There are over 900 churches in the city of Rome, but this one is far different from all the others.
In 2004 the Church of the Great Martyr Saint Catherine became the first Russian Orthodox church built in the holy city since 1054, when the churches split in an event known as “The Great Schism.” The 950 years in between saw less than accommodating stances between the two factions of Christian faith, though things have been warming up for some time now.
In the late 19th century, plans were made to build an Orthodox church in Rome, but was delayed over a century by two world wars and a communist government in Italy. Finally, approval was granted by the city in 2001 to build the church on the grounds of the Russian embassy to the Vatican. The church was given a blessing by Patriarch Alexy II.
The church is unapologetically Russian in its architecture, a striking departure from the classical Italian buildings throughout Rome. After the completion of the traditional onion-shaped dome, artists from Russia were brought in to paint the inside of the sanctuary. The relics of Saint Helen, a 1st century saint venerated by both churches, were placed inside by a Catholic cardinal. Years later, on the celebration of Saint Catherine’s feast day, a relic of Saint Alexius was also lain in the church.
The rift between the two faiths is not as great as it used to be. Important representatives of both faiths attended the opening ceremony in 2004 and the consecration in 2009. Catholic Romans attend the liturgies at St. Catherine given in Italian, and though there are only a few hundred of them, the Russian Orthodoxes disperse to the many Catholic churches in Rome in a show of reaching a hand across the aisle.
Know Before You Go
The church is only a short walk from the Vatican, and close to the bus and train stops at Roma S Pietro station.