Imagine visiting a world that wasn’t your own. Traveling back in time to experience what those before you experienced. There is so much to discover when we step back in time to explore where everything first began. Here we will look at:
- The Christian Heritage of Italy In The Beginning
- Where Italy Is Today
- 6 Biblical Sites Of Italy
A View Into the Roots of Italy’s Christian Heritage
In The Beginning….
Roman Catholicism has played a huge role in Italy’s religious history. In the beginning, Christianity entered into Italy not long after the death of Jesus Christ. Christians in Rome were the mouthpiece for spreading this new faith in Italy under the Roman Empire. Roman government at this time, considered Christianity a superstition and even a rebellion against the Roman way of living but its influence soon spread from Rome and other surrounding towns, exceeding 25,000 members by 250 AD. By the end of the 2nd century, however, the Roman Empire was in decay and Barbarian Nations began to take over. Bishops in Italy assumed positions of leadership; protecting people from barbaric ways, organizing services that aided the poor and helping captives. Many public services passed through their hands and in 554 Emperor Justinian legalized their roles as Italian bishops. During the Middle Ages, the church was soon faced with how to incorporate barbarian immigrants into the existing church structure.
In 568, much of the Catholic establishment was destroyed when Italy was invaded by the Germanic Lombards. It wasn’t until the 7th century that both the monarchy and people of Italy began to embrace Catholicism once again. In 756 the States of the Church were created and the next five centuries for Italy and the Church’s future were bound by the Carolingian kings and their successors. Much of this time was filled with the power struggles of kings seeking to gain personal control. It was when Emperor Otto made an effort to make Rome the capital of a Christian Roman Empire that the spiritual climate changed with the help of the church and German influence. Further into the Middle Ages, the papacy endured a time of division and economic downfall making the papal states hard to govern.
In the second half of the 15th century, Italy was at the tip of the Renaissance enjoying wealth and economic prosperity. Culturally, the country was exercising an intense influence on Western Europe but the government was at the brink of disaster. It was in the 18th century that the church experienced a difficult time as clerical privileges were revoked, monasteries were suppressed and secularization of other forms of church property began to reveal the spread of Enlightenment influence. By 1789, when the French revolution began, the Enlightenment had infiltrated from France into Italy by means of Freemasonry. During this time, the church underwent several structural crisis because the economic privileges had been abolished and its religious orders suppressed. It wasn’t until the early 1800’s that the church’s rights and privileges were restored.
Come the 19th century, the church showed its strength by resisting corrosive structural and doctrinal elements. The two most outstanding developments in the Church during this time were the remarkable growth of religious congregations and the development of the modern Catholic movement. More than 300 religious congregations of women were founded in Italy as well as many institutes for men. Like the vast majority of modern congregations, most of these dedicated themselves to the church through education, charitable and social services or missionary endeavors. Although Catholics were eager to end the strained relations between Church and State, not all agreed on the same solution. Conciliation was favored by some of Italy’s elites, while others feared that conciliation seemed inopportune. In 1946, Italy became a republic and its new constitution declared that Church-State relations would continue to be regulated by the Lateran Pacts. Still, by the 20th century, increased liberal morals influenced Italians who then began to stray from the Church doctrine. The role of the Church became increasingly subdued and continues to experience resistance.
Where Italy Is Today…
When you look at the religious sectors that occupy Italy today you will see a mix of Islam, Muslim, Jehovah Witnesses, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, Eastern Orthodox and still others. There is a remarkable spiritual influence in Italy that is hard to deny and many travel to experience this. Tours will take you anywhere that can be explored allowing you to see the religious historical roots of Italy where one will often say they felt a spiritual atmosphere. Outside of Christianity, Islam is the second most practiced religious faith in this country with over 1 million adherents and somewhere close to 500 mosques and Jehovah’s Witness being the third largest religious group with roughly 400,000 members.
6 Biblical Sites Of Italy
It was at the Mamertine Prison that Paul wrote to his protege Timothy, “ I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7)
Paul traveled to Rome before there were Christian sites like we see today. Imprisoned at Caesarea, Paul appealed to Caesar and suffered a shipwreck on his way to Rome as a prisoner in chains. After two years in imprisonment, he was released to which he then wrote two more epistles before his final Roman imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison.
Tres Fontane Abbey- Three Fountains
Some may be aware that Paul was martyred outside the walls of Rome but many have never heard of this Christian site as a place that is commonly toured. According to legend, when Pauls head was cut off it bounced three times causing three fountains to spring up. Although it seems this is just a story, the location of Paul’s death is historical.
The Church Of St. Paul Outside The Wall
About two miles away from Tres Fontane Abbey is the burial location of Paul located at the Church of St. Paul. Emperor Constantine built over the site where Paul’s followers had venerated the burial site of Apostle Paul and over time the structures that marked this spot have changed and expanded. Today, the Grand Basilica stands in this location reflecting 19th and 20th century architecture where Paul’s grave is clearly marked inside its ornate walls.
St. Peter’s Basilica And Square
Of all the Christian sites in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square has received the most attention. Christians were likely all martyred in the Circus of Gaius/Nero- the site where St. Peter’s Square now stands. Here Peter was crucified and is most likely buried deep beneath the Basilica in the original burial cave.
The Arch Of Titus
Constructed in AD 82 by the Emperor Domitian, the arch venerates his older brother Titus’ victories. Most notably, the inside relief of the arch portrays Roman soldiers carrying off treasures from the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by Titus in AD 70.
The most famous for the early Christians who were buried here, the catacombs offer an essential contribution to early Christian art. Early frescoes and sculptures still exist. You will even see smaller burial spots carved out for children who had passed away.
The Christian Heritage of Italy is full of rich history. Exploring this land and its roots will no doubt provide you with a full return on your time and investment. Visiting some of the sites that are not commonly found on touring trips will only be an added bonus.