Why did Rome become the seat of the Pope and the central location for the Church? I would think that Jerusalem would be the first choice. There are also a number of other cities that I would personally pick over Rome because of location and centrality to the early Church. Maybe the issue is that Rome was more central to the early church than I think it was.

I am looking for an answer that discusses the history mostly and the RCC opinion on this.

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    I think the answer has far more to do with History and Politics than it does with theology. It's telling that Constantine called his capital the New Rome and not the New Jerusalem. Apr 25 '13 at 22:26

During the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the city was destroyed almost down to the bedrock with not a stone left atop another, just as Jesus had predicted. Jews were forbidden to enter the city for a long time afterward. This also applied to a small Jewish dissent group called "Christians". This forced everybody (who were alive) to leave Jerusalem and move to the next possible alternative, wherever that was.

Reason 1: St. Peter was in Rome. St. Peter and St. Mark went to Rome to help Christians there. The Catholic Church has always held that Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna, that is Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal!. [St Ambrose (d. 397 A.D.), Commentary on the Psalms 40, 30]

So where else can Christians go when they have nowhere else to go? There are plenty of Church Fathers like St. Jerome (Letters 15:1 [A.D. 396]) and St. Irenaeus who give this as the reason.

Reason 2: Rome was the largest and most powerful City on Earth. Hence, it was the best possible place to spread the Gospel quickly, as it was the most connected city. Remember "All road leads to Rome".

Reason 3: Pre-existing infrastructure. When the emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official state religion, all pagan temples in Rome were converted into christian churches which made Rome amicable to the Christian population.

Reason 4: Necessary to full-fill prophecy of Daniel. Some scholars like Dr. Scott Hahn interpret the prophecy in Daniel 7 as Rome to be the fourth kingdom and that Christ was to come, overthrow this kingdom, and establish an everlasting kingdom in its place. This is why the first thirty or so Popes kept coming back to Rome despite being martyred there.

Reason 5: Divine providence. As a Catholic, I personally believe the reason to be divine providence. If the Catholic Church is based in Jerusalem, then there would be unnecessary problems with other faiths which existed then and have come into existence since.

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    Exceedingly minor quibble with an altogether wonderful answer- the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, and many of the residents expelled at the same time, but the city itself survived until 125AD, at which point the Romans completely razed all the buildings and streets. Jul 9 '13 at 21:26

There are a large number of historical reasons. Part of it has to do with the fact that Peter finished his ministry and died there and so the papacy was centered on Rome from very early on. Part of it has to do with the fact that it was a fairly significant city even apart from religion. But the main reason, I think, has to do with how Islam took control of the East during the Middle Ages. With Jerusalem closed, people started going to Rome because it was the next logical alternative (for the reasons enumerated above).

All of that being said, most people will still think Jerusalem when you say, "The Holy City."


St. Peter was crucified in Rome; he was the first Pope. The Basilica was built on top of his grave, hence it became the center of the Church. It has nothing to do with scripture, but instead is based on tradition.


Rome is the holy city to western Christianity because it became the seat of the Pope. Even Protestants tend to defer to Rome as a holy city. However, Constantinople was regarded as the holy city of the Greek Orthodox Church because this was the seat of the Patriarch. In a similar style, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is known as the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and indeed many Christians would regard Jerusalem as the holiest city in Christendom.

The Catholic Church asserts that the apostle Peter went to Rome, where he led the church as Rome's first bishop, appointing his successor there, but this claim is far from certain. Even at the end of the first century, the author of 1 Clement appears unaware that St. Peter ever came to Rome. Written from Rome, 1 Clement mentions Peter's 'many labours' and makes a general comment about Peter's death, without mentioning Rome: "There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labours, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory." Rex Wyler, in The Jesus Sayings, page 252, says the legend that Peter visited Rome appears in the non-canonical Acts of Peter, composed in about 185 CE.

Even in the absence of St. Peter in Rome, the city became the holy city of the Catholic Church because it was the centre of the Roman Empire, and thus the most powerful city on Earth. During the early years, the eastern Church had divided loyalties, between Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria, whereas the entire Church in western Europe had Rome alone as its major centre, in turn giving the bishop of Rome considerable power and influence - in addition to the claim of Petrine succession. Nevertheless, Rome will never replace Jerusalem as the most holy city in Christendom.

  • I like the divisions of how the Eastern church approached it differently. A source or two for how Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were treated like holy cities would be great.
    – fгedsbend
    Jun 18 '15 at 5:40
  • @fredsbend Done [As far as I know, Alexandria was never referred to as a 'holy city'; I only said that the east had a 3-way division of loyalties among the three chief cities of eastern Christianity whereas the pope had undivided loyalties in the west (except briefly for Carthage).] Jun 18 '15 at 6:35

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