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Religion in Italy

Religion in Italy
Religion in Italy
Pope Francis, the new face of the Catholic Church (by neneosan at


Italians and Catholicism


The relationship between Italians and religion is very special, indeed.We have been a bunch of spiritual people since before the Romans. 

 Italy is, constitutionally, a nation embracing all creeds and religions, where the relationship between State and Church is regulated and sanctioned by constitutional laws. This is especially important as, geographically, the heart of the Catholic Church is within Italian soil. This very presence is rooted in the historical relevance of Rome in the history of Christianity, a relevance that has made the capital of Italy not only the geographical and beaurocratical centre of Catholicism, but also its spiritual core. 


This is one of the reasons why we are, in the end and in spite of all,  a Catholic country. No offense to all other religions welcomed and practiced within the boundaries of Italy, which are all embraced in a beautiful effort of inter-religious dialogue the Vatican itself has been working on with particular zeal, especially since the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Each and every faith is welcome: some have been practiced along with Catholicism since the earliest times, like Judaism. Others have become preponderant in much more recent years, as a result of immigration, like Islam.


The point, however, is that Italy, not only in her spiritual, but crucially –especially for those who do not believe– in her cultural  fabric is profoundly, essentially and innegably Christian. Yes, many will probably criticize this, but one only needs to check out the art and architecture of every single city, town, village in the country, to realize how much of it is related to the presence of the Church. How much of it has been inspired by Christian symbolism. How much of it has been the artistic result of a historical presence of the Church on Italian soil that, positively and negatively, has touched and formed the country throughout the entirety of its history. 


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when still in charge, in 2007 (by miqu77 at


Christianity, in its more popular aspects, has somehow permeated the lives of the majority of us, especially, I believe, if we grew up in the countryside: grandparents bringing us to mass and teaching us the first, sweet prayers even before we went to school, in a way that nothing had to do with indoctrination, but rather embodied all the beauty and sweetness of an act of protection and love: because there was no malice in our elders' faith, but just respect for a higher power and hope for a life, at some stage, somewhere, without pain and loss.  


For people like me, who were born in the late 70s, it was certainly not Santa to bring presents at Christmas, it was Gesù Bambino, Baby Jesus: nevermind that the idea of a newborn carrying around packets and boxes for every single child in the world is more preposterous than that of an elderly, severely overweight man doing the same through your chimney, Gesù Bambino collected our letters on the 1st of December and the presents always arrived on time. I even had a schoolmate in second grade who had sworn to have seen his shadow –the shadow, mind– through the glass of her bathroom's door. What He was purposedly doing there, she did not know, but the entire class knew then that Baby Jesus must have been the one behind the presents, because, you know... He was in her house...


Even growing up, even now, weeks, months, years, events are all marked by religious recurrences: our most important holidays are Christian, the majority of the fairs and festivals around the country are related to a Christian saint and what the Pope does is still the first thing every Italian channel put on the news, nevermind what else happens. 


So, yes. Italy is a Christian, more precisely, Catholic country in her spirituality and culture, albeit she has been enriched throughout her history by the presence of a plethora of minorities of the uttermost importance. She is very much Catholic in her heritage. Of course people today do not go to Church as much as they used to do in the past. Of course, agnostics and atheists have grown in number. But the essentiality is, still and always, to keep respectful of all thoughts, ideas and creeds. 


Italy as a Religious Destination


The Holy Shroud's face: left, the original. Right, the digitally enhanced negative picture ( by Dianelos Georgoudis 


Now that we have clarified some of the potential misunderstanding about why and how Italy is a Catholic country, we may as well take a quick look and give some useful information on some of our most popular pilgrimage locations, places you and your family, if Catholic, may be interested in visiting when you come to the country. Even you are not particularly pious, the majority of them are a must nevertheless, for the very reasons we mentioned previously: art, architecture, heritage, they have it all!


Beside the destinations we are going to propose here, you can consult the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi website, the official Vatican pilgrimages body, to know more about destinations (not only Italians, but worldwide) and get a better idea on general costs and requirements. On the website, you can even access the online version of the ORP  brochure, to comfortably read about all the offers available. 


Destinations are many, as every sanctuary, every saintly shrine, every place where a miracle took place is potential destination for a pilgrimage. However, we would like to propose here five of the most practiced holy routes in the country, and address you to a sixth one, the Via Francigena. Rome, Assisi and Gubbio, Loreto, San Giovanni Rotondo and Turin, where the Holy Shroud will be presented to the public from the 19th of April to the 24th  of June 2015 are those we will present you here. 





Rome is Rome, and you do not need to be religious to adore this place: it is perfect for art lovers, food epicureans, night life afecionados, couples, everyone. Of course, Rome is also the centre of the history of Western Christianity and the holy city of Catholics. Of course, the Vatican and all that is connected and annexed to it is the first place to go. In Saint Peter's, faithful can follow mass in their own language at one of the many altars in the Basilica. They can pray on front of the holy remains of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II; they can kneel of front of the grave of the founder of the Church himself, Saint Peter. While in the Vatican, of course, it is essential to visit the Vatican Museu

ms and the Sistine Chapelwhich can be done all at once. Essential to avoid annoying queues and some obnoxious fake tour guides trying to sell you tickets on the spot is to reserve in advance. You can do it easily and comfortably from home, here. 


In fact, the Vatican website (of which the Vatican Museums page is part) is the place to go to get more information about other central holy destinations in Rome, the papal Basilicas: Saint Peter (San Pietro), Saint John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano),  Saint Paul outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura) and Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore). On each of their dedicated pages, you can check out virtual tours, as well as get information on guided tours, liturgical details and masses timetable. 


The façade of the papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (by Lalupa at


These are not the only places of faith in the city, but they are certainly a perfect starting point to experience the spiritual side of our capital. A poignant place to visit for every Christian is, without doubt, the catacombs, where the first Christians used to gather, worship and, indeed, find refuge during persecution. Beside their immense historical and cultural value, the catacombs of Rome seem to painfully stand to remind us all, in case the news were not enough, that the persecution of Man in name of faith is still very much on this earth today. 



Assisi, Gubbio and Loreto: following the path of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, towards a meeting with the Holy Mother of God


As for Rome, Assisi and Gubbio would be essential destination for anyone coming to Italy, just in name of their sheer beauty. If you are a Catholic, they are also the places that worked as a backdrop to the lives and miracles of two of Italy's best loved saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare. In Assisi, you would be able to visit the two basilicas dedicated to Saint Francis, the Basilica Inferiore and the Basilica Superiore, as well as h

is grave, Saint Clare's convent and resting place and the majestic Santa Maria degli Angeli, inside which you can still visit la portiuncola,  the small chapel where Saint Francis himself used to pray. Gubbio is known as the place where Saint Francis spoke to the wolf and has remained a symbol of the saint's protection upon animals and creatures of all sizes. The ORP offers an interesting 3 days tour (leaving from Rome) touching upon Assisi, Gubbio and Loreto, see of a famous sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary and place where, according to legend, her house was moved to from the Holy Land, through the work of the angels themselves. Things may have not gone exactly that way, yet, the house is there.  


A view of Loreto (by Maceratesi olivier at


Padre Pio and San Giovanni Rotondo


Padre Pio is probably one of the most popular modern saints, one whose image is well sketched in everyone's mind. He is also one of those saints we can see and experience in an entirely different way, through his movements, his voice and his body language, as plenty of video and audio footage of the brother of Pietrelcina is extant. The places of his life and death are today a preferred pilgrimage destination and probably one of the easiest tours to organize, as many companies today provide them. Once again, it is the ORP to offer an interesting opportunity to visit San Giovanni Rotondo and pray on Padre Pio's final resting place. 


The reason we suggest the tours organized by the ORP are chiefly two: the first is their affiliation with the Vatican, which means professional guides, well versed on the subject and reasonable prices. The other is, as you may notice by checking their website, that their pilgrimages tend to leave from Rome, which is very handy for those coming from abroad, as flying on Rome is much easier than flying on, let us say, Perugia or Bari. Moreover, you can use Rome as the central location of your trip and enjoy these relatively short tours on the side. 



Turin and the ostension of the Holy Shroud in 2015


The Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, commonly known as the Duomo di Torino: the home of the 
Holy Shroud (by Guido Chiarelli at


Not many may consider Turin as the destination of a pilgrimage. However, every 25 years as a rule, or in specially pregnant years for the Catholic Faith, the most famous of all relics, the most enigmatic of all shrouds is laid out in the cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista for all faithful to see. The history behind the Holy Shroud of Turin is long and utterly fascinating and it only adds to that aura of mystery surrounding it. The fact that, because of its fragility and the easiness with which it can get damaged, the Holy Shroud is only visible to the public every given amount of years, it makes every ostension a possibly once in a lifetime event. Faithful from all over the world will come to Turin from the 19th of April to the 24th of June 2015 to view the Holy Shroud, displayed to honor the bicentennary of the birth of San Giovanni Bosco, founder of the Salesians. 

If you are planning to do the same, it is highly advisable you book hotel and ticket to the ostension itself well in advance. Mind, however, that the ostension is free, and booking is only necessary to avoid (longer) queues. If you want to let it up to someone else, the OPR has you covered for this, too. 

On the 21st of June, Pope Francis will be in Turin and his mass will be open to all. 


A Few Useful Tips


When it comes to  religious tourism, you may like to remember some simple and, to most of us all, obvious rules. Yes, most of them go without mentioning, but it is good to make sure we follow them! Do not get me wrong: I am sure that you are all very much aware of every single thing I am about to write, but you may know as well as I do that there are people out there guilty of each and every one of the things I am about to point out. Feel free to follow or not these suggestions, however, when thinking that churches are, in the end, places of worship, these should really be seen as basic manners:


  • Never speak loud when in a church or a cemetery.
  • Avoid taking photos while mass is said. I mention this because I was recently in Rome and was at mass in Saint Peter's, when a gang of tourists started taking photos of us, as we were some sort of animals in a zoo: even if you are in a church for the sake of art only, remember they are a place of worship and prayer to many.
  • Girls, when in a church or a cemetery, let's cover our cleavage and thighs: make sure shorts and skirts are not too short. Mid-thigh is perfectly ok, bum-cheek-skimming is a no-no. No problem with tank tops, maybe just wear a little cardigan on top when you get into the church. It is usually chilly enough inside, so it is, actually, needed most of the time. 
  • Boys: wear shirts at all times, please, and cover tank tops, if you are wearing them!
  • If you are planning to visit a church, skip the beach flip-flops. Sandals are ok, but Havaianas are kind of not. 
  • No food or drinks are allowed inside churches or museums.
  • If you have visible, large tattoos (on your arms or legs, for instance), cover them. I am tattooed, with a full arm sleeve and a chest piece and I always wear a cardigan and a light scarf when I go to church. 
  • Remember to take off  hats and caps before getting into a church.
  • If you are with your kids, please keep an eye on them. Many churches are large and safe, yet, that is not an excuse to let children run free in them. Once again, they remain places of worship.
  • And most of all: remember to put your phone on silent! 



By Francesca Bezzone

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albornoz orvieto
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Friday, June 1st, 2012
Itri - Upper Town - Photo courtesy of MM/Wikimedia Sant'Andrea fort was built during the first century AD on the ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It is located in the direction of Fondi along the Old Via. In 1798 Fra Diavolo used this fort for the defensive operations against French. Itri is a town and comune in the Latium region and in the Latina Province.    History of the Fortress The St. Andrea Fortress is located on the border between Itri and Fondi, the ancient Via Appia track is
Friday, June 1st, 2012
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Ladispoli, aerial view of the Tyrrenian coast and the Palo-Odescalchi Castle (1500AD ) The Castle of Palo or the Castello di Palo is a medieval fort located in Palo in the Ladispoli municipality. The castle is today owned by the Odescalchi family. The castle stands overlooking the sea where in the ancient time the Etruscan town Alsuim had once stood. The castle had originally been built for defense and the manor is the only structure which is fortified along with the Flavia tower which had
Friday, June 1st, 2012
castelvecchio verona
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Friday, June 1st, 2012
Castellaccio dei Monteroni Castellaccio of Monteroni is one of the most important historical monuments of the town of Ladispoli. The castle is actually a fortified farmhouse built during the Middle Ages close to the ancient route of Via Aurelia. The castle is located in the heart of the Monteroni archeological area, which has several large Etruscan mounds. The castle is a very rare example of a fortified farmhouse. Located 35 km from Rome, many tourists from all over the world visit it
Friday, June 1st, 2012
View of the city of Perugia   If visiting Perugia be sure to visit Rocca Paolina, which may not be the first castle to be built in the city, but is certainly one of the most important. Built in 1373 after Cardinal Aegidius Albornoz wrested control of Umbria and Tuscia from Pope Innocent VI, it was meant as a testament to the cardinal's prowess and power. The plans for the original castle were drawn up by Gattapone Gubbio and it was the largest in the area at the time. Only three years after
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Nepi, Borgia castle and Farnese fortification - Photo courtesy of GDelhey/Wikimedia The Borgia Castle is located in Nepi which is in the province of Viterbo in the Latium region. Nepi is located 40 km from Viterbo and close to lake that gets its name from the town. The Borgia castle is a reconstruction of an older feudal manor that dates back to the 15th century. The castle has large walls and four towers, out of which one is open to visitors.   History of the Castle The Borgia castle is
Friday, June 1st, 2012
royal palace caserta
  Reggia di Caserta: the Royal Palace   This stunning architectural complex at Caserta – which includes the Royal Palace, its magnificent gardens, the San Leucio complex, and the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli –  is a true wonder. The large palace, often compared to luxurious buildings like Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid, is  a UNESCO's World Heritage Site.     The Royal Nativity Scene -- Royal Palace, Caserta, Italy.
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Orsini Cesi Castle from Afar - Photo courtesy of In the heart of the lush Lucertili Mountains, in the small town of San Polo dei Cavalieri, about 30km from Rome, is the Castello Orsini Cesi Borghese. Centuries ago the castle was built as a strategic defence fortress and today it is a monument to the area's long and rich history. If you are staying in the area or taking a day trip from Rome keep a look out for the castle, which is hard to miss from its perch atop a high
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Palombara Sabina - Aerial View - Photo courtesy of Cyhawk/Wikimedia The Borgo Castello di Castiglione or the castle town of Castiglione is located one km away from the town of Palombara Sabina. The castle is quite magnificent and is known to be one of the best examples of medieval structure. The building of the castle itself dates back to the later half of the 13th century and stands dominating the entire territory due to its location at a high altitude. The construction of the castle was
Friday, June 1st, 2012
castel sant'angelo rome
  Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome Ph. depositphotos/GekaSkr   If you are visiting the ancient city of Rome why not stop to see the Castel Sant'Angelo, the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian? Named for the gorgeous statue of the Archangel Michael on the roof, today the building is the home of the Museo Nazionale de Castel Sant'Angeo. Erected on the shores of the Tiber the structure is located close to the Vatican and was once used as a military fortress.   The Tomb The Castel
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Castel del Monte Ph.   Castel del Monte is a unique castle built in the 13th century by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, in the Apulia region. When the Emperor had the castle built, he created a symbol which was of much significance, reflected in the layout, shape and the location of the castle. Castel del Monte is located on a small hill close to the Santa Maria del Monte monastery, near the town of Andria.   Castel del Monte is a perfect example
Friday, June 1st, 2012
    Narni - Panorama - Photo courtesy of Croberto68/Wikimedia   The town of Narni is a part of the Umbria region and is located on a stunning limestone cliff overlooking the Black River. Rocca Albornoz is one of the town's most notable landmarks. Built in the 14th century the Rocca Albornoz was originally a military structure meant to protect the territory from invasions and is now used for various exhibitions and for various conferences.    History of the Castle The castle was built in
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Rocca Pia: The Pride of Tivoli Castle of Rocca Pia in the hilltop town of TivoliRocca Pia is an ancient castle located in the historic city of Tivoli. The castle replaced the earlier Callisto II Borgia and derives its name from Pio II Piccolomini, the Humanist Pope who had ordered that the castle be built in Tivoli. Niccolo and Varrone were the two architects entrusted with the construction of the castle. The castle took one year to build and its main purpose was to control the city and to
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Castello Boncompagni is the ducal castle on the beautiful Isola del Liri. The palace is an ancient fortified castle full of history and located close to the island’s old town, where the two branches of the Liri River form the island mass. Two beautiful waterfalls, Valcatoio and the Great Falls, complete the gorgeous picture, which would charm any visitor. The castle has been important to the region ever since it had been built in the 12th century. The beautiful architecture of the castle, as
Friday, June 1st, 2012
  Castello Papi della Magliana - Entrance - Photo courtesy of   In the past, when popes wanted to escape the stifling summer heat in Rome, one of their preferred destinations was Castello della Magliana. Located near the Tiber in the old Magliano area outside Rome, the castle is first found in written history when mentioned in an 11th century document as being in the possession of the Santa Cecilia Monastery in Trastevere. The castle's hey day was during the reign of Pope
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Bracciano - Panorama - Photo courtesy of Mac9/Wikimedia The Orsini Odescalchi Castle is located on the shores of the Bracciano lake, around 20 miles from the city of Rome. Common agreement is that this structure is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, due to its elegant mansion and its elegant but effective military architecture. The rooms are beautifully furnished and decorated with a number of valuable paintings and frescoes. Over the centuries, the castle had been home to several
Friday, June 1st, 2012
rocca maggiore assisi
An old postcard of the Rocca Maggiore Ph. flickr/Miss Shari   The historic city of Assisi is dominated by two large medieval castles. The larger castle is known as Rocca Maggiore which is an imposing bastion that looms over the hill town, intimidating potential invaders. The castle as seen today is mainly the work of Cardinal Albornoz, with several later additions by Popes Pius II and Paul III.   Assisi's Rocca Maggiore dominates the entire skyline with its impressive
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Castel Massimo over the town of Arsoli Castello Massimo is located in the town of Arsoli, in the province of Rome. The castle rises from the top of a steep rock outcrop, which partly overlooks Arsoli. The castle's other side overlooks a beautiful park and the castle's formal gardens. There is a tree-lined avenue from the castle gate that leads to the town, wandering through the castle gardens then down to the town square. The Castle A large part of the beautiful piano nobile is available for
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena is a small comune located in the Liguria region of Italy in the province of Savona. The village is located close to the cities of Savona and Genoa. The village is spread over an area of 16 sq km and has a small population of only 197. Castelvecchio dates back to the 11th century and it still has an old town that clings to the mountain with its characteristic stone houses. The main highlight of the village is its ancient castle that
Friday, June 1st, 2012
  Gualdo Tadino - Rocca Flea (Flea Fortress) - Photo courtesy of Simonecappellini/Wikimedia Rocca Flea, or the Flea Fortress, is a fortified castle located in the town of Gualdo Tadino in the region of Umbria in central Italy. The castle is located on the upper part of the same hill as the town itself. The castle dates back to the reconstruction of the town in 1237 and is thought to have been built during the Lombard times. In the year 1242 the castle was rebuilt by Frederick II and over
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Rome - Castello di Lunghezza - The Portal - Photo courtesy of The Castello di Lunghezza is a medieval fortification that is located around twenty kilometers from the city of Rome. The castle is located in the province of Rome and according to various historians, it is located at the site of the ancient city of Colliata.   History of the Castle It is not known exactly when the castle had been built but according to scholars, the oldest manor in the location had been
Friday, June 1st, 2012
  Upper Albisola and Savona as seen from The Castellaro - Photo courtesy of Gancjo/Flickr Il Castellaro is a small castle located on a hill in the cozy town of Albisola Superiore, in the province of Savona in Liguria. The remains of the castle can be found in the area where the Sansobbia and Riobasco Valleys meet, very close to the famous church of San Nicola. The mild climate and charm of Albisola, along with its impressive architecture and ancient ruins like Il Castellaro, make it
Friday, June 1st, 2012
  Nerola - Castello Orsini, Avezzano Earthquake, 1915 - Photo courtesy of Tabularius/Wikimedia   We've all read fairytales where the castle in the story played almost as big a role as the characters themselves. Who hasn't dreamt of being the princess sleeping in a castle's fluffy bed or a prince storming the walls to save his beloved? As you grow older you begin to wonder if such fanciful places even exist. Well, they do, and one of these castles is situated only a few kilometers from Rome,