Papal Basilicas Rome

Rome‘s 4 Papal Basilicas used to be known as the Patriarchal Basilicas. The most important one is of course Saint Peter’s Basilica. The other ones are Saint John in Lateran, Saint Mary Major and Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls.

Papal Basilicas Rome

Saint Paul's Outside The Walls
Saint Paul’s Outside The Walls

The main distinction of the Papal Basilicas is that they each have a special “holy door”. These doors are only opened during Jubilee years. All one’s sins will be forgiven if one manages to go through each of these doors within one day in one of these holy years. Unfortunately the last Jubilee was in the year 2000, so the next holy year is still 13 years away.

The only ones allowed to celebrate Mass in these basilicas are the Pope or those especially delegated by the Pope.

It was Pope Benedict XVI who changed the classification from patriarchal to papal basilica, thereby relinquishing the title of Patriarch of the West.

The 4 patriarchal basilicas are

  • Saint John Lateran: The only one called archbasilica, being the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope.
  • Saint Peter’s Basilica: Officially called Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican and used for most religious ceremonies in which the Pope himself participates.
  • Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls: Built over the burial place of Paul the Apostle.
  • Saint Mary Major: The largest church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Holy Door Saint Mary Major
Holy Door Saint Mary Major

Together with the minor Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, these basilicas were associated with the ancient patriarchal sees of Christendom. Saint John was associated with Rome, Saint Peter’s with Constantinople, Saint Paul’s with Alexandria, Saint Mary Major with Antioch and Saint Lawrence with Jerusalem.

In the past these churches were open around the clock, so that confessions could always be heard.

Since the Pope gave up his title of Patriarch of the West in 2006, the name patriarchal basilicas has actually become obsolete. They are now officially called Papal Basilicas.

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