The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started by Saint Philip Neri around 1553. He and a few friends and acquaintances would gather before dawn and set out on their walk. At each church, there would be prayer, hymn singing and a brief sermon. It is comprised of the Four Major Basilicas, and three others, below. In the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II replaced St. Sebastian Outside-the-Walls with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love. However, many pilgrims still prefer the pre-2000 seven basilicas (given that the walk from the Sanctuary to the Inner City takes at least a half-day just for itself, and that there is an indulgence for visiting any of the four major basilicas anyway).
Basilica of St. Sebastian outside the Walls, dedicated to a popular Roman martyr of the 3rd century. It is built on top of the catacombs of St Sebastian.
Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem was consecrated circa 325 to house the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ brought to Rome from the Holy Land by Empress St. Helena. At that time, the Basilica’s floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, thus the Basilica itself is “in Jerusalem” in the sense that a “piece” of Jerusalem was moved to Rome for its foundation.
Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls was assigned to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is the shrine of the tomb of its namesake, Saint Lawrence, one of the first seven deacons of Rome who was martyred in 258. Many other saints and Bl. Pope Pius IX are also buried at the Basilica, which is the center of a large and ancient burial complex.
We largely follow the itinerary drawn up by St. Philip Neri except that instead of going from St. Peter’s to St. Paul’s, we go first to St. Sebastian because this is the farthest out. This adjustment is adapted to the public transport system of Rome and can be done in a day. A 24hour Rome public transport pass is recommended. So the order is as follows:
1) St. Peter’s Basilica, [start with mass if possible then breakfast at the Vatican]
2) St. Sebastian’s
3) St. Paul Outside-the-Walls [break for lunch]
4) St. John Lateran
5) Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem
6) St. Lawrence-Outside-the Walls and finally
7) St. Mary Major