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, 2013 at 22:26

5 Answers 5


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, 2013 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."


Why is Rome the holy city?

Several historical factors brought this designation into being.

Roman Empire

During the time of Our Lord and the Apostolic Era, Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and there exist at that time a certain peace in the world known as the Pax Romana. In a sense, the world almost seemed to Rome’s.

The Pax Romana (Latin for "Roman Peace") is a roughly 200-year-long timespan of Roman history which is identified as a period and as a golden age of increased as well as sustained Roman imperialism, relative peace and order, prosperous stability, hegemonial power and regional expansion, despite a number of revolts and wars, and continuing competition with Parthia. It is traditionally dated as commencing from the accession of Caesar Augustus, founder of the Roman principate, in 27 BC and concluding in 180 AD with the death of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the "Five Good Emperors". Since it was inaugurated by Augustus with the end of the Final War of the Roman Republic, it is sometimes called the Pax Augusta. During this period of about two centuries, the Roman Empire achieved its greatest territorial extent and its population reached a maximum of up to 70 million people. According to Cassius Dio, the dictatorial reign of Commodus, later followed by the Year of the Five Emperors and the crisis of the third century, marked the descent "from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust".

The expansion of Roman influence lead the Romans into calling the Mediterranean Sea, the Mare Nostrum!

Mare Nostrum (Latin for “Our Sea”) was a common Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. The term was always somewhat ambiguous: it both implied Roman dominance of the Mediterranean and the cultural diversity of the nations that have bordered it for well over two millennia. Since before the Roman times, the Mediterranean Sea always was a meeting ground for cultures that bordered it–sometimes peaceful, sometimes not.

But the greatest forerunner of calling Rome the Holy City came about in 1st century BC, under Albius Tibullus who called Rome the Eternal City! A designation that is still heard of today, as well as Rome the Holy City.

Rome was called the Eternal City by the poet Albius Tibullus who lived in 55-19 BC. In his poetic work (elegias), the author through Apollo conveys to the readers the idea that Rome will be a powerful city and calls it Urbs Aeterna, or Eternal City: "Not yet had Romulus drawn up the Eternal City’s walls, where Remus as co-ruler was fated not to live". Thus, Tibullus was responsible for starting the trend among people of thinking of their city as the pinnacle of society.

Many Roman speakers and writers began to use the name Eternal City in their writings and speeches. To better understand why Rome was called the Eternal City, it might be helpful to learn about some historical facts of that time. Tibullus lived during the reign of Octavian Augustus. Under this emperor, the city structures, that had been lost earlier, were reconstructed and restored. The emperor proudly declared that he had found the city brick, but left it marble. History has confirmed those words about eternity. Despite the wars, all kinds of upheavals, riots, the city has been rebuilding and strengthening its power. - Who Said That Rome Is Eternal?

Christian Influences for designating Rome as the Holy City.

The Christian factors towards this designation are multiple and start with the foundation of the See of St. Peter and the tomb or St. Peter as a place of pilgrimage as well as that of other countless martyrs buried in the catacombs.

The significance of Rome lies primarily in the fact that it is the city of the pope. The Bishop of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter, is the Vicar of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Catholic Church. Rome is consequently the centre of unity in belief, the source of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and the seat of the supreme authority which can bind by its enactments the faithful throughout the world. The Diocese of Rome is known as the "See of Peter", the "Apostolic See", the "Holy Roman Church" the "Holy See" — titles which indicate its unique position in Christendom and suggest the origin of its preeminence. Rome, more than any other city, bears witness both to the past splendour of the pagan world and to the triumph of Christianity. It is here that the history of the Church can be traced from the earliest days, from the humble beginnings in the Catacombs to the majestic ritual of St. Peter's. At every turn one comes upon places hallowed by the deaths of the martyrs, the lives of innumerable saints, the memories of wise and holy pontiffs. From Rome the bearers of the Gospel message went out to the peoples of Europe and eventually to the uttermost ends of the earth. To Rome, again, in every age countless pilgrims have thronged from all the nations, and especially from English-speaking countries. With religion the missionaries carried the best elements of ancient culture and civilization which Rome had preserved amid all the vicissitudes of barbaric invasion. To these treasures of antiquity have been added the productions of a nobler art inspired by higher ideals, that have filled Rome with masterpieces in architecture, painting, and sculpture. These appeal indeed to every mind endowed with artistic perception; but their full meaning only the Catholic believer can appreciate, because he alone, in his deepest thought and feeling, is at one with the spirit that pulsates here in the heart of the Christian world.

Rome as of today remains one of the greatest pilgrimage locations in the Catholic world. This was compounded during those centuries where the faithful were unable to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Lands to honour those places hollowed by Our Lord, Our Lady and various other locations sanctified by the traditions handed down from the Old Testament.

Even today, all Catholic bishops must come to Rome every five (5) years (more or less) amongst other things: To pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. (In addition, they meet with Pope Francis and Vatican officials.)

The *visit ad limina means, technically, the obligation incumbent on certain members of the hierarchy of visiting, at stated times, the "thresholds of the Apostles", Sts. Peter and Paul, and of presenting themselves before the pope to give an account of the state of their dioceses. The object of the visit is not merely to make a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles, but, above all, to show the proper reverence for the Successor of St. Peter, to acknowledge practically his universal jurisdiction by giving an account of the condition of particular churches, to receive his admonitions and counsels, and thus bind more closely the members of the Church to its Divinely appointed head. - Visit ad Limina


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.
    – user3961
    Jun 18, 2015 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, 2015 at 6:35

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