Chiesa Santa Maria in Trastevere

20 Jul

If you ask anyone who lives in Rome or who has visited, chances are they have a favorite church. I don’t know the definitive answer about how many churches there are in Rome, but a few sources I found say that there are more than 900. Suffice it to say that there are many, and you could spend a lifetime in Rome and probably never visit them all.

S. Maria in Trastevere is hands-down my favorite, and always has been. I count myself very lucky to live about a 10 minute walk from the square where it’s located, and even luckier that it was the church where I was married in late March. Despite being one of Rome’s basilicas (not one of the major Papal four but considered an “immemorial minor basilica” with a parish), for me it still manages to retain a sense of intimacy as well.

S. Maria is widely considered to be the first church in the world where Catholic mass was openly celebrated. The first structure was founded on the site in 220 by Pope St. Callixtus I, and ever since then the church has grown and undergone many renovations. I think my absolute favorite part of this church are the breathtaking mosaics that were added by Pietro Cavallini in the 13th century. They are so incredibly detailed that from afar they seem almost like paintings.

The columns inside are also quite impressive. There are 22 columns and they came from the Baths of Caracalla.

The fountain in the square was restored by Carlo Fontana in 1702, but appears on a map as far back as 1472.

Needless to say, this church is a truly rich jumble of centuries and centuries of history, all concentrated in one relatively small area, so it would be impossible to highlight all the important points here. What’s more, I’m no expert in art history so I can’t even attempt to enlighten you on the finer academic points of this glorious structure. What I can do instead is give you a photo tour of my humble neighborhood church.

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The entrance to the church is undoubtedly one of my favorite parts. All of the little pieces you see embedded in the wall are taken from various tombs of ancient Rome. Some are written in ancient Greek, others in ancient Latin, and still others using pictorial symbols.

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The mosaic-tiled floors are also an important feature of this church, and have a distinctly recognizable style that can be found in other churches in Rome and Italy, and even as far afield as the Westminster Abbey. Four generations of craftsmen from the Cosmati family are responsible for this geometric style inspired by the Byzantine technique and referred to as “Cosmatesque.” The marble used for the mosaics was taken from ancient Roman ruins.

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The majestic organ is used at mass and in fact, the organista, Vincenzo, played at our wedding. Normally the choir sings to the left of the altar and not up where the organ is, but since Ale is a huge classical music buff and has sung in a classical music choir for ages, and since his choir always sings when a member gets married, Ale asked for special permission for the choir to sing up where the organ is located. He explained to me that the acoustics are better from there. It was like a concert, a really incredible experience for us and all of our guests to hear, as well as for the assortment of awed and curious tourists with backpacks who respectfully hung by the back pews, some of whom even congratulated me after the ceremony!

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Several photos taken of the guests during our ceremony show them craning their necks upward. It’s no surprise.

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Here is a detail from the apse with the brilliant mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.

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I don’t know the story of this statue on the left hand side of the church by the door, but I am always touched to see all the notes and prayers left. The statue is surrounded by a small wooden gate that holds in the little papers that have overflowed from the statue to the ground.

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If you look really hard for those two little specks at the end of the aisle… that’s us!

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38 Responses to “Chiesa Santa Maria in Trastevere”

  1. jessica in rome July 20, 2007 at 10:58 am #

    It is so beautiful there! I can’t wait for our church wedding!

  2. Zadok the Roman July 20, 2007 at 12:07 pm #

    The statue is St Anthony of Padua, a Franscican saint who is frequently shown holding the Child Jesus. His ‘speciality’ is helping petitioners find lost items, but many Catholics turn to him when they need particular help.

  3. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy July 20, 2007 at 12:09 pm #

    Nice, I like how you’re leaking out wedding pics a little at a time! 🙂 I think that church is beautiful, it’s a bit like my “home” church since I lived there (and the bells told me the time every 15 minutes!) and now two of my good friends have gotten married there 🙂

  4. Jeff July 20, 2007 at 12:43 pm #

    I love the pictures of the church and you’re wedding! I’ve become a fan of mosaics since moving over here. They’re so durable and it’s incredible to think how they fit pieces together (on curved ceiling no less).
    In Rome I have to go with San Pietro as my favorite just because it’s sooo big. Nothing prepared me for the first time I went inside.

  5. somepinkflowers July 20, 2007 at 2:32 pm #

    ~~~st. anthony, st. anthony,
    please come around.
    something is lost
    and must be found~~~

    i think he is helpful
    also if you are lost,
    cannot find your way.


    PS–i adore this church!
    what a wonderful way to start your marrage
    in such a holy and glowing place.

  6. Lisa July 20, 2007 at 2:56 pm #

    Not only is it a gorgeous church but I love the piazza right there too! It’s filled with locals and they have some of the best little places around there. Sabatini’s for example! My favorite place for pesto in Rome. Also they have that fabulous place to get drinks right in the square with fresh fruit!! mmm.! sono gelosa! vorrei essere li ankio!

  7. Sherry July 20, 2007 at 3:34 pm #

    Wow – thank you for sharing those pictures. That Church is absolutely beautiful. These pictures make me even more excited about my trip to Rome this fall because I purposely chose to stay close to the Santa Maria and now I’ve seen a bit of what I can expect when I visit in person. That statue with the the notes on is very touching. I will have to add my own prayer when I visit.

  8. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 20, 2007 at 3:54 pm #

    Zadok, thanks for the info. I knew one of my astute readers would be able to give me a hand.

    Thanks everyone for the comments! Needless to say, I recommend a trip here on any Rome itinerary.

  9. Novelist July 20, 2007 at 3:55 pm #

    These pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I love the churches in Italy; the art work, the colors; the religious artifacts, the layout – simply breathtaking! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  10. nyc/caribbean ragazza July 20, 2007 at 5:32 pm #

    Great photos.

    This church played a huge role in my decision to move to Rome. I wrote about it and it is one of my favorite places in the bella citta.

    I read the story about the chapel to Madonna della Clemenza built by Cardinal Altemps for his son, Roberto, who was beheaded thanks to Pope Sixtus V. Roberto’s ghost is said to roam the streets of Trastevere.

  11. kiki July 20, 2007 at 7:06 pm #

    Beautiful. You’re so lucky to have been married in such an amazing church.

    Thanks for posting. I probably would have missed this during our upcoming visit but for sure I won’t now!

  12. FinnyKnits July 20, 2007 at 10:23 pm #

    I have to say that this is the most memorable of all the churches I’ve visited with you and Ale. Moreso, I might add, than the Vatican. Granted, it doesn’t have it’s own city behind it, but it does have all those tiles outside with all the mysterious inscriptions and those mosaics that I could stare at all friggen day.

    I’m so glad you were married there, just sad I didn’t get to see it. The choir would have been something to behold 🙂

  13. Dena July 20, 2007 at 10:25 pm #

    What an impressive place to be married!! I can’t wait to go to Europe – all the history that’s alive there! 🙂

  14. cupcake July 20, 2007 at 10:38 pm #

    What a lovely church. Nothing at all like the modern monstrosities in my neck of the woods. My attendance might improve if I could go there!

  15. Joan Schmelzle July 21, 2007 at 12:58 am #

    Since someone beat me to explaining St. Anthony, I will just say that I have visited your church several times and it is on my agenda for this fall when I will visit Rome for the 13th time. It is a beauty, and I have never seen it lit up as it was for your wedding.
    I will add that I enjoy receiving your blog via email. I wish some of the other Italy and/or Rome bloggers made this possible.
    Grazie mille! (and I don’t know much more Italian than that!)

  16. Wanderlust Scarlett July 21, 2007 at 5:39 am #


    This is incredible!
    So beautiful, awe inspiring, and breathtaking.
    I love everything about it, from the history and art to the architecture and design.
    Absolutely stunning.
    It’s no wonder that this is your favorite church.
    I cannot wait to get there to see it.
    Oh… for the end of spring break next year.

    I may not come back to the States.

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore (the lion)

  17. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 21, 2007 at 10:37 am #

    Joan: I’m not sure if this was available the last time you visited, but they have a little box just on the left hand side of the altar, where you can drop in 50 cents or 1 euro (can’t remember exactly how much it costs) and it automatically turns on the lights for about a minute. They take a bit to warm up, then the mosaics are fully lit for a few minutes or so. It’s totally worth it, I always turn the lights on when I bring visitors here, it makes a HUGE difference as you could see in the photo of our wedding.

  18. jessica July 22, 2007 at 7:29 am #

    beautiful church.
    how nice it is so close to you and that it is so special.
    i wonder what they do with the paper prayers?
    last picture is very sweet.

  19. Heather July 22, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    Great post! That’s hands down, no question, MY favorite church in Rome. I’ve always loved it.

    I’m finally home, by the way!

  20. rachael July 22, 2007 at 7:35 pm #

    Absolutely stunning.

    A gorgeous church for a wedding.

  21. Britt-Arnhild July 22, 2007 at 8:05 pm #

    I visited the St.Egidion community in Rome in 2001 (it was my first time in Rome). We took part in a service in Santa Maria in Trastevere, and I fell in love with this church at once. Since then I have been to Rome every year, and there has never been a visit without visiting this church. It means alot to me.

    Last time I visited was less than two weeks ago.

  22. my melange July 23, 2007 at 1:42 pm #

    Thanks for showingf me the inside 🙂 I have been by it sveral times to admire…but never went in!

  23. Buda Baby July 23, 2007 at 2:20 pm #

    I got chills (the good kind) imagining what it must have felt and sounded like to hear Ale’s choir at your wedding in such an extraordinary setting. I will definitely have to visit this church when I come to Rome later this year (Yay!!). The entrance alone looks well worth the trip. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Sergio July 23, 2007 at 2:54 pm #

    I livi in Roma and i love my city! Your photo is very nice. 🙂

  25. justin July 23, 2007 at 3:58 pm #

    Once when I was sitting in the piazza there, a guy started talking to me and told me that Santa Maria was founded there because allegedly oil sprouted out of the ground there the day Jesus was buried.

    I’m pretty sure he was pulling my leg.

    This is my favorite church too, though. I like how all the columns inside are different from one another, since they were all taken from various temples.

  26. Tim July 23, 2007 at 4:09 pm #

    Shelley —

    Again you provide info I will use for my Rome class. Thank you! Santa Maria in Trastevere is also my favorite church in Rome. One visit, we attended a Mass with the S. Egidio community, I believe on a Sunday at 5 p.m. Beautiful! Very festive as it was a First Communion and Confirmation celebration. The mosaics, the history, the sanctity of the space — all incredible! What a wonderful place for your wedding!

    BTW, I mentioned your site on on the Rome forum. Anyone coming to Rome, or those who want to recall their time there, however long or brief, should visit this blog.

    Thanks for yet another fond remembrance.


  27. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 23, 2007 at 10:34 pm #

    Justin: Thanks so much for reminding me of this. I thought about it before I wrote my post but forgot to mention it. Click here for a great explanation of the legend. I haven’t heard about it coinciding with Jesus’ burial, but definitely heard about the oil coming out of the ground. And once inside the church, look for “Fons Olei” just below the altar… this marks the spot where the oil supposedly gushed out from the ground.

    Tim: I’m glad that you and another commenter mentioned the Communità di S. Egidio. It really merits its own post. The wonderful priest who celebrated our wedding ceremony is one of the priests who heads the community and I would like to interview him for the blog. They are a very important and influential charitable organization that makes a difference both in Rome and the world. Thanks also for the comment on the Trip Advisor forum, that was very kind of you! The more the merrier! I’ll do my best to keep up the content, Rome has no shortage of it!

  28. Molly July 26, 2007 at 4:26 pm #

    Shelly, I found your website through the post on Tripadvisor. I have really enjoyed it! We go to Italy in one week (first visit). We look forward to visiting many gelato shops, and I think now we’ll have to check out your neighborhood, Trestavere.

  29. casacaudill September 17, 2007 at 1:23 am #

    i have a slight aversion to churches and devout religion, in general, so visiting the vatican and st. peter’s was a rather interesting experience for me. contrast that with walking into this beautiful church during sunday morning mass and for a couple of minutes, i could almost believe. the beauty of this place will never leave me – thanks for posting!

  30. Janavi September 25, 2007 at 7:57 pm #

    I think this is also my favorite Church in Rome,so far anyway. The last time I was there the chapel for the Madonna della Clemenza was open-I think it was closed when I was there before- and the painting was coming out from the wall-there was some kind of spring attached to the back. The eyes were so incredible,they just bore right into you.Some women were writing notes,asking for blessings I guess. I didn’t write one,but I should have.

  31. Strebel May 8, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    In the chapel left to the choir I found a baroque fresco showing at the back ground a crowd of clericals of a church concile. Amazingly the painter as placed before them a group of women and children souurounding a female popesse with tiara. – Is there anybody who can explain the painting?

  32. Leah June 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Hi there,
    I came across your website by searching for Santa Maria in Trastevere. My fiance and I were there 7 years ago and fell in love with this basilica, probably as much as you have. We are trying to find out if it’s possible to get married there and if so, how we would go about doing so? We live in Vancouver, Canada and hope to have a small service with just ourselves and two other witnesses with us. Any information you could pass along would be very helpful. Beautiful pictures – it brings me back.


  33. barbara October 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    great music great organist Vincenzo Zito

  34. Molly October 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    the organ music played by Vincenzo is very nice. All days play’s at great organ to santa maria in trastevere and he’s the first organist of this church. The music for you ceremony was beautiful!

  35. Kent November 21, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    My fiance’ and I are planning to be married in Rome.
    We would like the contact info for the Santa Maria if you wouldn’t mind.
    Thank You

  36. Vanessa March 22, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    Hello –

    First of all apologies of the the random email but I was wondering if you can give me some advice. To introduce myself, I currently live in New York City and my fiance and I are interested in getting married in Rome, just the two of us. I am contacting you because I read your blog post on “At Home in Rome” saying that you were married at Santa Maria Basilica in Trastevere. I was wondering if you can point in me in the right direction as to how to contact the church as to how to go about getting married there? Does is require a reasonable donation? My fiance and I plan on having a civil ceremony in the US first, then getting married in a roman catholic church in Rome afterwards with honeymoon.

    Any advice that you can give will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!



  37. Tom and Monica July 15, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Siamo stati in questa chiesa storica e abbiamo visto che é molto bella. Un soffitto meraviglioso con un grande quadro al centro. Durante la visita si sentiva la musica di organo e alcuni che cantavano dal balcone. Poi abbiamo chiesto se era possibile andare a visitare all’organo e hanno detto che l’organista stava preparando un concerto e in ogni caso era necessario telefonare per mettersi in accordo per un appuntamento con l’organista Vincenzo Zito. Mentre suonava abbiamo visitato la Cappella Altaemps e altri luoghi poi abbiamo usciti e abbiamo ringraziato i musicians per la bella musica. Domani torniamo in California perché la nostra vacanza é terminata

  38. Albert July 24, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    This Church is Very Nice!

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