The Basilica of Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls is one of the oldest churches in Rome. It is built on top of the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian and is located outside the city walls. The entrance to these catacombs is inside the basilica.
Saint Sebastian Church outside the Walls Church Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Via Appia Antica, 136 (Quartiere Appio Pignatelli). Tel.: +39 06 7808847. Opening hours: 8.00 till 13.00 and 14.00 till 17.30. Admission: The basilica is free, for the Roman villas see below. Public transport: Bus 118.
History and description
The Basilica di San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura was built in the first half of the 4th century. At the time its name was Basilica Apostolarum. It was dedicated to Peter and Paul because these apostles were briefly buried in the catacombs underneath the church.
At the time it consisted of a central nave enclosed by an ambulatory. The floor was almost completely taken up by the marble covers of the various tombs underneath it.
Around 350 AD the relics of the soldier Saint Sebastian were also placed in these catacombs and both the basilica and the underground burial place were dedicated to this saint.
In 826, out of fear of Saracen raids, the remains of the saint were moved to Saint Peter’s Basilica. In 1218 Pope Honorius III Savelli had the saint returned to his own church.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese ordered a reconstruction of the basilica in 1608. The architect was Flaminio Ponzio, but it was Giovanni Vesanzio who completed the façade in 1613.
In 1915 two Roman villa’s were found underneath the basilica.
The Cappella San Sebastiano is the work of Ciro Ferri, who designed it in 1672. In the same year Antonio Giorgetti sculpted the statue of the saint himself that can be seen underneath the altar. The statue was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The Chapel of the Relics contains an imprint of Christ‘s footsteps, together with one of the arrows that killed Saint Sebastian and the column he was tied to. The chapel was built in 1625.
The Cappella Albani was constructed between 1706 and 1712, when Clemente XI Albani was pope. Pier Leone Ghezzi and Giuseppe Passeri were responsible for the works of art. Another name for this chapel is Sacello del Santissimo Sacramento.
Vasanzio designed the beautiful wooden ceiling with a portrait of Saint Sebastian. The coats-of-arms on the ceiling belong to the Borghese and Cappellari families. (Pope Gregorius XVI, who ordered a restoration of the basilica in the first half of the 19th century, was a member of the Cappellari family.
Steps in what used to be the right nave lead to Saint Sebastian’s Catacombs.
Villa Grande and Villa Piccola
The “Big Villa” was constructed in the 2nd century AD and the “Small Villa” stems from the 4th century. Impressive frescoes decorate the interiors of the buildings. The Villa Grande consists of five rooms, decorated with floor mosaics and sumptuous wall decorations. The most interesting fresco shows a well-preserved 2nd century seascape. The highlight of the Villa Piccola is an intricately painted geometric design. (A visit to the villas has to be booked in advance. This needs to be done at least a week in advance, by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). The 12 Euros admission includes a guided tour. Children younger than 10 do not pay. For information you can call +39 067850350.)