The Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura), next to the Verano cemetery, is one of the seven so-called Pilgrim Churches of Rome. It is the only one of the five Papal basilicas that does not have a Holy Door. The church is located just north of the city’s student district, unofficially known as San Lorenzo, to which it also gave its name.
Saint Lawrence outside the Walls Basilica Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
The address of the Basilica di San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura is Piazzale del Verano, 3 – Rome (tel. +39 06491511.). Bus: 3, 19, 71, 88, 443, 542, 545, 11n. Opening hours (2021): From 07.00 till 12.00 and from 16.00 till 19.00. Admission: Free. (During the Covid-crisis the hours may vary.)
History and description
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls started its existence as a small oratorium. It was built in the 4th century by the emperor Constantine, in the spot where the saint was thought to have been martyred in the year 258.
Towards the end of the 6th century Pope Pelagius II had an actual church constructed at this site. In the 13th century it was Pope Honorius II who had a new one built, in front of the existing church. The two churches were later united into one structure.
Towards the end of the 11th century Pope Clement III had already had the cloister built. In those days there was also a fortified village called Laurentiopolis around the basilica.
Between 1855 and 1864 several elements of the church were modified by the architect Virgilio Vespignani.
In 1943 the area was bombed and a number of mosaics in the portico and frescoes on the facade were irreparably damaged. The restoration after the war undid most of Vespignani‘s changes and the basilica was restored to its medieval architecture.
The two lions beside the entrance were already present when the first version of the church was built.
The funerary monuments in the baroque Santa Ciriaca Chapel were designed by Pietro da Cortona.
Vespignani designed the San Tarcisio Chapel in the 19th century. Giovanni Serodine painted the “Beheading of John the Baptist” in this chapel in 1619.
The funerary chapel of Pope Pius IX was built towards the end of the 19th century. In order to do this the narthex of the 6th century basilica was used.
The ciborium was made in 1148.
The bishop’s seat is decorated with mosaics and colorful marble.
The mosaic on the triumphal arch depicts Christ between the saints Paul, Stephen, Hippolytus, Peter and Lawrence. Pope Pelagius is depicted handing Christ a scale model of the basilica.
The church is decorated with 13th century frescoes depicting events in the lives of Saint Lawrence and Saint Stephen.
Saint Lawrence is buried in the presbytery, between four black and white columns.
Saint Stephen, who is considered to be the first Christian martyr, is also buried in the church. It was Pope Pelagius II who had his remains brought over from Constantinople to Rome.
Other famous people buried inside the church or Pope Hilarius (461-468) and Alcide de Gasperi, founder of the Christian Democrat party and Italy’s first prime minister in 1945.
The cosmatesque decorations of the portico were made by the Vassaletti family, who specialized in this art.
The two antique sarcophagi in the portico are decorated with events from both the Old and the New Testament. There are also some decorations depicting harvest scenes.
Another sarcophagus can be seen in the entrance to the 12th century bell-tower. The relief shows a heathen wedding party.
Saint Lawrence outside the Walls Basilica – Piazzale del Verano 3, Rome