In 1499, Tuscan artist Luca Signorelli signed a contract to paint two remaining sections of the Cappella Nuova (new chapel) of the Duomo in the Umbrian town of Orvieto. By 1502 (or 1504, depending on which documentation you read), he had completed his “End of the World” fresco cycle in what is now known as the San Brizio Chapel. The apocalyptic…
Easter may have come and gone but the ceremonies and spectacles surrounding this holy time continue long after Easter Sunday mass at Saint Peter’s. Fifty days after Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate Pentecost Sunday, a day when the Holy Spirit is said to come down to earth. Rome celebrates this day by raining rose petals down into the Pantheon through its…
If you know me, you’ll know that I am nuts about religious relics. And if you know David Farley’s book “An Irreverent Curiosity,” you’ll know immediately why that first line is a wee bit funny. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Farley in Manhattan to discuss his book, which has the tag line “In Search of the…
Springtime is a very popular time to visit Rome and the Vatican City. And for good reason. The weather is warmer. The gardens and parks are in bloom, with huge pots of azaleas providing a burst of color on the Spanish Steps. And for the thousands of churches, it is time to celebrate Easter. Of course, the most popular place…
No matter if you’re a devout Catholic or a curious non-believer, you should make a point to check out a few of Italy’s many religious relics. More than 2,000 years of Christianity has produced numerous fascinating, if not gruesome, stories. And it seems that for every Biblical tale, there is a relic housed in Rome, the Vatican, or in one of Italy’s thousands of churches. Here are a few unusual relics that you can put on your next Italy itinerary.
The Shroud of Turin
This is perhaps Italy’s most famous relic, housed in the Cathedral of Turin (Duomo di Torino) in the Piemonte region. The Shroud is a linen cloth that bears “the image of a man who appears to have been physically hurt in a manner consistent with crucifixion,” according to Wikipedia. In short, the image on the Shroud bears a striking resemblance to the collectively agreed upon image of Jesus Christ and is thought to be Christ’s burial shroud – thus, the relic’s significance among Christians.
As with all religious relics, the Shroud’s authenticity has been doubted. Even the Catholic Church has yet to formally endorse the Shroud. And a recent scientific study confirms the shroud as a relic of the Middle Ages (i.e., NOT 2,000 years old). Nevertheless, this sacred relic (called Santa Sindone in Italian) is well-protected by the Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud.
Because of the Shroud’s delicate nature, it is not always on display. However, in 2010, Turin will host an exhibition for the Shroud. From April 10 to May 23, 2010, the Shroud of Turin will be on exhibit for thousands of visiting pilgrims. As of this writing, online tickets have yet to go on sale. So check back with the Torino Tourism website for more information.
The Blood of San Gennaro
It’s hardly surprising that a hot-blooded place like Naples would have a relic made of blood (see main photo above). Each year, the city of Naples awaits the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), which is stored in an ampoule in a reliquary in the Naples Cathedral. An early saint of the church, having been beheaded during Emperor Diocletian’s anti-Christian raids in the 4th century, San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. The liquefying of his blood, which can happen up to 18 times per year, is thought to signify a miracle and helps protect Naples from calamities, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Michelle Fabio explains more about the Feast of San Gennaro for Italy Magazine. She has also posted a link to the video of the Procession of San Gennaro, which you can watch below:
The Holy Foreskin (Currently Missing)
David Farley’s book An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town was one of the inspirations for this post. In his book, Farley writes about the town of Calcata, located in the region of Lazio (Rome’s region), where the Holy Foreskin – yes, the skin from Jesus Christ’s circumcised penis – was kept for centuries until its disappearance in 1983. Farley has devoted himself to this subject, so you’d do well to read his book to learn about the relic and Calcata, which is known as a “village of freaks.” But here’s an interesting tidbit: apparently Saint Catherine of Siena wore the Holy Foreskin as a ring. Now that’s some devotion.
Mary’s Holy Belt
The Virgin Mary didn’t leave behind a piece of her body for future Christians to revere. But she did leave behind a belt. The story goes that Mary gave this sacred accessory to Apostle Thomas as she ascended to heaven. The Prato Cathedral acquired the relic in the 14C and has kept it in a precious silver reliquary ever since. In fact, a special chapel was built to house the relic and the church also commissioned artists Michelozzo and Donatello to build an exterior pulpit, from which the relic is ceremoniously displayed to crowds below.
Unlike the Shroud of Turin, the Sacra Cintola is made of a more durable material – green wool – so the church readily displays it five times a year: Christmas, Easter, May 1, August 15, and September 8. Prato is located in Tuscany, just north of Florence, so it is hardly off the beaten track should you wish to visit.
Relics in Rome
Being the center of the Christian universe, Rome has, perhaps, the most holy relics per square mile of any other city in Italy. And here you will find some wonderfully odd ones, including Saint John’s severed head in the church of San Silvestro in Capite (also the National Church of Great Britain in Rome); the “doubting finger” of Saint Thomas (in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme); papal innards in the church of SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio near the Trevi Fountain; the Santo Bambino in Santa Maria Aracoeli; and “evidence” of souls trapped in purgatory at the Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio (nicely explained by Jessica at WhyGo Italy).
I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of unusual relics in Italy. So, what’s your favorite?