Santa Maria Maggiore

Vatican city isn’t just St. Peter’s Basilica. The territory of the Vatican is not just the city but also a few churches in the city and a palace just outside of town. So by going into a church, you also cross a border. Santa Maria Maggiore is one of those churches.


How much time should I spend here?About an hour
How much does it cost?Free
How far from the city center?Mere minutes
What modes of transport are available?Train, bus, walking
What is the nearest subway stop?Termini
Where can I find it?Google Maps link
Is there an official website?Click here

Why you should visit Santa Maria Maggiore

This is one of my favourite churches in Rome. It isn’t in the Vatican and doesn’t have the crowds that St. Peters Basilica has. This means you get more of the church to yourself while you are inside. The atmosphere is also more like a church rather than a tourist attraction.

When you are in Rome, you almost become immune for the beauty that is in these churches. There is a beautiful church literally around every corner. This is however one of my favourites because it has a statue of a praying pope right in de center.

Praying pope in the center of the curch.

At the times I visited this church I could walk up to this statue, take the stairs down and you’ll find the statue right under the main altar along with relics that are supposed to be of the crib of Jesus. Whether that is actually what’s in the reliquary is a matter of faith.

The relic of the crib of Jesus.

When you go back upstairs, you should not forget to look up. The canopy above the high altar is rather astonishingly beautiful.

Once you are on the main floor of the church, you should look around the main altar to the right. Right up the fence on the high altar is the grave of one Bernini. Yes, that Bernini. As you look around the basilica, you’ll find there are quite a few famous people buried here like Napoleon’s sister and quite a few popes.

The grave of the famous sculptor Bernini.

Why is this Vatican territory?

The church is official Vatican territory because of the treaty that Benito Mussolini signed with the Holy See. This established Vatican City as an autonomous state after the unification of Italy had pretty much taken all the papal territory. History is of course slightly more complicated, so you can read more about it here.

Mussolini wanted to curry favor with the church and the church wanted its own territory so the pope would no longer be a ‘prisoner’ in the Vatican. I ratified this in the 1929 Lateran Treaty. Which codified that Vatican City (St. Peter’s Basilica and the surrounding grounds), Castel Gandolfo, Santa Maria Maggiore and a few other places are a sovereign territory of the Holy See.

How do I get to Santa Maria Maggiore?

Santa Maria Maggiore is near Romes Termini station. You can get there in a couple of minutes after you’ve arrived in the train station.

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