The fact that Italy’s religious pilgrimage sites draw countless visitors is no surprise given the country’s significance in the history of Christianity. For those wishing to explore the historical and contemporary destinations of Italy, Collette has packaged a tour that guides you through the country’s most inspiring locations. These shrines, all a part of Collette’s “Shrines of Italy” tour, are strongly rooted in the Christian faith.
St. Peter’s Basilica
A trip to Italy focusing on the country’s most sacred sites would not be complete without a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. This Italian Renaissance masterpiece, the largest church in the world, is known for liturgical functions that draw crowds of up to 80,000 to the basilica and adjoining St. Peter’s Square. The basilica is the burial site of its namesake, Saint Peter, who was the first Bishop of Rome and chief among Jesus’ Apostles. There are more than 100 tombs beneath the shrine as well as works of art in the form of statues, murals and mosaics. A visitor highlight is the climb to the top of the dome, 551 steps up (or 320 steps after a brief elevator ride), which offers a breathtaking view of St. Peter’s and a dramatic panorama of Rome.
Along with St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel is another Vatican City site not to be missed. Located inside the Pope’s residence, the Apostolic Palace, it is most famous for its dramatic artwork gracing the walls and ceilings. Most notable is The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo, under the guidance of Pope Julius II, undertook what is still seen as one of the most impressive artistic accomplishments of all time. Visitors to the chapel will walk through slowly, heads turned to the ceiling, to gaze upon intricate details of the depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and final judgment by God of all humanity. To produce such a work of art on a concave ceiling took skill beyond belief, and to witness this in person is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Basilica of St. Francis
In the town of Assisi, where St. Francis was born and died, lies what many consider to be one of the most important sites of Christian pilgrimage in all of Italy. Not only is it full of historic significance, but it is a beautiful shrine visible on the hillside from many miles away. St. Francis, who talked with the animals, lived and preached a life of simplicity. In the bi-level basilica dedicated to his honor, visitors can pay tribute to the saint while wandering through the upper and lower churches as well as the underground crypt that houses his tomb. You will notice striking differences between the various sites – with the upper church offering a light and airy interior and the lower a more dimly-lit and crypt-like setting.
Shrine of Saint Padre Pio
Padre Pio, born Francesco Forgione, was a prominent figure in the small east coast town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where a shrine named in his honor stands today. Padre Pio was said to have had the ability to read souls, and received the prophecy and miraculous healings, along with most notably, the Stigmata. Due to the high volume of pilgrims making their way to San Giovanni Rotondo, a church was constructed during Padre Pio’s lifetime – the Church of Our Lady of Grace. His body lies inside the church, and a new church called Padre Pio pilgrimage church has been constructed nearby, with capacity for 6,000 pilgrims.
Grotto of Michael the Archangel
On Mount Gargano, not far from San Giovanni Rotondo, lies the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to the Archangel Michael. A visit means walking in the footsteps of pilgrims who have been making their way here since the Middle Ages, to a site that is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 13th century octagonal bell tower signals the site of the shrine, which lies in a rocky grotto. Here visitors will descend a long staircase to arrive at the nave, where they can gaze at beautiful murals and depictions of biblical scenes before heading into the cave of Saint Michael. It is within this site that devotion to the Archangel Michael began, and it is said that the original grotto was consecrated by the archangel himself, rather than by human hands.
Abbey of Santissima Trinta
In the southern Italian region of Basilicata lies a sprawling site that includes both old and unfinished churches and monastery buildings. The old church is of an uncertain date, while construction on the other began in the late 11th century but was never completed. Although much of the site’s history is uncertain, it is believed that some of the elements may date back as far as the eighth century. In the mid-1000s, the church became an abbey thanks to a decree by Pope Nicholas II. While the site is no longer a monastery, it is used by the Trinitarian Order and is a popular site for visitors wishing to explore Italy’s important religious history.
Abbey of Monte Cassino
Standing prominently on the Monte Cassino hillside about 80 miles southeast of Rome, this historic abbey is where St. Benedict of Nursia in 529 established his first monastery, which later became the source of the Benedictine Order. The main building as it stands today was rebuilt after Allied bombings during the Battle of Monte Cassino destroyed it in 1944. The abbey has been visited by many prominent members of the Catholic Church, including Pope Benedict XVI.
Madonna del Rosario Sanctuary
A gem within the famous town of Pompeii, this shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary stands proudly among the restored town center and can’t be missed by visitors paying a visit to Pompeii. Construction on the original building began in the late 1800s, when Bartolo Longo began restoring an old church while at the same time raising funds to bring the painting Our Lady of the Rosary to the church grounds. During this phase, miracles were reported to have taken place at the church, causing pilgrims to flock to the site. As the church became a more prominent pilgrimage destination, the site was expanded in the mid-1900s to hold up to 6,000 visitors. And in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI presented his sixth Golden Rose to the shrine.
Italy is a must-visit destination for those wishing to explore faith, history and culture. Collette’s “Shrines of Italy” tour is the perfect package to ensure you make the most of your visit.