Outdoor Shrines in Italy – Italian Culture

Outdoor shrine embedded in a wall in Venice Photo by Margie Miklas

I love noticing the differences in the Italian culture, and one that seems pronounced is the existence of outdoor shrines in almost every city and town in Italy. Despite the commonly-held perception that Italy is a Catholic country, the latest poll indicates that “only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic.” Nevertheless, they love to display their favorite saints and the Virgin Mary in outdoor shrines.

Shrine in wall in Caltagirone

My favorites are the ones embedded into walls. Usually someone has undoubtedly left a flower out of reverence.

Outdoor-shrine-Italy-Venice Venice

These occurrences that happen so often in Italy are not so often seen in the United States. Such is the captivation and  charm of Italy and one of the things I find so endearing every time I visit.

Shrine in Lenno on Lake Como

They may be on a hillside, or in a yard, on the side of a road or very commonly embedded into a stone wall. I found these very interesting and most oftens  freshly cut flowers are left there anonymously by someone.

Outdoor shrine along the Amalfi Coast

Outdoor shrine to Augustine in Colle d'Anchise Photo by Margie Miklas

Shrine in wall in centro storico - Caltagirone

Have you seen these outdoor shrines in Italy?   I  love  feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

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17 Responses

  1. Giacomino Nicolazzo

    Great article Margie! In 2012 and 2013, I took a few weeks and traveled throughout Emilia-Romagna from Bologna to Ferrara to Modena to Parma to Reggio-Emila and back…south into the beautiful Appenini and east to the Adriatic coast. I had the primary purpose of photographing the Madonnina.

    I traipsed to as many places as I could and tried my best to talk with as many of the locals as possible…hopefully to flesh out a few stories, myths or legends about these beautiful shrines. Since seeing my very first one years & years ago, I have been drawn to their incredible beauty. They are as varied as the places they can be found. And the craftsmanship? Well it is extraordinary to say the least…even the most primitive!

    I was most intrigued to be able to find them anywhere and everywhere! Throughout the beautiful Italian countryside…in cities big and small, little towns and the tiniest of villages, these lovingly-crafted, exceptionally personal shrines are everywhere. And they bear witness to a deep-seated love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the very humanity she embodies.

    These Madonnina represent a simple spirit of devotion expressed most quietly. And they hold a profound meaning and deep significance for a great number of the Italian people. There is a feeling one gets just standing in front of them that is indescribable…at least for me!

    Thanks for the great blog & for the opportunity to comment.


    • margieinitaly

      Thank you Giacomino…Your comments are appreciate as you have so much personal experience living in Italy! I really appreciate it!

  2. Un po' di pepe

    Love these Madonnine! I would question the validity of the poll,especially if it was done by phone. A very large number of Italians (probably more than 50%) don’t have home phones anymore and no one talks to pollsters on their cell. I would believe 20-30%, but not 50. Ciao, Cristina

  3. K Henderson

    I’m not Catholic, but find myself drawn to these shrines in Italy. I especially like Padre Pio! I am similarly inclined to inspect the interior of every duomo/cheisa I come across.

    Shrines like these are quite plentiful here in Ireland.

  4. karenincalabria

    Interesting. I haven’t met very many of the 50% non-Catholics cited in the poll. I know many religious Catholics and Catholics who don’t go to church regularly but wouldn’t hesitate to say they were Catholic. There are also the Catholics who don’t like the Catholic church, and then there are many who hang onto superstitions related to the church but are rather lapsed. There are those who curse various aspects of the church, and then, some non-Catholics. I sort of wonder how many people were polled and where they were geographically.
    I’ve seen the shrines all over Italy. There have also been religious icons and statues in apartments I’ve rented. Sometimes I’m surprised how cared for a little shrine seems to be on a windy, country road. They make you think.

  5. Anonymous

    I LOVE the outdoor shrines. I saw so many when I visited Italy. Climbing up Montecatini alto the stations of the cross were placed along the way-small enclosures with flowers placed in front of them. Wonderful!

  6. SS Kuruganti (@SSKuruganti)

    These shrines are beautiful! Lovely post. =)

    Funnily enough, we have these in India, as well. Little temples or shrines by the side of roads – sometimes even in the middle of them – or cut into walls, and even trees! I used to pass one such shrine every day on my way to work, it was cut into a tree just outside a ‘real’ temple. It made for quite the traffic jam during religious holidays!

    • imarancher

      I loved your post as well SSKuruganti. All the world over people reach out to God as they know the Him. It is the Universal tie that we have to each other.

  7. imarancher

    I do like the vine shaped votive candle holder on that last one. Votive candles are sold all over this town as we do have St Leo’s Monastery and school on the far north and west end of the county line. I may have a few of those around here myself. Possibly.

  8. imarancher

    Take a tour around Miami on Calle Ocho formerly 8th Street or Tamiami Trail. Also in the vicinity of the Catholic church, St Rita’s, in Dade City. Any place the Catholic church has a high profile you will find shrines. You just have to hunt around. And in Tampa Florida many homes are put up for sale after a statute of St Joseph is buried, upside down, in the front yard. If the house sells he is released from internment and carried on to the next house to set in honor until that house goes on the market. Ah yes, my youth as a Catholic is still coming in handy. I just wonder if any of the shrines I have seen in my life will stand the test of time as these have. Not to mention these appear to be works of art and not tawdry imitation gold and plaster of paris.I do note the wrought iron protection for the sites.

I'm always interested in your thoughts, so please leave a comment.