Church of San Pietro In Montorio

The Church of San Pietro in Montorio is located in one of the most charming areas in Rome, on the slopes of the Gianicolo Hill, facing a terrific view on the Ancient Rome. This particular area was also the place where, according to tradition, Apostle St. Peter was crucified upside down.
The actual Church, which rises on the site of the early 9th century church dedicated to St. Peter, was commissioned by Isabella of Spain and Ferdinand II, the King of Spain, who owned the property, between 1481 and 1500. The church is a real masterpiece, full or artwork by prominent masters from the 16th and the 17th century.

Church of San Pietro in Montorio, Gianicolo Hill Rome
Credits: image by @Rome_Wonder
Opening Hours: Monday - Friday: 8.30 am - 12.00 pm / 3.00 pm - 4.00 pm. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 8.30 am - 12.00 pm.
Mass Schedule: Holidays: 8.00 am and 12.00 pm / Weekdays: 8.00 am
Location: Piazza di San Pietro in Montorio, 2 in Trastevere Area
Tickets: Not Needed
Accessibility: Accessible


Among its masterpieces, the first chapel of St. Peter in Montorio contains the “Flagellation and Transfiguration”, a painting by Sebastiano del Piombo, who relied on Michelangelo’s drawings and help for his work. Both the ceilings of the fourth and the fifth chapels are graced by stunning frescoes by Giorgio Vasari. The second chapel on the left, dedicated to Rimondi, was designed by Bernini.

Until 1797, the famous “Transfiguration” by Raphael adorned the main altar of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. Today the masterpiece can be admired in the Vatican Pinacoteca in the Vatican Museum Complex.

San Pietro in Montorio Church facade
Credits: image by @Rome_Wonder

Bramante’s “Little Temple”

In this exact spot, within the narrow rectangular courtyard of the Church, stands the Tempietto, a small circular sanctuary built in 1502 by Donato Bramante. This priceless treasure makes of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio one of the most interesting Churches in Rome.

The so-called Tempietto (Italian word for “small-temple”) is a real masterpiece of High Renaissance Italian architecture, shaped with an harmonious circular plant, meant to mark the exact spot of St. Peter’s martyrdom.

The Tempietto is also regarded as an important precursor to Bramante’s rebuilding of St. Peter’s Church, a sort of small prototype for his greater Basilica in the Vatican City!

Roman and Greek Influence

When Bramante moved from Milan to Rome he had the chance to study ancient monuments firsthand.
It is known that his designs for the Tempietto were indeed inspired by ancient buildings such as the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, the Temple of Hercules in Victor and the Pantheon.

The concrete dome of the small temple is supported by a perfectly-spaced series of niches and pilasters, decorated with columns, which represent one of the earliest example of the Tuscan Order in the Renaissance. Looking at the Tempietto up-close and personal, you’ll notice that there are several mythical themes and multi-cultural influences from the Roman and Greek cultures inspiring Donato Bramante.

Dome of Tempietto, San Pietro in Montorio Church
Credits: image by @Rome_Wonder

The central figure of the Temple is Saint Peter that dates back to the 16th century and is attributed to Bernini’s disciples.

St Peter's Statue, San Pietro in Montorio Rome
Credits: image by @Rome_Wonder

Grave of Beatrice Cenci

Although there is no grave marker, it is said that the remains of Beatrice Cenci, who was executed in 1599 for the murder of her abusive father and made famous by Percy Shelley in his well-known work “The Cenci, a Tragedy, in Five Acts”, were probably buried under the main altar. However, the grave was desecrated by the French in 1798.

The Irish Earls’ Tombs

San Pietro in Montorio has also a special connection with one of the most important chapters in the history of Ireland, which is the Fight of the Earls of 1607.

At that time Ireland was at war with England, which was trying to spread Protestantism in the catholic country. Hugh O’Neill of Tyrone, Rory O’Donnell of Tyrconnell and about ninety followers went into exile from Ulster in Ireland. Their flight marked the final and definitive collapse of resistance to the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The country was left under the control of the Protestant British for the next three hundred years.

From France they eventually ended up in Rome seeking help from the Pope. The two Earls were buried under the main altar of the Church. Today you can see two tombstones to commemorate Rory O’Donnell and his brother Caffar, who died in 1608, and the other one in memory of O’Neill.