By ROSALIA RIPULLO     12/5/2023

Italy is famed for its stunning architecture, culturally thriving cities and crave-worthy foods, but truly, there’s no holier land in Europe than the pastoral landscape of Italy.

Her vistas are peppered with beautiful cathedrals where previously hundreds of city-states thrived and survived the flow of the Greeks, Turks, Spaniards and other invaders passing through a country that today touts, “la dolce vita.”


For Catholics, a good vacation living “the sweet life” starts with knowing where to go for holy Mass. Rome and the famed Vatican City get top billing as the holiest part of Italy and while Rome is a popular spot to begin as a tourist, continuing down south to the regions of Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily, the former boasting Europe’s oldest city, reveals ancient cathedrals waiting to be revealed to eager travelers.


If walking around the most ancient city on the continent of Europe sounds exciting, then look no further than the region of Basilicata’s Matera. A diamond at night, with twinkling lights hiding daytime’s revelation of hundreds of caves or “Sassi,” cave-curious visitors can now explore the museums in these wonders that have been around since Paleolithic times.

If you’re there on a Sunday like I was, you can attend a beautiful inspirational Mass offered by the local bishop in the stunning Duomo di Matera across from the 15th century Palazzo Gattini, a perfectly restored 15th century stone palace.

The cathedral, built in the 13th century, was devoted to Madonna della Bruna and Saint Eustace. Madonna della Bruna is a testament to Matera’s ancient roots and own apparition of the Virgin Mary. The stunning Apulian Romanesque cathedral sits atop the highest point, dividing the two Sassi sites.

Spend the day being observant, go to Mass and take in the views but don’t forget the “dolce vita” means to take time to taste all of life’s great foods, one of which is a healthy dish of chicory with orecchiette, a specialty of Matera.

But as far south as this spot may seem, another beautiful cathedral and Baroque masterpiece lies further down into Puglia’s gem, Lecce. Famed as the Baroque capital of the world because of its cathedral, Basilica di Santa Croce, this intricate church is a testament to Italy’s glory for God, shone through centuries of architecture.

Speaking of centuries, this symbolic church which features a series of mythical beings triumphed by angels and nature under the balustrade took over 100 years and three architects to complete. Originally set forth by the Celestine Fathers, a branch of the Benedictines, this building boasts massive columns, statues of San Benedetto and San Celestino V, statues of faith and fortitude incarnate and an impressive 17 altars.

At a point in the 19th century, the designs of over 30 creatures and statues were even deemed too much for the city. But in recent times, this basilica stands recognized as one of the greatest baroque structures of all time. Make sure you take time to grasp every symbol, each whispering their own unique allegories while enjoying the city’s most popular dish, Ciceri e Tria, pasta with chickpeas topped with fried pasta.

When it comes to the south of Italy, many think of Sicily so it is only fair we finish off with the most southern church on our list. We are traveling to this island scattered with Greek and Roman artifacts alike to a place most famous for its luxurious hotels and picturesque beaches.

In Taormina, there is no shortage of five-star properties, Magna Grecia remains– and churches. Il Duomo di Taormina is the city’s cathedral and is not only dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari, but also reps a rather uncommon architectural style in its Sicilian Romanesque Gothic design.

Having been built in the 15th century, this church is surprisingly recent when juxtaposed with the city’s establishment by the Greeks in 700 BC.

What was once a medieval basilica, now resembles a fortress because of its stone façade and single rose window. But anyone who stops by knows to check out the fountain in front of the cathedral, which is fashioned in the shape of Taormina’s symbol, the centaur.

Since it sits in the Piazza del Duomo, there are several cafes to choose from to enjoy something pistachio or almond flavored because both are equally loved amongst Sicilians and their many foreign colonizers.