well, you might be a little pompous yourself and looking for some architectonic empathy; or, it might be because it is the oldest Catholic church in the Western hemisphere. Either way, take the bus there.

  • Size (meters squared): 19,600
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 15
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 39
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 70
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 4
  • Average number of tourists: 65
  • Date consecrated: 400 AD
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.3
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 111
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 120

Santa Maria del Popolo

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Let’s face it — pretty though it might be, the outside of this church is not what you came to see. No, what you’re really looking for are the multiple Caravaggio’s, skeletons in niches, opulent side-chapels, and maybe some respite from the heat. Located at the northern gates of ancient Rome, this church’s collection of Raphael, Bramante, Pinturicchio et al. is unparalleled.

  • Size (meters squared): 3,100
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 11
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 34
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 64
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 4
  • Average number of tourists: 115
  • Date consecrated: 1477
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.6
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 220
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 30

 Cappella Sistina: the Vatican

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The Sistine Chapel. You’ve heard of it, let’s move on.

  • Size (meters squared): 520
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): N/A
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 44
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 18
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 10
  • Average number of tourists: 700
  • Date consecrated: 1483
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.9
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 417
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 560

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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As the name suggests, this church is nestled atop the ancient Roman temple to Minerva built by Gnaeus Pompey in 50BC. This feeling of antiquity is continued by the Medieval style blue vaulted ceiling and narrow nave. A mish-mash of antithetical styles, this church is like a Slim-Jim: you’ll either love it or find the disgusting taste of it glued to your mouth for the rest of the day.

  • Size (meters squared): 4,000
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): N/A
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 16
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 45
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 7
  • Average number of tourists: 120
  • Date consecrated: 1370
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.8
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 388
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 45

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

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You think you’re a real pilgrim to Rome? Well in that case you can walk on your knees up the 124 unnecessarily abrasive stone steps like a proper adherent. If that’s not your cup of tea you can always walk — but even bipedal movement is quite tiring, so by the time you actually enter the church you’re pretty much guaranteed to be in a bad mood. Luckily, everyone loves frescoes…

  • Size (meters squared): 1,600
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 2
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 39
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 55
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 2
  • Average number of tourists: 160
  • Date consecrated: 1200
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.4
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 177
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 200

Santo Stefano Rotondo

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Getting bored of all these lame rectangular naves with their oh-so passé linear transepts? Want to add some curves into your life? Then boy, do I have the church for you. Prepare to have your socks knocked off by not one, but two circular arcades! Also for some reason an ancient Irish king is buried here.

  • Size (meters squared): 1,200
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 19 (they’re chairs so it’s kind of cheating)
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 16
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 11
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 9
  • Average number of tourists: 13
  • Date consecrated: 500 AD
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.4
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 99
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 60

Santa Maria in Trastevere

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Like the strange and slightly smelly cousin sniffing the hot dogs at the family barbeque, this church just doesn’t quite fit in. Maybe that’s because its apse is coated in gilt mosaics; or maybe because it looks out on one of Rome’s biggest nightlife spots and therefore people are actually having fun near it. Either way, at least visiting it will make you drag your sorry arse across the Tiber.

  • Size (meters squared): 1,680
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 2
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 26
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 29
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 7
  • Average number of tourists: 110
  • Date consecrated: 450 AD
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.7
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 247
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 15

 Santa Maria Maggiore

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I’m sure you’re getting bored of hearing about churches dedicated to Mary — trust me, so am I. But boy were the early Christians big fans of Her Immaculate Holiness, so guess what: here’s another. What sets this particular Marian church aside? Well, apart from the distinctly mammographic suggestions that its twin cupolas project onto the Roman skyline, it also overlooks the Spanish Steps (where Keats lived his final days and street peddlers will aggressively try to sell you the strange combination of both drugs and roses).

  • Size (meters squared): 7,200
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 16 (worse chairs)
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 13
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 31
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 2
  • Average number of tourists: 50
  • Date consecrated: 440 AD
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.3
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 188
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 85

Sant’ Agnese in Agone

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Piazza Navona: a paradigm of the effortless beauty of the Renaissance. Open space, three gorgeous Bernini fountains, and three thousand other tourists swarming to and fro like drunken bees who’ve belligerently discovered that there’s more to life than honey. You’re beginning to realise that this trip of a lifetime might not be that unique. And the only way to escape this nihilistic ennui is to duck into the Borromini church that abuts the square, basking however momentarily in the glorious chill of its golden vaults.

  • Size (meters squared): 3,800
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 8
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 4
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 15
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 5
  • Average number of tourists: 180
  • Date consecrated: 1670
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.7
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 345
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 5

Sant’Agostino

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And because you’ve been good, not only am I not going to make you walk far to the last church on this list, I’ll even make it a darling little place that won’t overwhelm the senses and will allow you to reflect on the mysteries of faith and just how helpful this list has been. Take as long as you want and rest those weary legs.

  • Size (meters squared): 900
  • Pew comfort (out of 20): 10
  • Charm of surroundings (out of 50): 18
  • Looming sense of existential insignificance (out of 100): 53
  • Uniqueness (out of 10): 3
  • Average number of tourists: 45
  • Date consecrated: 1483
  • Beauty (out of 1): 0.6
  • Level of divine wrath (out of 666): 211
  • Distance to nearest bar (meters): 65

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