Rome became the heart of Christianity early on, since it’s where the Apostles Peter and Paul got martyred and the place where their tombs are venerated.
On this tour, we’ll follow the trails of the Apostle Paul from the time he arrived in Rome traveling along the Appian Way, to where his fellow Christian friends Prisca and Aquila lived, to the spot where Paul got beheaded, to his tomb.
Paul’s journey to Rome after his arrest in Jerusalem was quite adventurous: he even got shipwrecked, but eventually made it to Pozzuoli, a port south of Rome, and traveled the last leg by land, following the Appian Way, the so-called Queen of Roads, which connected the south of the Roman Empire to the capital. Stretches of the original paving stones can still be seen, so we’ll be walking on the very same road Paul traveled along.
This area of the city is also where several catacombs are located, so we’ll grab the opportunity to visit the oldest of these early Christian cemeteries, the Catacomb of St. Sebastian, where the relics of the Apostles Peter and Paul were venerated for a couple of centuries, having been moved here during the persecution at the time of the Emperor Valerian. Lots of graffiti on the walls, with prayers addressed to the Apostles, bear testimony to the time when this spot was known as the “Memoria Apostolorum”.
Our next stop will be the Church of Santa Prisca, located on the slope of the Aventine Hill. It is little known, but takes us back to the time when Paul reached Rome and met his friends from his Corinthian days, Aquila and Prisca (or Priscilla, as she was sometimes called), a couple of tent-makers who were among the first to convert to Christianity and to follow Paul’s teaching. It is a small, unassuming church, that gives us a far better idea of what a place of worship would be in early Christian times than the opulence of many baroque churches in the city.
We’ll now move to the Abbey of the Three Fountains, the place Paul was taken to on June 29th 67 to be put to death. Tradition has it that his head hit the ground three times, and three springs appeared; in the middle-ages, the benedictine abbey was built. The area comprises three churches, as well as a section of the original Roman road on which Paul moved his last steps.
After the beheading, the Apostle was buried in a small cemetery located along the Via Ostiense, one of the Roman roads. On this spot, the basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls originated in the 4th century. It is located on the outskirts of the city centre, beyond the ancient Roman city walls (hence the name!). It’s the second largest church in town after St. Peter’s, and a very important place of pilgrimage, having been built on the tomb of the Apostle Paul. Actually, the church was severely damaged by a fire in 1823, and what you see today is the result of a careful restoration. It’s every bit as impressive as St. Peter’s, and the big plus is that there are way less visitors here, so you can really enjoy the beauty of this serene, majestic building.