Take a ‘Faith Break’ in Lanciano
Italy attracts millions of visitors each year and over five million of these visit Vatican City’s museums; that’s about 10,000 on a slow day and over 20,000 on a busy day! But there are other sights of religious importance that don’t attract the same size of crowds, but offer a very special experience to visitors.
Just a two and a half hour drive outside of the capital sits the lively medieval town of Lanciano. Its turreted walls and narrow streets make it one of the most important and well preserved old towns in Italy’s Abruzzo region. Lanciano’s churches are extraordinary examples of devotion and religious art. Add to this a host of inexpensive hotels and apartments and the town becomes an ideal place for a weekend break.
For the traveler wishing to incorporate a church with their cappuccino, the town has a wealth of attractions, all within walking distance. Towering above Piazza del Plebiscito, the town’s main square, is the Cathedral of the Madonna del Ponte, built in 1619 by Michitelli. Inside, it is mostly clad with marble, making it a cool, welcoming space if you have been out in the sun. The cathedral houses a Byzantine statue portraying the Madonna thought to have been rescued from the iconoclast controversies in the 8th century.
About 20 paces from the cathedral is the church of San Francesco, home of the Eucharist Miracle. Built on the site of a pre-existing 7th century church, it has a less than impressive façade and sadly the interior fares no better. However, each year thousands of people make the pilgrimage here, not to gaze up at lavishly painted frescos, but to look at the silver and glass ornate reliquary housing the remains of the 8th century miracle. Two silver angels kneeling in devout prayer watch over the monstrance, made in Naples in 1713. The miracle occurred when a Basilian monk questioned the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Host, as the words of the consecration were pronounced, the monk saw the bread turn into flesh and the wine into blood.
After a well-earned espresso and gelato at any of the small cafés nearby, it’s time to escape the Italian midday sun to Largo dell’Apello, a few minutes walk through the shaded alleyways to the Museo Diocesano. Containing the most important collection of sacred art in central Italy, the museum is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Divided into six rooms and housed in the 17th century Archdiocese headquarters, it is a feast for the eyes. Run by a skeleton staff, you are left to wander at your own leisure between the exhibits, such as the Cristo Portacroce by Giorgione. Other treats comprise collections of sacred vestments, including the liturgical vestments embroidered with gold thread that belonged to Archbishop Francesco Maria de Luca. There’s a stunning selection of chalices dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries and silver processional crosses made by Nicola da Guardiagrele.
Next, head to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in the Civitanova district. The 13th century church is one of the most important architectural sites in Abruzzo, founded in 1227, upon the ruins of a temple dedicated to Apollo and updated in the Baroque style in 1540. The commanding façade hides a hidden treasure. Inside this church, tucked away on the narrow street that’s named after it, is another processional cross made by Nicola da Guardiagrele. This cross is much larger and far more impressive than any on display at the museum. The church is also home to the works of local painter, Federico Spoltore.
There are many other smaller churches in town, perhaps not as historically notable as Santa Maria Maggiore or San Francesco, but remarkable in their own way, each one embracing its own devotional charm and each one worthy of a visit during your “faith break.”