Italy is a land of wonder and enchantment, steeped in rich history and culture that has captivated pilgrims for centuries. Italy is the cradle of Christianity in the West, and at the heart of Italy and Christian Faith is the majestic Vatican, an iconic symbol of faith and spirituality that draws countless visitors each year. From the haunting beauty of ancient churches to the awe-inspiring magnificence of its towering shrines, Italy is a spiritual destination like no other.
For those seeking a meaningful journey, there is no better place to explore the mysteries and wonders of faith than through a pilgrimage to Italy, this timeless land of rolling hills and ancient cities. With its grandeur and solemnity, Italy beckons pilgrims to embark on a journey of self-discovery and exploration, where they can immerse themselves in the wealth of the many pilgrimage sites in Italy.
Pilgrims seeking to deepen their faith should make sure to visit the top pilgrimage sites in Italy, which include St. Peter’s Basilica, The Montecassino Abbey, St. Marks Basilica in Venice and so many more.
Each of these sites holds immense cultural and spiritual significance, making them excellent places to start one’s pilgrimage journey in Italy. From incredible pilgrim walks and sacred architecture to stunning artwork, each pilgrimage site in Italy has something special to offer, leaving an indescribable impression on any traveler seeking connection with their faith.
It is no wonder that millions of travelers from all over the world journey to Italy each year in search of spiritual inspiration. Whether one seeks out the Vatican or any of the other sacred sites scattered throughout Italy, the experience is sure to leave a lasting impact on one’s heart and soul.
Top Pilgrimage Sites in Italy
The Vatican – Near Rome
Vatican City is one of the most important religious sites in the world for Catholics, as it is the home of the Pope and the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a stunning building, flanked by colonnaded arcades and classical statuary. The basilica is built over the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and the first pope. The faithful flock to Piazza san Petro, one of the most famous piazzas in Rome, for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of receiving a blessing from the Pope.
You’ll also want to visit the Vatican Museums to see the wealth of incredible sculptures and Renaissance art. The highlight of a visit to the Vatican Museums is seeing the world-famous Sistine Chapel. The Chapel’s art is awe-inspiring, especially The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance, as these are extremely popular and will sell out.
Vatican City is actually the smallest country of the world, and it is located completely inside of Rome, Italy. Travel to the Vatican the same way that you travel to Rome, via the Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport. And while you’re here, explore Rome’s top historical sites such as the Colosseum and fantastic museums such as the Villa Borghese.
The Route of the Seven Churches, Rome
The Route of the Seven Churches is Rome’s most famous pilgrimage, which was revived by Saint Philip Neri in the 16th century. The pilgrimage is linked to the medieval tradition of Roman pilgrims visiting the tombs of Peter and Paul, and it involves visiting the seven jubilee basilicas of the Eternal City.
The pilgrimage was initially a personal initiative of Saint Philip Neri and his disciples, who called it “visits.” It later became a stable and organized practice, with a fixed day of the year dedicated to it, Maundy Thursday.
It was a successful initiative because it combined moments of prayer with others of leisure, making it a moment of spiritual gathering and inner renewal. The entire journey was done in about two days, and each section of the itinerary represented one of Christ’s seven journeys during the Passion. Pilgrims were first visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica and ended at the Basilica of St. Paul.
This pilgrimage was a great moment of conviviality, and it emphasized community religious life and spirituality to be lived as a group, precisely as an essential moment of Catholic religiosity.
The faithful had to pass through the Holy Doors of Rome’s four major basilicas and, to complete the itinerary, visit three other churches-symbols of Rome.
The seven churches, including basilicas, are:
- San Pietro
- San Paolo Fuori le Mura
- San Sebastiano
- San Giovanni in Laterano
- Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
- San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura
- Santa Maria Maggiore
If you want to attempt this pilgrimage, know that it is about 16 miles of walking.
In these churches, you will have the chance to discover incredible works of art such as paintings to some of Rome’s most famous sculptures.
Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi – Assisi, Italy
Assisi, Italy is a town renowned for its historical and spiritual significance, primarily associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most revered figures in Catholicism.
Assisi is the birthplace and final resting place of Saint Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order and one of the most beloved saints in Christian history. Pilgrims visit Assisi to connect with the life and teachings of Saint Francis, who embraced a life of poverty, simplicity, and compassion.
Pilgrims to Assisi should first visit the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a magnificent architectural masterpiece. Divided into the Upper Basilica and the Lower Basilica, it houses exquisite frescoes by renowned artists like Giotto and Cimabue.
Assisi is home to several other significant religious sites, including the Basilica of Santa Chiara (dedicated to Saint Clare, a contemporary of Saint Francis), the Cathedral of San Rufino, and the Hermitage of the Carceri (a peaceful retreat nestled in the nearby mountains).
For any traveler, Assisi is situated amidst the picturesque Umbrian countryside, offering breathtaking vistas and serene landscapes. The town itself features charming medieval architecture, narrow streets, and delightful local cuisine, providing a delightful backdrop to your pilgrimage.
it’s easy to get to Assisi by train – many trains arrive daily from all the major Italian cities at the Assisi Santa Maria degli Angeli, which is located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the center of Assisi. Once you arrive at the Assisi train station, you can take a local bus or a taxi to the center of Assisi. It’s also possible to travel to Assisi by car and by bus.
Once you arrive in Assisi, the town is relatively small and easily navigable on foot. The historical center, where most of the attractions are located, is pedestrian-friendly and best explored by walking. Public buses and taxis are also available for getting around the town and its surroundings if needed.
Holy Shroud – Turin, Italy
The Holy Shroud, also called Turin Shroud, is a religious artifact surrounded by faith, mystery, and controversy. Many believe it is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ and that it bears an imprint of his body. For centuries, pilgrims from all over the world have come to Turin to see it. The Holy Shroud in Tourin is, without a doubt, one of the most important and spiritually moving pilgrimage sites in Italy.
The Holy Shroud is housed in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. The original shroud is not displayed to the public, but pilgrims can see and stay close to the place where it is kept safe. It is an altar with the image of the Holy Shroud.
On special and rare occasions, the shroud is taken from its safe place and displayed to the public. There is no fixed calendar for these events, but you can keep an eye on the Sidone Museum website for all the news and information about the Holy Shroud.
You can also visit the Museum of the Shroud (Il Museo della Sidone in Italian) to learn more about its history and all the studies done about it. The museum is located 10 minutes walk from the cathedral.
For those planning a visit to the Holy Shroud, the best place to stay is near the cathedral or the Royal Palace. Turin has an international airport and getting to the city center is easy. You can get around by metro, bus and tram. The city center is rich in history, culture and architecture, being the heart of Turin’s royal past.
Here is a comprehensive guide to visiting the Holy Shroud in Turin, with tips on where to stay and the religious museums and sites to visit.
The Via Francigena
Via Francigena is an ancient pilgrimage route that crosses Europe, stretching from Canterbury in England to Rome, in Italy. It is a 3,000 kilometres pilgrimage in Italy and Europe was first walked in the 9th century, by Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury who after was appointed by Pope John XV, walked home recording all the places where he stopped overnight.
The pilgrimage on Via Francigena is a symbolic way to reach the Eternal City of Rome, and the Vatican, the home to Catholicism in Europe.
The name of the Via Francigena means “the road that comes from France”, because it was connecting Italy with France and further on, the rest of Europe. Initially, the road was used for trade between the south and the north of Europe.
Modern pilgrims don’t walk the entire route from Canterbury to Rome but choose the much shorter stretch from Florence to Rome or the other way around. The Italian pilgrimage crosses beautiful Tuscany with its rolling hills, through charming villages, and alongside slow rivers. As all roads lead to Rome, this is where the pilgrimage ends, and where the pilgrims can reward themselves with a hearty traditional Roman meal.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the great Renaissance city of progress and art, in Florence, Tuscany. Known as one of the largest cathedrals in the world, it has been an inspiration over the ages for other cathedral and church builders across the continent, making it one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy.
The outer white marble walls are decorated with intricate green and red marble details and the inlay marble work of the indoor floors showcases the great craftsmanship of its time. The pastel colors of the facade, the bell tower, the large red dome as well as the vibrant medieval stained-glass windows are invigorating.
Some of the most renowned Florentine artists, such as Donatello, had a hand in decorating the gothic architecture. The duomo of Florence is a must-see when in Florence.
Other notable points of interests in Florence are the medieval stone bridge known as Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti palace with the Boboli gardens.
The convenient way to get to Florence is by train because connections are regular and affordable. Moreover, the best way to get around in Florence is by foot because most sites are not all too far from each other.
St Mark’s Basilica, Venice
Explore one of the world’s most magnificent churches, St. Mark’s Basilica, also known as Basilica di San Marco in Italian. It is situated at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, the main square of Venice. It is widely renowned as one of the most admirable Byzantine architecture in the world and one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks.
You can explore the main nave of St. Mark’s Basilica, adorned with numerous works of art and relics, and the crypt where St. Mark’s remains are said to be housed. The basilica’s interior is equally stunning, with its soaring arches, gold leaf mosaics, and elaborate marble carvings.
The quickest way to travel from the Rialto Bridge in Venice to St. Mark’s Basilica is by walking. This is because the Church is situated in the southern part of the island, and the only public transportation option available to get there is by ferry.
St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, is considered a significant pilgrimage site for many Christians due to its connection to St. Mark, one of the four evangelists and the patron saint of Venice.
There are many things you can do around St Mark’s Basilica. Admire the beautiful 16th-century Saint Mark’s clock tower. Experience a Gondola ride and be mesmerized by the outstanding view of the Canal Grande!
St. Mark’s Basilica is a must-visit, it is a place of great spiritual and cultural importance, and its connection to St. Mark and the Christian faith makes it a meaningful pilgrimage site in Italy for those seeking to deepen their faith and connect with the history and traditions of the Church.
San Luca Pilgrims’ Walk in Bologna
The San Luca pilgrims’ walk is the pilgrimage walk to San Luca Basilica, that is on a hill overlooking Bologna in Italy. The walk includes walking the entire length of the Portico di San Luca which is 3.8km long. Thus, it is the longest portico in the world, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 666 arches on the way up to the church, with many icons and artworks to see on the way.
The church is a pilgrimage site in Italy because of the shrine of the Madonna inside. This dates back to a story from 1160, when a Greek Pilgrim carried the painting of the Madonna with Child towards Rome, then found his way here.
The pilgrimage walk is splendid and lots to see on the way up to the church. When at San Luca you can also visit a viewpoint in the tower.
Located along the Via Francigena, one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in Italy, the beautiful Tuscan city of Lucca is a fantastic place to visit for travelers looking to explore pilgrimage sites!
Nicknamed (among other things) the “City of 100 Churches”, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to pilgrimage destinations within Lucca’s historic city walls.
Traditional pilgrimage stops in Lucca include the Cathedral of San Martino, the Basilica of San Freidano, and the Basilica of San Michele en Foro.
The two basilicas are each home to a well-preserved mummy–in the case of the Basilica of Michele en Foro, specifically the mummy of an 11th century Armenian pilgrim who passed through Lucca along the Via Francigena.
Outside of pilgrimage sites, there are plenty of other fun things to do in Lucca, too!
Be sure to stroll along the intact city walls that encircle Lucca’s historic center, visit the city’s garden in the sky at Torre Guingi, and enjoy people-watching in the oval-shaped Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.
As a beautiful and well-connected city in northern Tuscany, Lucca is easy to reach by train and lies a little over an hour from Florence.
It’s also only 30 minutes by train from Pisa, and visitors often combine both Lucca and Pisa into one day trip from Florence.
If you are able to spend a few nights in Lucca, though, you won’t be sorry to have longer to save this beautiful place.
The Montecassino Abbey
Situated in Italy’s Lazio region, the Montecassino Abbey is a popular pilgrimage site for those seeking a blend of spiritual, historical, and natural experiences. Known as the ‘Lighthouse of Western Civilization’, this abbey holds a significant place in Western Christianity and is one of Europe’s oldest monasteries.
A short drive from Rome, the abbey’s location offers breathtaking views of the Latin Valley and the snow-capped Abruzzo Mountains. The abbey has a resilient history, having been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, most recently after WWII when it was the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
You can explore the abbey’s grand architecture, including the cathedral-basilica adorned with golden relics and frescoes, the crypt with golden mosaics of religious figures, and the Monte Cassino Museum, which houses ancient manuscripts and a Roman well.
The chapel of Monte Cassino, just down the hill from the Abbey, is another religious and pilgrimage site. The shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and it is believed that a novena to Our Lady of Monte Cassino saved St. Meinrad village from a smallpox epidemic in 1871.
The Abbey is accessible via a switchback road from Cassino, a small town 130km southeast of Rome, and a bus service runs from the Cassino train station to Montecassino. The Abbey is open every day, but hours vary, so check before you go. While visiting, ensure to respect the dress code for churches and refrain from eating or drinking inside.
Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia
Every July, pilgrims flock to Palermo, Sicily, for the Festival of Santa Rosalia. To show their devotion, the pilgrims make the steep trek up Monte Pellegrino, barefoot, to visit the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia.
The sanctuary, built within a cramped cave at the top of the mountain, contains the remains of Palermo’s patron saint.
Internationally, Santa Rosalia is the saint invoked during times of plague, and visitors to her shrine in Palermo often pray that she heal their ailments. At the entrance to her shrine, you’ll see crutches, prosthetics, and other medical devices left by the faithful who have been healed by Santa Rosalia.
While the hike from Palermo to the top of Monte Pellegrino takes a grueling two hours, those interested in seeing the shrine without breaking a sweat can opt to take a public bus or taxi ride to the top. Better yet, make this a stop on your Sicily road trip itinerary!
While the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia is the most important pilgrimage site in Palermo, there are many other churches to explore in the city. One of the most stunning is the Palatine Chapel. This intimate chapel within Palermo’s Norman palace is decorated floor to ceiling with gilded Byzantine mosaics. Once the private chapel of Sicilian royalty, this beautiful religious space can now be enjoyed by all.
St. Padre Pio Shrine
St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina is one of the most worshipped Catholic saints.
Padre Pio was the most famous stigmata and the greatest mystic of the 20th century. Many miracles have been attributed to Padre Pio’s intercessions.
Padre Pio Shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo is among the largest churches in Italy today. Besides that, this monumental shrine has been built only by the means of faithful. After all, 300.000 faithful attended the canonization mass in the Vatican in 2002 when Pope John Paul II proclaimed him a saint.
Today St Padre Pio Shrine, which holds the intact body of Padre Pio, receives about 6 million visitors a year and is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the world.
The Padre Pio Shrine is in the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy. Padre Pio lived in this small southern Italian town most of his life. The closest airport to San Giovanni Rotondo is Bari. San Giovanni Rotondo is less than a two-hour drive from Bari Airport. San Giovanni Rotondo is also about 2 hour and a half drive from Naples. The Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel is a short drive from San Giovanni Rotondo.
The Sanctuary stands above the cave where Saint Michael the Archangel appeared on Earth for the first time. Many popes, saints, royals, noblemen, and ordinary people made their pilgrimage to this site. St Francis of Assisi was among them. However, he never entered the cave. St Francis felt unworthy of entering it. Instead, he kissed the stone and carved the tau sign at the entrance.
Head to southern Italy and visit Padre Pio Shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo and the nearby Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel!
The Cathedral of Pisa, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture and is one of the most famous sacred sites in Italy. It was built as early as 1118 and is located right next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In the Middle Ages, Pisa was a religious center of the region and, on top of that, an important destination for pilgrims who wanted to go to Rome or even further to Jerusalem.
Today, believers come from all over the world to visit the cathedral but of course also to see the famous tower. Also interesting is the Cathedral Museum, located just a few steps from the cathedral!
Built by merchants from Pisa and renovated over the years, the cathedral shines with a mix of Islamic, classical and Byzantine elements. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the freestanding bell tower of the cathedral and can even be climbed today. In addition, a special feature is the exterior facade made of Carrara marble, with the alternating black and white tones.
The city of Pisa has its own international airport. In addition, the city can also be reached quickly from Florence by train or bus.
Sacre Monte di Orta
On the eastern shore of Lake Orta Italy lies the charming medieval village of Orta San Giulio, a wonderful destination to spend a few days. Located in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, the town is an easy and leisurely drive from Milan of just over one hour.
Across from the village on a hill overlooking the lake is the Sacre Monte di Orta, a Roman Catholic “sacred mountain” complex dedicated to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Work on the site began in 1583 and today includes twenty separate chapels that can be visited as you follow the path through the elegantly landscaped site.
Inside the chapels, you will find preserved frescoes, sculptures, and works of art created by some of the most prominent artisans of the day. The path through the gardens ends at the church of San Nicolao for which the hill is named. Inside is a grouping of wooden statues that represent Our Lady of Mercy.
In 2003, Sacro Monte di Orta was placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The complex personifies the Franciscan spiritual ideal of harmony between art and nature, and is a must-visit in Lake Orta.
Sacre di San Michele – near Turin
Sacra di San Michele sits on top of Mount Pirchiriano high above the Susa Valley in northern Italy near Turin / Torino. The 10th century Romanesque Gothic abbey inspired Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose.’
This is a popular pilgrimage site as it lies midway on St Michael’s Line. This geographical straight-line features seven monasteries dedicated to St Michael stretching from Skellig Michael in the Republic of Ireland to Mount Carmel in Israel.
Highlights of the impressive abbey include the entrance staircase, The Stairway of the Dead, in which the skeletons of previous monks at the church are forever entombed. See the ornate Portal of the Zodiac and the beautiful fresco Triptych by Defendente Ferrari. Plus, don’t miss the stunning views of the Susa Valley from the outdoor walkways.
The easiest way to get to Sacra di San Michele is by car. Park at Piazzale Croce Nera and walk 800 metres to reach the abbey. Alternatively, take the train from Turin to Avigliana and then catch one of the special weekend shuttle buses that carry visitors to Piazzale Croce Nera.
Another option is to catch the train to Sant D’Ambrogio and climb Monte Pirchiriano on foot. The trail is part of the Via Francigena and is not technically difficult but it is steep and is exposed in places.
There are 15 Stations of the Cross to follow and fresh water springs provide valuable drinking water. The trek will give you a sense of the journey pilgrims had to make for centuries in order to reach the abbey.
As I hope you can see – Italy is filled with pilgrimage sites and is an extraordinary place for spiritual travels and meaningful encounters. Whether you are going for a weekend, a month, or a year – make sure to include some of these pilgrimage sites on your next trip to Italy!