Italy and the Catholic Church have shared a long history. The country has been the seat of papal power for generations, and many religious events have taken place within their borders. Every year, thousands of people flock to Vatican City to receive a blessing or tour the magnificent city. However, there are many other pilgrimage sites across the country.
If you are looking to make your own religious journey, or are simply curious, here are seven of the best places to see.
We will start will Assisi, arguably one of the most well-known religious sites after Vatican City. This central Italian town was home to St Francis and St. Clare and where both saints established their holy orders.
Visitors should stop at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Basilica of Saint Clare to pray over the remains of each saint. The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels should also be on the list as it houses the tiny chapel St. Francis built per God’s request. Those are only three of about a dozen religious sites in Assisi. Anyone who visits will be able to explore every step of St. Francis’ life and ministry.
2. The Abbey of San Galgano in Chiusdino
Located in Chiusdino about 20 miles from Siena, The Abbey of San Galgano houses the sword in the stone. The story goes that Galgano was a wealthy lord who was visited by Saint Michael the Archangel. Michael told Galgano to give up his earthly possession and serve God. Galgano responded it would be easier to stab his sword into stone. He went to demonstrate, but instead of bouncing off, his sword slid right in. Galgano then devoted his life to the Lord and lived the rest of his days as a hermit. Four years after his death, he was canonized, and the Abbey of San Galgano was built around the sword and stone, where they remain today.
3.Our Lady of the Flowers in Bra
On a winter evening in 1336, a pregnant woman, named Egidia Mathis, walked past a pillar with the images of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. A little ways further, she came upon two soldiers who meant to harm Egidia. She rushed back to the pillar and prayed to the Mother for her intercession. Suddenly, a bright light shone, and Mary appeared before Egidia and the soldiers. Frightened, both men ran off, leaving Egidia unharmed. Meanwhile, the nearby bushes covered in snow and ice, burst into bloom.
Every year since these bushes have flowered between December 25 and January 15. Additionally, the flowering season has extended each time the Shroud of Turin has been on exhibition. The nearby church, The Sanctuary of Madonna dei Fiori, commemorates this miraculous appearance.
4. The Shroud of Turin
Housed in the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, this ancient linen cloth is believed to be Jesus’ burial shroud. The fabric features an imprint of a man’s face. There are also blood stains that correspond with Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, cuts from the crown of thorns, and lacerations to the back. The apostles reportedly found the shroud in the tomb after Jesus had risen. It is unknown what happened to it in the interim years, but it has been in the Cathedral since 1578.
5. The Incorrupt Body of Saint Angela Merici in Brescia
At the age of 15, Angela Merici began having visions. These visions told her one day she would lead other women to God. Up to this point, Angela had been a devout Christian, but the manifestations increased her devotions and eventually led her to join the Third Order of St. Francis. Fiver years later, she returned to her childhood home of Desenzo and found many of the local girls were uneducated and had little hope for the future. She began teaching the girls about the Catholic faith and had great success in leading them to a life devoted to Christ. Eventually, Angela received another vision, which instructed her to open an official institution for young women’s religious training. She would go on to establish the Institute of Saint Ursula.
Later in her life, Angela made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she was suddenly struck blind. She continued with her journey, and upon her return, her sight was restored. Angela also used to pray at the tombs of the Brescian martyrs at the Church of St. Afra. Later, the Church was renamed, The Church of Saint Angela, after her uncorrupted remains were unearthed in the 1930s. Her remains are still currently preserved there.
6. The Spring of Our Lady of Sorrows
In 1888 in the countryside of Castelpetroso, two farmers were out looking for a missing sheep. They split up, and one of the men located the sheep outside a cave. As the farmer approached, he saw a light inside the cave and a vision of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Cross. When the other farmer arrived, he saw nothing. However, both men returned to the spot ten days later, and the vision appeared again.
Later that same year, after word had spread, the local Bishop visited the spot where he too saw Our Lady of Sorrows. Additionally, a spring appeared near the cave. Since then, thousands have visited the site, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. There is also a nearby Basilica dedicated to this miracle.
7. The Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria
Found on the island of Sardinia, this shrine is the country’s oldest. On March 25, 1370, a storm threatened to sink a merchant ship sailing from Spain. The crew started dumping the cargo overboard to save the ship. They unloaded the biggest crate last, and as soon as it hit the water, the storm stopped. The container eventually washed up on the shores of Bonaria, where the local fishermen attempted to open the crate. When their efforts failed, they called upon the Mercedarian Friars to come out. The friars had no issues with the cargo, and inside they found a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus and a lite candle. The statue now resides in the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria.