The Year of Faith (running through November 24) is particularly intense in the Rome area . We already suggested a religious itinerary within the city of Rome in this post and we now want to discover with you some of the most significant places around Rome from a spiritual point of view.
The area surrounding Rome has been for centuries, at least since the year 1300 (read here why), a religious destination and the land of reception of the pilgrims heading for St. Peter’s, and its history has always been closely connected to the Catholic church’s life. Our countryside and towns teem with churches, sanctuaries, monasteries, abbeys and hermitages.
Via Francigena and Viterbo
We have to start with the great, international and historical heritage represented by the Via Francigena, that runs from Canterbury (England), through France to Rome, the major pilgrimage route to Rome from the north.
The pilgrimage took place mostly on foot, with Christians covering an average distance of 25 kilometers per day. The pilgrims generally travelled in a group taking with them the symbol of the key, for St Peter.
The last section of this illustrious path that was trodden by a multitude of pilgrims in search of their Christian roots, includes the city of Viterbo.
Viterbo hosted the Vatican seat for 24 years – from 1257 to 1281 – and 5 popes until Martino IV wanted to move the Papal seat to Orvieto. At the time Rome was a dangerous place because of the fight with the Holy Roman Emperor. The city was chosen for its wealth and the comfort it could provide the Pope, his staff and the cardinals of the Curia Romana. And here took place the longest conclave (this word was actually created in the city of Viterbo on this occasion) of the Catholic church’s history: 33 months and one day! This pope-selection method entailed total isolation of the cardinal electors form the outside world, to avoid corruption and political intermingling. We strongly recommend you to visit the Papal Palace in the heart of this middle age city centre, to grasp the atmosphere of the time.
Subiaco and Benedict’s Path
An even more spiritually inspiring destination is Subiaco, where the foundations of Western monasticism were laid by St Benedict in the 5th century. Situated on a rocky hill east of Rome, it was inhabited by an Italic population even before ancient Rome was founded. Here, at the end of the 5th century Benedict from Nursia (in Umbria) founded the first Benedictine monasteries, 12 in total. The two monasteries of San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica (his sister) – the others were all destroyed – the lovely scenery and the other non religious monuments of this very old town represent the beauty and the appeal of Subiaco.
Subiaco is also one of the stages of the Abbey path, which goes down to Montecassino, south of Rome.
Other destinations: Castel Gandolfo and Nettuno
Finally another couple of destinations for our friends who will visit Rome for the Year of Faith or who are generally interested in religious tourism.
The first destination is pretty unusual and unexpected. It is the seaside town of Nettuno, south of Rome. Its two most important buildings are connected to two key figures of the Catholic church. Marcantonio Colonna, who built the homonym Palace, was the commander of the fleet at the battle of Lepanto in 1571, which marked the victory of the Catholic powers vs the Turks. The symbol of Nettuno, however, is the military fort wanted by the pope Alexander the 6th, of the Borgia family, to protect the coast of the Vatican state.
Castel Gandolfo, instead, is a much more famous place since it is the holiday destination of the Popes. Overlooking the beautiful volcanic lake Albano, this tiny village hosts a huge Papal Residence with gardens. Here is where the Pope celebrates the Sunday Mass in the summer months.