Churches in Italy how the differ from the USA -

Churches in Italy

In preparing for our first trip to Italy back in 2010, Ilene and I looked at what towns we were going to visit and what we hoped to see in each of them. We watched Rick Steve’s television shows about Italy, Traveling Through the Back Door. I also read everything about Italy I could get my hands on. As I studied about Italy, I realized we were going to be visiting a lot of churches. After all, that is where you find most of the art and history especially when it comes to the Renaissance.

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When I informed Ilene amount the number of churches we’d visit – her response was something like “I’m not going to Italy to spend my time in every church. Before I read about churches in Italy, I didn’t want to be spending most of my time in a church either. Hindsight being 20/20, I can clearly say that would have been a big mistake.

Growing Up

As a youngster growing up in New York I went to church every Sunday whether I wanted to or not. Since I attended public school, I had to go to the Catholic School near us, St. Stanislaus (St. Stans) every Wednesday afternoon for Religious instruction in order to receive my First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Of course, after Mass on Sundays, while my Catholic school friends were outside playing, I was learning about my religion. I guess was only fair since they studied about it every day in school.

Sometimes I would sit in class trying to figure out how to break out of this prison I was in every Wednesday and Sunday. St. Stans was also my introduction to nuns and nuns with rulers. To this day, I can still feel the impact they had on my life and my knuckles. Ouch!! Today as I look back, I can honestly say I had some memorable times at St. Stans, and they were not all bad. Also, to this day I try my best to stay clear of nuns – especially ones with rulers.

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Venice, Italy

As we arrived in Venice and started walking through the small narrow streets, we came upon a church in Rick Steve’s travel book, the Church of the Capuchin Monks. Ilene said, “Alright, churches are in,” shortly after we exited the church. To this day we will stop in just about every church we can in whatever town we are visiting and take in the beauty that surrounds us. Some are ornate and some are very plain, but all are beautiful in their own special way.

Churches in Italy vs USA

As we visit churches in Italy, I realize most of the churches I have seen in America are different than those in Italy. None of the churches in my hometown or surrounding areas have side altars – and almost every church in Italy has these. Rich and important people of the town built these side altars, and only family or friends could worship there. Some of these side altars are more ornate than the main altars.

Some of the Differences

A church is run by a group of clergymen or priests. It is where the believers of Jesus Christ meet for fellowship and worship. The vast majority of churches in Italy would fall into this category. They are very plain buildings inside and out with little artwork adorning their walls.
A cathedral (called a Duomo in Italy ) is a church that is run by the Bishop of the Diocese who also lives there. Cathedrals are bigger than regular parish churches and are adorned with beautiful works of art and antiquities.  
A basilica is a designation given to a church by the Pope. It has a special significance such as an association with a major saint or an important historical event. In ancient Roman times, basilicas were often a site for legal matters, a place to conduct business, or as a meeting hall.
Most churches in Italy are built in the shape of the cross which represents the cross that Jesus died for our sins.
Here is one I did not know. Almost all churches are built facing east or within 4 degrees of the east. It is believed that when Christ reappears, he will come from the east since that is where the sun rises.

In Closing

So please, no matter what your religious beliefs are when you visit Italy be sure to stop and see her churches. Ilene and I never pass up an opportunity to visit a church. See Ilene, I told you so…

Gary Modica -
Churches in Italy -


  1. Excellent blog article. The info about the different type churches/duomo/basilicas/etc. was very informative…..who knew.

    Thank you

    1. Thank you Frank for the comment! We try, even on our simple posts, to provide our readers information they just might not be aware of. Knowledge is power. Thanks again!!

  2. I’ve been to several churches in Italy, and my favorite is the cathedral in Parma. The warm tones of the frescoes on both upper portions of the main aisle are esquisite, showing the Bible stories from beginning to end! I also loved the embossed “chair” with several excerpts of the book of John in multiple languages.

    1. Jean – you are so correct! We love that one too! We spent 90-days in Parma and loved every moment. Thanks for commenting (and reminding me about Parma!)

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