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February 09, 2006


Tim Ferguson

the catacombs under San Clemente are very, very good - a must see. The catacombs out along the Appian Way are impressive, especially the tombs of some of the earliest popes - over which an occasional priest offers Mass.

My favorite, though, were the catacombs of San Pancrazio, up on the Janiculum hill (#5 piazza San Pancrazio). They're dark, musty, poorly lit and seldom visited by groups of tourists. There one can get a real feeling of what it was like. Not for the claustrophobic.

Tom Haessler

The remains of an early Christian house church across the alley from a Mithraic temple (third level of excavation in San Clemente) are a powerful reminder of how the Church from day one lived with challenging alternatives to its spiritual vision. Also the descent would be quite an adventure for the children.


On your first visit to Rome? San Clemente! San Clemente! :-)

If you get to S. Susanna see if the Paulists will let you down to the crypt. You can also see some of the ruins of the house of S. Susanna from a glass panel in the sacristy.

No, not as impressive as other places. But the saints and martyrs that are associated with this spot!

You're doing the Scavi as well.

Tim: that's a great tip for the next trip over there! Grazie! :)

Fr. Rob Johansen


I must second Tim on seeing the catacombs at San Pancrazio. San Pancrazio is a little off the beaten path - taking the bus will entail two transfers - but it's worth the trip.

The difficulty with seeing the larger catacombs such as San Callisto or San Sebastiano is that you must go on one of their guided tours, almost always with a large group, which limits your ability to really linger and spend time looking at things. They won't let you lollygag around reading inscriptions and the like.

But things are much more casual at San Pancrazio. At least when I was there, you basically asked the caretaker to open up the catacombs for you (accompanied by much grumbling, intended to elicit a gratuity), and then he left you to wander and ponder to hearts content. For a classicist like me, it was a real treat - I spent a least 2 hours down there the first time I went.


Got to add my support for San Clemente. Simply amazing journey through history as you go down through the three levels. Well maintained but not completely over-run (at least seven or eight years ago).

Catacombs can definitely be difficult, especially with large groups or kids. We went to (if I recall correctly) the catacombs of St. Sebastian along the Appian Way and all I can remember is the person's jacket ahead of me and the drone of the group leader's voice. All in a really small, pretty dark space. There was just no time to put all the stuff being said together with the stuff we were "seeing". For that reason, the catacombs of St. Pancrazio sound pretty good.


Oh I second (third?) everyone about the catacombs out on the Appian way -- I've been to Sts. Callixtus as well Sebastian. Large groups. In one of them, I was trailed by a pack of loud and obnoxious Danish teens who were quite obviously not interested.

John J. Simmins

"obnoxious Danish teens"? Obviously, they were profaning the 4,56,732nd most holy site in Catholicism. Should we burn their embassy?


St Cecilia's in Trastevere region. Beautiful...historic....definitely worth seeing.


Definitely the Scavi, if they are stilling doing tours! We were also very moved by St Cecilia's in Trestevere. There is a crypt there too with a beautiful little chapel still used by the Sisters living there. We arrived near sunset and were able join them for evening prayer. Beautiful!!!


Yup, Carol, got the Scavi reservations!

Rev. Andrew G. Bloomfield

I agree wholeheartedly with the San Clemente recommendation; it's certainly among the most moving and beautiful of the religious sites in the Eternal City. In pagan Rome, Nero's Domus Aurea would be a choice site, but I think (unfortunately) it may be closed for restoration at the moment, but here's Fodor's for info.

Also, if open, don't miss the "basement" of Sant'Agnese in Agone (Pzza. Navona), which seems to have been the site of the brothel to which she was sent, and likewise the place of her martyrdom.

Bill H

Only catacombs that I've been to are St. Callixtus. Having to go on a guided tour was a little annoying, as previously mentioned, but I can say that, overall, I'd recommend it!

Patricia Gonzalez

Sigh ... reading about all these marvellous sites is making me positively green with envy! Rome is definitely high on the list of places I want to visit in my lifetime. Amy, I wish you and your family a splendid visit to the Eternal City, and hope you get everywhere you want to go! That said, it can indeed be difficult to squeeze everything in. For example, when in London I didn't get to the Tower or St. Paul's (that's for next time, please God!). It can be tough to choose, especially with so much wonderful history to choose from. I do indeed envy you!


Hey Amy - San Clemente is great, and a must-see of course, but there is another option that hasn't been spoken of yet.

The Catacombs of St. Priscilla is considered by many to be the "Queen of the Catacombs" here in Rome, but since it is a little harder to get to, and it is in the NORTH of Rome (closer to where you will be staying actually!) instead of on the Appian Way tourists don't go there much. But of all the catacombs of Rome I've been too I loved this one the best, it is the most "catacomby" with the coolest artwork and the best variety of catacomb decoration/architecture (though I have not been to the Pancrazio one, that sounds interesting too)

Also, right near the Catacombs of Priscilla is the Basilica of St. Agnes, the one where she is actually buried and her "main" church where they bless the lambs on her feast day (Jan 21 - too late :). There are catacombs there as well (duh I guess - she's buried in the middle of them!), and they are actually really neat ones, one of my favorites as well, but smaller - but that might be perfect for small children!

Stay away from the Appian Way, it's nutso down there with all the tour groups and the "cleaned up" catacombs that cater to large groups...


I did San Clemente, Santa Cecilia, and the Scavi, and without a doubt I would say the Scavi. Also, check out the Capuchin crypt just north of the Piazza Barberini for a very... interesting day.

thomas tucker

Not exactly a catacomb, but be sure you go to the Capuchin monastery where they have thousands of skeltons and bones artfully arranged on the walls and ceilings- Sant Maria della Concezione. It's easy to get to on the Via Veneto.



Just got this from my son. A burial in a hut has been found in Julius Caesar's Forum (where the cat sanctuary is located) that is thought to be older than the founding of Rome. Wow.

Cornelius AMDG

It isn't a catacomb, Amy, but I would strongly recommend a daytrip to Pompeii. You can really imagine there (better than in the Roman Forum) what it would have been like to live in the ancient world.


Please take copious notes and write a book on your travels. It will save me all hte leg work on my trip! Thanks in advance :)

Albertus M

SS. Giovanni e Paolo is really amazing if you want to see probable evidence of early Christians in Rome.

San Clemente is neat for the Mithraeum, and for the levels of construction. The middle level (from the 900s or so) has early frescoes, including a very early Madonna and Child, and a cool series showing the life of San Clemente, including some bad guys struck blind while trying to throw him into the sea. Because they are blind, they don't realize they are carrying a column instead. But what is hilarious about his one is the filthy early Italian they are insulting the column with -- recall that this language would be in plain view right in the middle of the church!

But if you want really amazing Roman ruins, a day trip to Ostia Antica is best. It is street after street of ruins, with some in great shape. It is also a great place or kids if the weather is OK, since it is outside, and they can safely run all over the place without you worrying about them getting run over by a motor scooter, plus it's cleaner than the city. Catch the commuter train from Piramide station -- it's a trip of less than an hour, if I recall. Ostia is a whole city close to Rome, with maybe 80% of the coolness of Pompeii. My kids loved exploring and finding new things that weren't in the guidebooks. It also has a Christian connection, with a couple small basilicas (and several Mithraeums), and it is mentioned in a dramatic scene in St. Augustine's Confessions.



I join those who recommend the Scavi tour and San Clemente - both fascinating! Also the Catacombs of San Priscilla were an unexpected thrill. We were there this fall and accompanied our parish deacon to San Priscilla to be fitted for an alb. Clergy from all over the world come to the nuns at San Priscilla to have vestments made.

http://www.catacombedipriscilla.com/pagine-eng/BenedictinesofPriscilla.htm )

After the fitting we were given a tour of the catacombs - no one else was there. I have been to the catacombs of San Calistus and Sebastian and this one I loved the best - maybe because it is home to the oldest image known to exist of the Madonna and Child - early 3rd century. You can see a picture of it at the San Priscilla website and then go there and find it for real.


We had other wonderful unexpected finds in Rome including finding the Mass we chose to attend at St. Peter's the last Sunday we were there was said by the Holy Father! Unbeknownst to us ahead of time, it was the closing Mass of the Synod on the Eucharist. We didn't have tickets but got a great position right at the barricade straight back from the altar which gave us a good view when all the ticketed people were sitting, and lucky for us we had our binoculars with us. They passed out little missals (the Mass was all in Latin)to the ticketed crowd and then handed the left overs to the barricade people. We lucked out again and got the last one they had. We figured for sure there would be no way with such a huge crowd that we would be able to receive Holy Communion but priests seemed to come out of the woodwork and we were blessed to receive. But by far the best thing I found in Rome was the tears in the eyes of my once lukewarm husband when he walked into St. Peter's Basilica for the first time!

I love your threads on Rome. We hope to go back again, and it's nice to hear about all the places we didn't see so we can put them on our list for the next visit.

God bless,

carrie ryckman

Amy, we visited the St. Sebastian catacombs. Because of my insistance that we take the first bus out, my husband and I arrived about 15 minutes early. (Actually, you're dropped off and the bus driver simply points which way to go. We got nervous b/c NO ONE was around, and we walked quite a ways. Since the first catacombs we arrived at was St. Sebastian, that's where we ended up!) There was no one at the catacomb site. We recieved a wonderful "private" tour, but I did become a bit claustrophobic. We had a great guide from Indonesia, and who migrated b/c of the anti-Catholicism there. She also told us that her brother is a priest in Rome. A few months later while watching a history channel special on Rome, we saw our guide on the catacomb segment! The lesson is that if you do go to one of the larger catacombs, go EARLY, and you'll be fine.


If you're doing catacobms with smallish children, a guided tour is a must: yeah you do get kind of hustled through, but remember, peeps: these were places calculated to some extent to *confuse* intruders and outsiders. Maybe the saints will give you a hand and steer you in the right direction if you get lost, but they aren't really obliged to! ;)

If you're going guideless at such a site, either pick a really small, non-mazy one, or make sure the custodians are ok with you playing Ariadne, ball of yarn and all.

kathleen reilly

don't spend too much time underground though! you don't have that long. the roman forum is amazing, better than anyone had told me. pantheon is great too. the greatest hits are great for a reason. and you will want time to people watch.

imho i found the capuchin bone monastery a bit underwhelming, esp. given the time it took to get there.

Mila Morales

+veritas+ beat me to it. I was going to suggest St. Priscilla's as well as St. Agnese at the Via Nomentana. Not as touristy, which is a real plus.

Zadok the Roman

I agree with +veritas+ too - as regards Catacomb art, Santa Priscilla is the finest of the catacombs open to the public and the tour groups tend to be smaller and quieter than at the other catacombs. (I haven't been to San Pancrazio either.)
However, one advantage of going to any of the catacombs on the Via Appia is the opportunity it gives to visit the Church of St Sebastian, the church of Domine Quo Vadis and to see the various tombs that line the Via Appia Antica.


And here I was so proud of our thorough nine days in Rome. We were pleased with San Callisto (it was a lovely day for a walk down the Via Appia Antica). I should be taking notes and planning our next foray.


Watch your step in the catacombs!
I was walking through San Callisto with a group of brother priests and twisted my left foot on the cobblestones -- and broke it on the spot!
I heard the "crack" in my foot, looked down and -- shock setting it -- passed out. My priest friends lifted me and brought me into the fresh air --the first time anyone could remember a body being carried OUT of the catacombs!


If you're choosing between the Catacombs of St. Sebastian and St. Calixtus, I would choose St. Sebastian any day. Our tour there was longer, more detailed, and more engaging. The St. Calixtus tour (although these are the more famous catacombs) was short and perfunctory. Also, if you go on a nice day, take the bus to the stop closest to St. Calixtus--the bus stops in a small roundabout piazza across from the entrance. When you walk onto the grounds, you'll see a sign and path leading to St. Sebastian. It's about 1/4 mile walk, but quiet and pastoral, and sooo nice after spending a few days in the city. Also, keep in mind that (like lots of stuff in Rome) the catacombs are closed during the lunch break.

Besides those, San Clemente is, of course, amazing. And, while this isn't underground, there are amazing frescoes at St. Cecilia in Trastevere that were uncovered during some renovations of the convent. You have to pay a few euros, but they are well worth it, especially if you aren't going to get to Florence to see Fra Angelico's beautiful frescoes there.

I second the suggestion to go to Ostia Antica, too. (Bring your copy of the Confessions.) Count on at least a half day for that, though. We left Rome around 10:30 and returned around 4, including public transportation, but you could do it in less time.

Blind Squirrel

It's actually pretty easy to get to San Pancrazio. Hop the no. 75 bus (dir. via A. Poerio) from outside Termini railway station: it leaves every ten minutes throughout the day. It'll drop you right at Porta San Pancrazio after a 15-20 minute journey. On the way back, walk downhill about 300-400 metres to the courtyard of the Church of S. Pietro in Montorio, supposedly where St Peter was crucified. From there you'll get a spectacular panoramic view of the entire city--incomparably the best perspective in Rome. Bring your camera.

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