Although Vatican city is a separate state, it’s enclaved within Rome. The home of Pope, the leader of all the Catholics around the world makes a pilgrimage to Italy a must-do for every follower of Jesus.
Although Rome and Holy See are full of important catholic sites, there are many more amazing places that you should visit during your Italy pilgrimage.
From the final resting places of the Saints to churches and sanctuaries- with help of our blogging friends, we’ve covered it all! Keep on reading to discover the absolute best Italy pilgrimage sites.
Here’s the map of the catholic places in Italy that you can find in this post:
Basilica di San Pietro, also known as Saint Peter’s Church is one of the most iconic churches in the world, visited by millions of people every year. It is actually located in the Vatican which is fully enclosed by Italy, and it’s a popular stop for visitors to Rome in Italy. The basilica is one of the holiest Catholic churches in the world, and also the seat of the pope himself. Furthermore, it’s named after Petrus, who is said to be buried under the church.
Some points of interest include Grotte Vaticane, The pillars and the gigantic obelisk, Necropolis (where Petrus is said to be buried), La Pieta (sculpture by Michelangelo) and Cathedra Petri. In total, there are no less than 44 altars, 395 sculptures, 778 pillars and 135 mosaics in Saint Peter’s Church in the Vatican. It’s also one of the largest churches in the world with a spectacular dome with fine details and paintings.
The entrance is free, so if you come here in the morning, the lines will be relatively short. It’s the security check that takes time when all the tourist crowds arrive. There is also the possibility to buy a so-called skip the line ticket.
Additionally, as this is a holy site that is highly religious and very much still active, visitors must cover themselves and wear appropriate clothes with no bare shoulders. Both women and men should wear long pants as the dress code is very strict.
San Giovanni Rotondo
Why it’s one of the best Italy pilgrimage sites? San Giovanni Rotondo is a place where Padre Pio, one of the most famous Christians of the 20th century, has been living.
Padre Pio has been talking with God since he was a little boy. He has received the stigmata similar to the wounds of Christ, he was supposed to appear in the two distinct places at the same time (bilocation). Some say that he knew the sinners’ sins during the confession.
It’s believed that when Karol Wojtyla, a cardinal from Poland came visit him, he received the prophecy to become a pope one day. It became true after Padre Pio died. Karol Wojtyla has become John Paul II in 1978.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are visiting San Giovanni Rotondo to this day only to visit the tomb of Padre Pio that is located in the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
The Basilica of Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and arguably the largest in the world. Located only 850m or an easy 10-minute walk from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, it is a church well worth visiting.
Whilst the Duomo is stunning and the main place of worship to visit, Santa Croce possesses greater cultural and religious significance.
Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1294 and 1385, Santa Croce is famous as the burial place of illustrious writers, painters, architects, and composers such as Rossini, Machiavelli, Galilei, Ghiberti and none other than the great Michelangelo. For Dante lovers, he was once buried there but no longer.
His sarcophagus is empty and a memorial was erected instead. Hence, this place is also known as “The Temple of Italian Glories”.
Whilst most people visit Santa Croce to pay homage to these tombs, it is actually the frescoes by Giotto in the chapels to the right of the altar that should command our attention.
Of the 16 chapels found in the basilica, the Peruzzi chapel covering the stories of the Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist and the Bardi family chapel which he painted seven episodes from the life of St. Francis, that is most magnificent.
The compound also possesses 3 cloisters, designed for silent contemplation, prayer, and meditation. You may walk around this area freely as you explore the magnificence of this church.
Basilica di San Nicola in Bari
Bari, the capital of the Puglia region, is largely overlooked by tourists, who use the city mostly as a jumping-off point from which to catch a ferry elsewhere in the Mediterranean. But for Christian pilgrims, both Catholic and Orthodox alike, it’s a very important pilgrimage destination.
This is because Bari is the resting place of San Nicola, or St. Nicholas as he’s known in English. And yes, we’re talking about the same St. Nick who’s also known as Santa Claus!
Though the saint was originally from Turkey, in the 11th century a group of merchants from Bari stole his body and brought it back here with them, fearing that it would be desecrated by the Seljuq Turks if it stayed in Turkey. The Basilica di San Nicola was built shortly thereafter, and his body has been kept in the underground crypt ever since. From the outside, it looks more like a castle than a church. And indeed, it has been used as a castle several times over the course of its long history.
While there are some festivities on December 6, the official day of St. Nicholas according to the Catholic calendar, in Bari an even larger celebration of the saint takes place from 6 to 8 May. Events include a large fireworks display and historical reenactments. And of course, Christmas Day is also a wonderful time to come to Bari and pay homage to St. Nicholas!
The Sanctuary of Castelmonte
San Domenico Basilica in Siena
Siena is home to one of the Patrons Saint of Italy, Saint Catherine. Catherine was a local woman who devoted herself to the church. She was a mystic and advisor to many popes, princes, and cardinals.
Her reputation within the church was so strong that even as a woman, she was sent on missions and negotiated peace on behalf of the pope. After her death, devotion to her rose rapidly.
Catherine was buried in the cemetery of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva which lies near the Pantheon in Rome and later moved inside the Basilica, where she lies to this day.
However, as she was born in Siena, this created great unrest in her home city. Rumour has it that some of the people of Siena tried to smuggle her whole body out of Rome and instead decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag. When they were stopped by Roman guards, they prayed to Catherine to help them, confident that she would rather have her body (or at least part of it) in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it was full of rose petals.
Wherever the truth lies, Saint Catherine’s head is now on display and rests in The Chapel of Saint Catherine, in San Domenico Basilica, Siena. Rather a gruesome tale, however, Catherine is still considered one of the most prominent spiritual writers and someone with great boldness as women were not influencers of politics or history at this point in time.
To find San Domenico Basilica, head to the top of the hill Camporegio where you will see a huge Gothic red brick building. This is the resting place of Saint Catherine in Siena and has wonderful views over the city.
The St. Francis Basilica in Assisi
The St. Francis Basilica is one of the best destinations for the pilgrimage to Italy and to Europe in general. It is an incredible jewel in the crown of spiritual buildings in the city built in the 13th century in honor of St. Francis.
Assisi has been a UNESCO Site since 2000 and it attracts 5.5 million pilgrims, art lovers, and tourists from all over the world. Having been completed in 1253, the Basilica di San Francesco is the oldest Gothic church in Italy.
In fact, the basilica contains two churches, the upper one and the lower one. Since the church was designated as the headquarters of the Franciscan order the interior is beyond any comprehension.
The Upper Basilica has a different architectural style compared to the Lower Basilica. The Lower Basilica was built in the Romanesque style while the Upper Basilica is built in the Gothic style.
The interior of the Upper Church is a fine early example of the Gothic style in the country. Both churches are decorated with stunning frescoes by various late medieval painters. There is also a burial place of St. Francis near the Lower Basilica of Assisi.
While here, you can take a guided tour of the Basilica to learn about St. Francis and marvel at the magnificent frescoes. Given its significance as well as grandeur, the St. Francis Basilica is definitely a place to stop by. It’s a perfect spot to sit and watch the world pass you by.
The Basilica Duomo di San Vigilio in Trento
The Basilica Duomo di San Vigilio in Trento, Italy is a gorgeous example of a Romanesque Basilica and an important Pilgrimage site in Italy.
The Basilica is dedicated to San Vigilio, whose tomb you can visit in the crypt of the church. Saint Vigilius or San Vigilio lived in the 4th century and was said to have brought Christianity throughout the North of Italy, and was eventually martyred for doing so.
Connected to the Trento Basilica is the Cammino San Vili, a pilgrimage route through the surrounding towns passing many beautiful painted churches. You can follow the Cammino San Vili, or the San Vili Path, away from Trento to commemorate the route San Vigilio followed as he spread Christianity, or from Madonna di Campiglio back to Trento to commemorate the route taken when his body was carried back to Trento.
Whether for religious motivation or not, the San Vili Path offers gorgeous scenery through the Dolomites and passes through lovely small Italian towns. The city of Trento itself offers a castle to tour, a cable car to stunning views, a Diocesan Museum filled with relics and treasures from the Cathedral.
Call the Painted City, Trento is home to many famous and unique murals painted to commemorate the Council of Trent in 1545.
You can easily reach Trento within a few hours via train from Milan or Verona, and the city makes an excellent day-trip from Verona or Padova if you are looking for a cool, mountainous escape.
The Holy Face in Lucca
The Volto Santo (Holy Face) is a wooden relic housed in the St. Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca, one of the prettiest towns in Tuscany.
According to the legend the Holy Face was carved out of nut wood by Nicodemo after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to represent his real features, in fact, the details of the face, in particular, are really impressive.
The statue is said to have reached the port of Luni by a crew-less boat driven by the Divine Providence and then transported to the city of Lucca in 842.
Since then it has drawn the attention of pilgrims from all over Europe walking the medieval route from Canterbury to Rome known as the Via Francigena.
The Holy Face is still today one of the most mystic and worshipped symbols of Christianity in Italy and has contributed to creating its own alternative pilgrimage route called “Via del Volto Santo”, stretching for almost 200 km from Pontremoli in Lunigiana (historic area in Northern Tuscany) to Lucca.
Following the ancient pilgrims’ footsteps, you walk past picturesque medieval villages that seem suspended in time and across mesmerizing landscapes of the Apennine range.
Walking this route is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an opportunity for an inner journey too.
You will find the mysterious symbol of a labyrinth both at the departing town of Pontremoli (kept inside St. Peter’s Church) and at the arrival point, where it is carved on a marble column at the entrance of St. Martyn’s Cathedral, to remind you of all the challenges you have to face in life to find your way and find yourself.
Colosseum in Rome
The Colosseum in Rome is an ancient amphitheater where games used to take place. Fights between animals, between humans and animals and between humans were common.
In addition to the bloody fights, there were also performances by acrobats, flute players, and other artists. The bloody games were forbidden in AD 404. by Emperor Honorius.
Today the Colosseum is one of the most famous sights in Rome and is known far beyond the country’s borders. It is a truly stately monument that belongs to the new seven wonders of the world.
What many people don’t know is that the Colosseum is also known by many as the site of the deaths of early martyrs. It is visited by many of the faith because early Christians are said to have been martyred there.
While it is not approved by all historians, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the Colosseum in the 18th century as a sacred and holy place.
Also, popes still conduct the Stations of the Cross there every Good Friday. Although it is a pilgrimage site, you pay admission.
The regular admission price for the Colosseum is currently 12 euros. Visitors who come from an EU country and are between 18 and 25 years old pay only 7.50 € admission. You can be sure that it’s totally worth it.
Cammino di Sant’Efisio
One of the most interesting pilgrimages in Italy is the Cammino di Sant’Efisio, which takes place each year between the Cagliari (the capital of Sardinia) and a small church in Nora, at about 50 km from town. The pilgrimage was first celebrated in 1656 to honor the saint who helped defeat the plague which had affected the island for more than 10 years.
People believe in Sant’Efisio power so much that they are invoking him to help us fight the current virus. As the celebrations occur between 1 and 4 May each year, it is likely that the pilgrimage won’t occur in 2020.
The pilgrimage starts in Cagliari’s quarter of Stampace, in Sant’Efisio church. Representatives of a number of villages in Sardinia, all dressed in traditional clothes, walk down to the area of the harbor and then all the way to a small church in Nora.
The statue of the saint leaves the church at around 1:00 pm on a traditional carriage pulled by beautifully adorned bulls. Traditional music plays throughout the pilgrimage.
From Nora, the statue of Sant’Efisio is taken back to the church where it normally sits in Cagliari, where it arrives on 4 May, amidst massive celebrations.
Each year thousands of locals and tourists alike crowd the streets of Cagliari for the traditional parade.
Basilica di San Marco in Venice
If you are looking for religious places in Italy, you cannot afford to miss Basilica di San Marco, commonly known as Saint Mark’s Basilica. Italy is not a cheap European country but visiting this year-old church is completely FREE. This cathedral church is one of the most famous churches in Italy located at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco. Though Venice has a number of churches, but this old church attracts thousands of pilgrims for its gorgeous Italo-Byzantine architecture.
This historic church was built in 828 and it was connected to the Doge’s Palace, another popular tourist attraction in San Marco. The palace was originally built to be the private chapel of the Doge (the chief magistrate of the former Republic of Venice). At present this site is a preeminent example of Venetian-Gothic architecture and houses an art museum.
The main highlight of this church building is the golden mosaics, of which over 8000 square meters are covering the walls, ceilings and domes. Admire the beauty of its outstanding interior of gilded walls, marble floors and an enormous collection of works of art.
Before you leave this place, visit the famous Harry’s Bar, a truly expatriate experience and try two Italian treats that were invented here, the Bellini prosecco cocktail and the carpaccio meat dish.
Tips: Please wear an appropriate dress, and try to keep your voice down so as not to disturb worshipers. The use of photo and movie cameras is forbidden inside the church.
Lipari Island and Volcano
Lipari island off the coast of north-western Sicily is home to one of Italy’s more curious pilgrimage sites.
The largest of the seven volcanic islands that make up the Aeolian Archipelago, Lipari has been venerated by Catholics since the Middle Ages. In medieval times, worshippers descended on the volcano, believing that the crater was the mouth of hell. Even though the volcano is dormant and hasn’t erupted since the year 1230, it has a menacing presence and continues to be venerated.
Today, visitors who arrive on Lipari by hydrofoil from Milazzo or Messina come in search of heavenly rather than hellish landscapes. Driving or hiking around the coast reveals breathtaking scenery, including pumice stone cliffs and black-sand beaches.
Modern-day Catholic pilgrims still descend on Lipari every August to join the island’s residents for the annual Feast of St. Bartholomew.
The most important event on the Aeolian Islands’ calendar, it commemorates their patron saint, Bartholomew, one of the 12 Apostles and the founder of the Armenian Church. His relics are kept inside the Basilica Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, a 16th-century church in Lipari’s fortified Old Town.
The week-long celebrations involve fireworks, processions, markets, and concerts in the Marina Corta square.
Duomo in Naples
There are so many things to do in Naples, Italy, but at least one should always be on your itinerary if you want to understand how Neapolitans deal with religion.
The oldest part of the city is, in fact, a labyrinth of narrow “vicoli”, filled with niches with religious statues and modern wall art, usually representing San Gennaro (Saint Januarius, translated from Italian).
Neapolitans love their patron saint and visit his Duomo whenever they feel troubled or in need of help. According to the local folklore, San Gennaro has always protected Naples from Mount Vesuvius. The legends say he stopped the lava, saving the city more than once.
Inside the Duomo there’s a small ampoule where the blood of San Gennaro has been stored. Three times per year, people from all over the world plan a pilgrimage to the Naples Cathedral to see a “miracle”.
The blood, usually dry and solid, suddenly liquefies. The whole city of Naples breathes a sigh of relief when that happens: it means that San Gennaro isn’t mad and that he’ll keep on protecting the city. According to the local legends, in fact, if the blood stays solid, a horrible tragedy will befall Naples.
The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua
The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua is one of the most visited pilgrimage shrines in Italy. Saint Anthony was an important disciple of Saint Francis of Assisi, and eventually surpassed him in popularity. He is buried in the basilica.
Saint Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and joined the Franciscan Order at a young age. He helped expand the Order into France and eventually became an envoy to the Pope. He sadly died in his mid 30s while on his way to Padua, and canonized less than a year from the day he died.
One of the largest churches built in Italy during medieval times, the Basilica of Saint Anthony is a complex that includes the small church where the saint is buried. Known simply as “Il Santo,” the church is one of eight international pilgrimage sites recognized by the Holy See.
Visiting the Basilica of Saint Anthony, with its magnificent domes reminiscent of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, is one of the top things to do in Padua. The brick facade is largely Romanesque, and the interior holds a number of funerary monuments. Ornate chapels feature beautiful religious art.
The relics of Saint Anthony are in the beautiful Baroque Treasury Chapel. The saint’s chin, and tongue, are on display. Each year, on June 13, the birthday of the saint, large numbers of pilgrims visit the Basilica of Saint Anthony to pay their respects.
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