Kids in Italy - Ideas for Churches

Old Jan 8th, 2003, 10:12 AM
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Kids in Italy - Ideas for Churches

Ideas for Visiting Churches in Italy

Many kids don’t love visiting churches in Italy, but they are usually integral to tourism there. I remember whining whenever our VW minibus with six kids pulled up to a church. Mom would use tissues to cover our forbidden shoulders, bobby pin a tissue on each us girls’ heads, including hers, and heard us in. We’d dip our fingers into a slimy holy water font, cross ourselves, genuflect and enter a cool, incense-smelling, boooaring church named after some dumb saint, with its massive, ugly altars, big paintings. Best hope was there were some pews to slump into.

With those wonderful experiences in mind, I herded my own kids into Italian churches with the following iteas and have found them getting interested in some things, a victory, I believe!

1. Find frescoes to interpret your own (very imaginative) way. They were often painted when people didn't read, so they tell a story.

2. Collect saint and martyr names, make a long list.

3. Look at martyr paintings and figure out how they died.

4. You may not be familiar with a holy water font. It’s a bowl of water that has been blessed, placed inside the entrance to a church. Catholics dip the tips of their right fingers in it and make the sign of the cross by touching their forehead “father,” chest “son,” left shoulder “holy ghost,” and right shoulder “Amen.” Treat this and other Catholic practices with respect.

5. Find the altar of the patron saint of the church. Clues:
– The name of the church.
– Special decoration.
– Is there a relic from the saint enshrined in the altar? It might actually be a piece of the Saint’s body. Can you see it? What is it?
– Sometimes you will see silver (or gold) votive (devotional) offerings that people placed on the wall all around a saint’s altar when their prayers to the him/her seemed to make something good happen. They are often plaques of hearts because the saint has a reputation of healing sick or broken hearts. Other figures and body parts are less common. See if you can find some.

• You may find a bank of small candles near several altars. People make a donation to light a candle. They say a silent prayer while they light it, and then leave it burning to symbolically carry the prayer to heaven.

• Find graves in the floor. Why do you think people wanted to be buried in the floor?

• Sniff for the really neat smell of incense. Burning incense is an ancient practice used even before Christianity. Now, with the rising of the sweet-smelling smoke, it symbolizes offering something that is pleasing to God. It may have also served as an ancient air freshener. Frankincense (same thing) was one of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus.

• Churches are religious places and deserve your respect. Speak and behave quietly (even if others don’t).

I wished to do a column for Fodors about traveling with Kids in Italy, but haven’t heard from them and their site suggests using these Forums for advice, so here it is. I have a lot of ideas to share about how to make a vacation with school-aged kids in Italy fun for the whole family. I compiled it into a little, downloadable journal/book that you can get at So this posting is slightly commercial in that the journal costs a little, to help cover my costs of web hosting. So, if you pardon the sort of commercial bent to this, you’ll still find this little posting helpful. And if you want all 130 pages of ideas, just get the Italy Discovery Journal at

P L Byrne
Old Jan 8th, 2003, 10:26 AM
Alice Twain
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In many italian Churches you can also often find small cards with a depiction of a saint who is particularly important in the area, usualy with a prayer or a small description of the saint's life in the back. You can get one (leaving a small offer). Collecting these cards (santini) might be another idea for children.
Old Jan 9th, 2003, 11:00 AM
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Both my girls collect the santini. When we took them to Rome last year, one of the first places we went to was St. Cecilia in Trastevere. Our youngest, Cecilia, was of course fascinated and has a good selection of St. Cecilia cards now. But our other daughter, Annamaria, pouted that there was no church named after her. Sure there were many St. Anna's and Santa Maria... but she wanted St. Annamaria. What a victory it was when my husband and I stumbled upon the body of the Blessed Annamaria Tiagi in the church of San Crisogno in Trastevere this past July. It is our first stop with our Annamaria when we return in April.
Old Jan 9th, 2003, 11:12 AM
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<< and enter a cool, incense-smelling, boooaring church >>

If you fancy yourself an author, you should learn how to spell, it is not "boaring" (sic). Is this an example from your book you are selling on here? Advertising isn't allowed on Fodors, read the terms. I also think it wrong for you to use fodors in your email address (whether real or fake) because it looks like you are fraudulently trying to make people think you work for Fodors or have their permission to advertise on there.
Old Jan 9th, 2003, 11:15 AM
Eye Spy
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What a great post! I have to print this one out. And Grinisa, I love San Crisogno in Trastevere as well! A friend of mine in Rome went to do some errands on the Vespa, dropped me off in Trastevere and before meeting my friend in the same spot 1 hour later, I went into San Crisogno and stumbled across the Blessed Annamaria Tiagi chapel as well. San Crisogno was empty inside except for one Romana who was reciting her rosary and I loved the serenity and "oldness" of the church. Then I went to San Francesco a Ripa very near by to visit La Beata Ludovica Albertoni and collect more santini. Happy New Year to all!
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