Religious tourism in Italy
Christian tours, pilgrimages, religious resources and guidebooks, and how to attend mass in an Italian churchThe church of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan was founded by Saint Ambrose himself in the 4th century, when he was Bishop of Milan and Milan was, briefly, capital of the Western Roman Empire
• The Christian Travel Planner
• Catholic Shrines of Western Europe: A Pilgrim's Travel Guide
• A Catholic's Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City
• Christian Travelers Guide to Italy
• The Madonnas of Europe
• Lodging in Italy's Monasteries
• Bed and Blessings Italy
• Europe's Monastery and Convent Guesthouses: A Pilgrim's Travel Guide
Tours & Activities
I don't think I am going to shock anybody if I state that Italy is a Catholic country. Has something to do with having the Vicar of Christ himself as the parish priest of a little church in Rome they call St. Peter's.
(Well, OK, so technically the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, not a parish priest, and technically his cathedral is San Giovanni in Laterano, not St. Peter's. OK, hands up—and be honest—if you knew that.)
Religious convictions and an interest in the roots of one's faith are an important part of many people's trips to Italy, whether it's a full-blown pilgrimage or merely lighting a candle and offering a prayer in each church you visit.
Whether it's paying respects to St. Francis at his basilica in Assisi, hearing the Pope give mass at St. Peter's in Rome, or visiting a pilgrimage site, thousands of visitors to Italy are there, at least in part, to honor their God and make worship a part of their travel experience.
The resources, tours, and books listed below can help point you in the right directions to find the best tools to make your pilgrimage (or just the religious aspects of your trip) as memorable as possible.
(Note that, though currently this section is devoted to Christian travelers. There is also a page with information on Jewish Italy.)
Attending mass in an Italian church
Drop His Holiness a line
Yes, this really is the Pope's actual email address. Please, no spam: email@example.comTo the best of my ability, I will endeavor to list the times you can attend mass, vespers, Gregorian chant, and other scheduled services for every church in every town described on this site, from St. Peter's on down. This is not only for the benefit of religiously-minded visitors, but for everybody—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and non-believer alike.
Even nuns go on vacation—this group is visiting the shrine of St. Dominic (whose tomb was partly sculpted by a very young Michelangelo) in the Basilica di San Domenico in Bologna, Italy
You travel to experience the local culture, no? Well, Italy is a deeply Catholic country (heck, it's the Catholic country), and while most modern Italians are fairly non-observant in their daily lives and may only attend church on major holidays, religion and the church still exert a huge influence on Italy's culture and, obviously, its history.
Attending mass at least once on your visit is as much a cultural experience as attending a soccer match, taking a cooking class, participating in a festival, or watching an Italian variety show on TV (four other activities I highly recommend).
So take at least one Sunday morning of your trip and take in a service. My recommendations:
- Mass at St. Peter's in Rome - for obvious reasons; and, since it does mass nearly constantly—around the clock every day of the week—you don't even have to wait until Sunday
- The 6:45pm Sunday mass at St. Marks Cathedral in Venice - It's a nice service and all, but the real reason is because this is the only time they throw the Big Switch and illuminate every last inch of the 40,000 square feet of glittering gold Byzantine mosaics that carpet the domes, arches, ceiling, and walls inside. Wow.
Whether or not you choose to take confession, I'll leave up to you.
Religious Resources.org (www.ReligiousResources.org) - The travel page (under the "commercial" category) has around three dozen tour companies and other resources, half of them devoted to Europe.
Overseas Express (www.ovex.com) - Travel agency specializing in missionaries, church employees, and humanitarian workers.
Unitours (www.unitours.com) - Well-established (1957) Christian tour and pilgrimage company for both Catholics and Protestants, offering dozens of tours and trips, including many dozens to Italy.
Art to Heart (www.arttoheartweb.com/christian_travel.htm) - Religiously-themed tours of Europe with an emphasis on art.
Glory Tours (www.glory-tours.com) - Tour company specializing in overseas religious tours and pilgrimages.
Christus Rex (www.christusrex.org) - A nonprofit devoted to sharing with the world images of art and architecture from churches, cathedrals, and monasteries around the globe. Pretty much since the Web's inception, it's been the best (albeit unofficial) website about the Vatican—including its museums. Plus, in the "Splendors of Christendom" section, there are links to lots of churches and cathedrals (largely in France and Italy).
Christian Travelers Guide (www.christian-travelers-guides.com) - Website run by Irving Hexham—a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary—with a sampler of sections from his "Christian Travelers Guides" books to Italy, France, Germany, and Great Britain (see below).
From our partners at Viator:
- The Christian Travel Planner by Kevin J. Wright (2008)
- Catholic Shrines of Western Europe: A Pilgrim's Travel Guide by Kevin J. Wright (1997)
- A Catholic's Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City by Frank J. Korn (2000)
- Christian Travelers Guide to Italy ed. by Irving Hexham (2001)
- The Madonnas of Europe by Janusz Rosikon (2001)
Guidebooks to religious lodgings
- Europe's Monastery and Convent Guesthouses: A Pilgrim's Travel Guide by Kevin J. Wright (buy it)
- Good Night and God Bless: A Guide to Convent and Monastery Accommodation in Europe, Volume I (Italy, Austria, Czech Republic) by Trish Clark (buy it)
- Bed and Blessings Italy by Anne and June Walsh (buy it)
- Staying in monasteries
- Staying in convents
- Papal audiences
- St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
- Jewish Italy
- Tours FAQ (what questions to ask, are tours right for you, etc.)
- Escorted group tours
- Educational tours (cooking, language, art/history/cultural, study)
- Active vacations (bike, hike, horse)
- Special interest & niche tours (family, seniors, student, women, gay/lesbian, religious, handicapped, singles)
- Vacation packages (air-hotel, air-car, untours)
- Design your own group tour
- Private guides
This material was last updated December 2010. All information was accurate at the time.
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