Church of Domine Quo Vadis history
The official name of this church is the Church of St Mary in Palmis, but it’s now more known as the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. The church, built next to the Appian Way, has a long and intriguing history.
The legend has it this was the spot where Saint Peter, who was fleeing Rome to escape persecution, had a vision of a risen Christ.
According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Peter asked Jesus; “Domine, quo vadis ?” meaning “Lord, where are you going?”. Jesus answered; “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”. This made Peter turn around, go back to Rome and face his martyrdom.
Evidence suggests a strong presence of the Apostle Peter in this area, not only because it was here he met Jesus. This was also the area where he is supposed to have lived. An epigraph found in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian supports this as it says, “Domus Petri” – meaning “the House of Peter”.
An epigram by Pope Damasus I from the 4th century honors St. Peter and St. Paul and further strengthens the belief that this was the area where the apostles lived. It reads: “You that are looking for the names of Peter and Paul, you must know that the saints have lived here”.
A place for worship
There are indications that this site has been a place for holy worship before this church was built and even prior to the legend of St. Peter and Jesus.
This church in fact located just in front of an ancient sacred Campus, dedicated to the Roman God Rediculus – not to be confused with the word “ridiculous”. His name derives from the Latin verb “redire”, meaning “to come back” and he was known as the God of Return.
The fact that the sanctuary of Rediculus was located here, along the Appian Way, was no coincidence. The road was the most important one of all Roman roads and was the road travelers going south or east took. Journeys to distant places like Egypt, Greece or the Far East were often dangerous and not all would return from their voyage.
This site was the last place where travelers could get a good glimpse of Rome behind them, so the they often stopped here and prayed to Rediculus that they would return to see Rome once again.
Besides, the god Rediculus also had a terrible reputation. A legend states that when Hannibal, after the Battle of Cannae, arrived in front of the gates of Rome following this road, a god appeared before him. The god caused terror amongst the men and told them to immediately return the way they came. Whether or not the legend is true, it still shows that the ancient Romans held Rediculus in deep consideration.
The first Christian building on the site was a small church, built in the 9th century on the basis of the St. Peter’s legend. The current church was however built in year 1637 and the current façade was added later in the 17th century.
Why visit the Catacombs of San Sebastiano ?
Very little is known about the original 9th century church – the Church of St Mary in Palmis. The word “palmis” does however stand for the soles of Jesus’ feet. The inside the church houses two footprints on a marble stone which would be a miraculous sign left by Jesus when he appeared before Peter.
The stone located inside this church is however only a replica, as the real stone is kept safely in the Relics Chapel at the nearby Basilica of San Sebastiano.
There used to be an inscription on the front façade of the church, telling travelers to stop walking and instead enter this sacred temple, as it is the place where St. Peter met Jesus. However, Pope Gregory the 16th found it inappropriate – almost as a kind of advertisement – in which he ordered it to be removed in 1845.
Today’s façade inscription, right about the main entrance, is more modest. The inscription reads; “D.O.M”, which reads Dominus Optimis Maximus, meaning “Father All Mighty”. Below it one can read a Latin phrase meaning “It was here Peter asked Jesus; Lord, where are you going?”
A church of special importance
Despite the small size of the church, it still holds a very special place in the Christian hearts. In 1983, Pope John Paul the 2nd further emphasized this when he defined the church as “a place that has a special importance in the history of Rome and in the history of the Church”.
Domine Quo Vadis location
The Church of Domine Quo Vadis is located in Rome, Italy. The church can be found along the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way. It is located about 800 m from Porta San Sebastiano, the Gate of the Aurelian Wall, at the location where the Via Ardeatina branches off the the Appian Way.
The whole area is well served by public transport, but is also easily accessed by foot or bicycle, as the Appian Way is a popular hiking road. For the exact location of the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, check out the location map to the right.