Lonely Planet review
This is one of Rome’s four patriarchal basilicas and is an atmospheric, tranquil edifice that’s starker than many of the city’s grand churches, a fact that only adds to its breathtaking beauty. It was the only one of Rome’s major churches to have suffered bomb damage in WWII, and is a hotchpotch of rebuilds and restorations, yet still feels harmonious.
St Lawrence was burned to death in AD 258, and Constantine had the original basilica constructed in the 4th century over his burial place, which was rebuilt 200 years later. Subsequently, a nearby 5th-century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was incorporated into the building, resulting in the church you see today. The nave, portico and much of the decoration date to the 13th century.
Highlights are the Cosmati floor and the frescoed portico, depicting events from St Lawrence’s life. The remains of St Lawrence and St Stephen are in the church crypt beneath the high altar. A pretty barrel-vaulted cloister contains inscriptions and sarcophagi and leads to the Catacombe di Santa Ciriaca, where St Lawrence was initially buried.