Italy is rich with churches that, through the ages demonstrated the faith, the wealth and the creativity of Italy. Whether the church is a destination for you or an opportunity to sit and rest in quiet and, in the summer, in the cool, every church will have something to fascinate you. Everyone is welcome so don’t hesitate to enter any church.
Naturally you will observe the architecture. Even if you don’t know or care about the name of the style, we suggest you consider the “feeling” of the church. What is your emotional response? Awe, welcome, warmth, peace, or, omg what a mess!
Many churches host world famous art and you’ll probably see visitors gravitating to the altars with the art. As a matter of saving the art from the wear of constant illumination and probably mostly to raise a little money, there is a little box that accepts a Euro to give about 5 minutes of illumination.
We love wandering through churches to discover locally revered saints; you can tell which ones they are because there may be a bank of votive candles or even a wall of little silver ex-votos that are offerings of the faithful to thank the saint for their help. Usually they are silver plaques that represent the specialty of the saint. Often it is hearts that usually represent love rather than the physical heart, but you may see a wall of silver plaques of legs or kidneys or even babies when the saint has helped with fertility. You might spot soldiers, legs, heads.
To found a church, it was required in the past that there be a relic of a saint. Some churches have a number of relics. Watch for an altar that has an elaborate display around something that is often unrecognizable. For example this photo is of the relic of the heart of San Carlo Borromeo in the church of Sant’Ambrogio e Carlo in the Spanish Steps neighborhood of Rome. Sometimes, too, the relics are obviously things like the skull of St John the Baptist also in Rome (although it is just one of three claimed skulls).
Please, enjoy these Italian treasures with a little awareness of how to demonstrate your respect. Quiet, of course. If you see a sign to not use cameras, please comply. Do not enter during a Mass, or sit and wait until the ceremony is over. The very most famous churches may have a line and even tickets.
Entry to most churches is free but you can understand how the church requires upkeep and staffing, so we encourage you to consider offering a small donation so that these glorious buildings can be seen for many years to come.
Modesty is required and simply managed. Shoulders and knees should be covered. Our mother was a history buff; she couldn’t pass by a church when we lived in Italy. If our clothes were sleeveless she would quickly tuck a kleenex tissue over the straps of our little sundresses to cover our shoulders. How embarrassing! A good practice is to put a light scarf in your purse to use for your shoulders.
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