Roman Catholicism played a significant role in the religious history of Italy at first. Christianity first arrived in Italy not long after Jesus Christ died on the cross. Under the Roman Empire, Christians in Rome were the instruments for disseminating this new faith throughout Italy. Christianity was considered superstition and even an opposition against the Roman way of life by the Roman government at the time, but its influence quickly spread from Rome and other nearby towns, with 25,000 members by 250 AD. However, by the end of the second century, the Roman Empire had fallen into disarray, and Barbarian nations had taken over. Bishops in Italy took on leadership roles, defending people from barbaric practices, organizing services to aid the poor, and assisting captives. Many public services passed through their hands, and Emperor Justinian officially recognized them as Italian bishops in 554. During the Middle Ages, the church faced the challenge of integrating barbarian immigrants into the established church structure.
Italy was at the pinnacle of the Renaissance in the second half of the 15th century, awash in wealth and prosperity. The country had a strong cultural influence on Western Europe, but the administration was on the verge of collapse. The church faced a difficult period in the 18th century when clerical privileges were revoked, monasteries were suppressed, and the secularization of other forms of church property revealed the spread of Enlightenment influence. The Enlightenment had managed to infiltrate France into Italy through Freemasonry by 1789 when the French revolution began. Because economic privileges were abolished and religious orders were suppressed, the church faced several structural crises during this time. The church’s rights and privileges were not restored until the early 1800s.
By the 19th century, the church had proven its strength by standing firm against corrosive structural and doctrinal elements. The remarkable growth of religious congregations and the development of the modern Catholic movement were the two most notable developments in the Church during this time. Even though Catholics were willing to resolve the tense relationship between the Church and the State, not everyone agreed on the same solution. Some of Italy’s elites favored conciliation, while others feared that it would be inconvenient. Still, by the 20th century, improved liberal morals strongly affected Italians who then began to stray from Christian theology doctrine. The Church’s role has become increasingly subdued, and it continues to face opposition.
Biblical Places in Rome
1. Mamertine Prison
I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come, I have fought the good fight, completed the course, and maintained my faith – This is the bible verses 2 Timothy 4:6-7. These are the words that Paul wrote to his protege Timothy from the Mamertine Prison. Paul went to Rome before there were any Christian monuments like the ones we see today. Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea, and while on his way to Rome as a prisoner in chains, he experienced shipwrecked. He was released after two years in prison and went on to write two more scriptures before his final Roman jail sentences in the Mamertine Prison.
2. Tres Fontane Abbey- Three Fountains
While some may be aware that Paul was martyred outside of Rome’s walls, many have never heard of this Biblical site as a popular tourist destination. When Paul’s head was cut off, legend has it that it bounced three times, causing three fountains to spring up. The location of Paul’s death is historical, even though it appears to be just a story.
Tres Fontane is not to be confused with the famous Trevi Fountain. It’s known as Tres Fontane because legend has it that after Paul’s head was severed, it bounced three times, resulting in three fountains! The location of his death is historical, despite the apocryphal fountain story.
3. St. Peter’s Basilica and Square
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square have received much attention from all the Christian sites in Rome. Christians were almost certainly all martyred in the Circus of Gaius/Nero, which is now St. Peter’s Square. Peter was crucified here and is most likely buried in the original burial cave beneath the Basilica. Here Peter was crucified, according to tradition, upside down and for reference just read see John 21:18-19. He is most likely buried in the original burial cave beneath the basilica.
4. The Church of St. Paul Outside the wall
The Church of St. Paul, about two miles from Tres Fontane Abbey, is where Paul was laid to rest. Emperor Constantine built over the site where Paul’s followers had revered the Apostle Paul’s burial site, and the structures that marked the spot have changed and expanded over time. Paul’s grave is marked inside the ornate walls of the Grand Basilica, which was built in the 19th and 20th centuries and reflects 19th and 20th-century architecture.
5. The Catacombs
The most notable for the early Christians who were buried here, the catacombs offer significant contributions to early Christian art. Early murals and sculptures have been discovered. Smaller grave sites have even been carved out for children who have died. Discovering this land and its origins will undoubtedly pay off well for your time and money. It will only be a bonus if you get to see some of the less-frequently visited sites on your tour.
6. San Clemente
Rome is a multi-layered city. Many places that were once on the street are now buried beneath the ground. This is especially evident in the 12th-century Basilica di San Clemente, which has a fascinating history dating back to Nero’s reign. Today, the basilica is located on the street level, atop another fourth-century basilica that sits atop a private home-turned-pagan temple. Early Christians are thought to have held secret worship services in their homes before gathering openly in a big hall built above, which later became the fourth-century basilica. Several early Christian frescoes were discovered during the 19th-century excavation of this basilica, and they still adorn its walls. The Colosseum is only a few blocks away, and tours of the excavations are available for a small charge.
After you’ve completed your bucket list with your trip to Israel, Rome might be your next stop. When it comes to biblical sites, this location has a lot to offer. When you visit Rome, what you read about the places listed will undoubtedly come to life.