Rome may not be the first place you think of when it comes to the sites of history from the bible. The Romans were renowned for being harsh and strong rulers and they made their way into bible history when they occupied territories such as Israel. The gospels share snippets about the Roman oppression of the Jewish people and later some of the apostles make their way to Rome as missionaries.
Interestingly, Rome today is an epicentre for Catholicism with the Vatican City located here. There is a fascinating history from the first century AD, which involved the likes of Peter and Paul, apostles and missionaries who gave their lives for an empire that persecuted them. But as history reveals, it took a mere 300 years before the majority of the nation would identify themselves as Christian – a far cry from their days of executing those that believed in Christ. The first Christian emperor of Rome arose in the year 306 AD with Constantine the Great.
Here are some sights worth visiting in Rome that help shaped the history of Christianity.
St Peter’s Square
The Square is located directly in front of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. It seems almost sacrilegious that the very place where the Romans executed Christians for their faith is now a type of epicentre for Christianity! The Clementine Chapel under St. Peter’s Basilica is considered the place where Peter was crucified upside down at his own request, for he considered himself unworthy to die in the same way as Jesus.
Most people probably have no idea what ties the Colosseum in Rome to Christianity! But it’s quite an interesting story. In 70AD under the leadership of Titus, the Romans sieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and looted all the riches from the temple – mass amounts of ornaments and furnishings made out of gold and other expensive materials. The spoils were carried off to Rome and were recycled for other uses. A couple of years later in 72AD, the construction of the Colosseum began and it was opened in 80AD. When we visited the Colosseum in Rome we found out that the loot from the temple was effectively what funded the construction of this ground-breaking stadium! This really puts into perspective the amount of riches that were stolen. On one of the Colosseum’s ground-floor inner entrances, there is a partially preserved fresco of the city of Jerusalem, entitled ‘View of Jerusalem’. It commemorates the city of Jerusalem as an ideal view, facing east. Part of the fresco includes scenes of the Israelites defeating the Philistines, Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha, and a depiction of the resurrection.
Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus is an arch of victory that was built in 82AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian, after the death of his older brother Titus. It was built to commemorate Titus’ victories, which included the siege of Jerusalem in 70AD. On the inner side of the arch you can make out the Roman soldiers carrying away ornaments from the temple, including the easily recognisable seven-stemmed Jewish Menorah. To commemorate Titus’ victory in an arch 10 years later indicates the siege of Jerusalem must have been a huge achievement with big reward for the Romans.
Many other arches have been modelled off the Arch of Titus, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (which is why it may look familiar). The Arch of Titus sits just inside the gates of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum so you will need an entry ticket to visit it. It is close to the Colosseum, although an even closer (but newer) arch is the Arch of Constantine, which you can visit without a ticket. Titus’ arch is a lot older and more weathered.
This is the prison where Paul was imprisoned in his time in Rome before he was beheaded. It is also the location where he wrote the letter of 2 Timothy. This prison is where they held people that were soon to be executed, which is reflected in Paul’s letter to Timothy, where he expresses he doesn’t have long to live. It is also believed that Peter was imprisoned here and baptised believers in a spring of water in his cell.
The Mamertine Prison sits just outside the gates at the Northwestern end of the Roman Forum, so you don’t need an entry ticket to visit it. Unfortunately it was closed for repairs when we visited, but it is normally entry by donation between 9am – 7pm.
Tre Fontane Abbey
Tre Fontane Abbey, or in English – the Three Fountains of Abbey, is the site where Paul was beheaded after being imprisoned in Rome. Today the Church of St Paul of Three Fountains sits in the location of the beheading. There is a story that says that Paul’s head bounced three times after he was beheaded and three springs popped up miraculously in those places. The springs are now located inside the church. Information points to Paul’s beheading taking place in 67AD. It is free to visit this site and the grounds are quite peaceful. There are three churches located here as well as a small shop and café.
Here are the sites for the Bible History Guide to Rome.