Italy’s Abandoned Churches ~ What Happens to Them?

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Small abandoned Church in Tuscany

While driving through Tuscany I couldn’t help but pull off the road to snap a shot of this old abandoned church. It was small, but very ornate. As I surveyed the facade, I wondered how many abandoned churches there were in Italy. As the stronghold of the Catholic Church, it’s not surprising that Italy has thousands of churches. I read recently that it is estimated at about 26,000, but I’m unsure about the reliability of the source.

As a result of Italy’s crippled economy combined with hard times experienced by the Catholic church and a general decrease in attendance, thousands of churches are deconsecrated and sold to private buyers who then turn them into night clubs, theaters, banks and even a car repair shop.

Below is an article about a family who bought an abandoned church and converted it into their own home ~ Article from The New York Times magazine

Massimo Vitali Moves Into a 14th – Century Church

Local photographer Andrea Di Martino photographed 70 former churches. Following is a list of a few of them ~

1. Madonna della Neve church in Como ~ this church was deconsecrated in the 1950’s, sold and turned into a successful auto repair shop by the new owners.

2. St. Philomena Church ~ located in the port town of Ugento, this church is now used for court hearings.

3. Santa Lucia church in Montescaglioso ~ now occupied by sports fans. The walls are decorated with football posters and there is a Ping-Pong table in the former church.

4. Church in Salerno ~ Built in 1,000 AD, it is now the museum of a local medical school.

5. Santa Sabina church ~ completed in 1063, it has operated as a bank for the last 40 years.

6. Milan’s former Church of Santa Teresa ~ 1694, now a multi-level library.

7. Church in Viareggio ~ deconsecrated in 1977, is now a pizza place called ‘La Chiesina,’ (the church).

When a church is deconsecrated it is usually due to structural danger or because the attendance has drastically declined. These former churches sell fairly easily because of their solid condition, high ceilings and usually located in the center of town.

The Mass is Ended, an award-winning photographic work by Andrea Di Martino, displays deconsecrated churches in their new roles. Click to take a look.

17 thoughts on “Italy’s Abandoned Churches ~ What Happens to Them?

  • The church in your photo is gorgeous with amazing statuary!!!! I wish someone could at least take those pieces and find them a new home! Thank you for the link to the “refurbished” churches. Most of them are beautiful and I am glad they have been saved and given a new purpose. The car repair was a bit odd but it works in Italy!

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    • Thank you Bonnie! You are right….the statuary is gorgeous and i wish they could find a new home to. One that is respectful and caring. The auto repair shop really stretched my mind but, like you said, in Italy it works! 🙂

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  • Such a beautiful looking church. We often see old churches here in Australia converted to restaurants or homes very tastefully. Of course old by Australian standards . It sure is nicer than letting them just deteriorate to rubble.

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  • Susan…love this subject. And not just as it relates to churches, but basically any of the beautiful buildings I see abandoned in Italy. I am always curious to know why they were abandoned, what the look like inside, etc…..very intriguing post!

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  • What a beautiful little church, I do love photos of abandoned buildings. Sad that so many of these lovely buildings are no longer used for worship but at least some are being re-used, although I can’t quite imagine a church as an auto-repair shop! Tuscany is a place I long to visit and even more so now, thanks Susan 🙂

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  • How sad your photo is, Susan. That was a beautiful church. It still is really. I wonder what the ratio is – abandoned churches to abandoned residences? When I queried how long an rather neglected house had been abandoned, the answer was ‘about 80 years – that is how long that people have been gradually leaving rural Italy for jobs in the cities”!

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  • I love the old abandoned church. I haven’t seen too many of them, which is good, but they always seem like peaceful places-like most graveyards. There is one on the outskirts of the village next to mine and I just love it but it’s structurally unsound with no roof! Most deconsecrated churches in Italia are turned into exhibition spaces or museums. The incredible Museo Marino Marini in Firenze is in the deconsecrated church of San Pancrazio. Ciao, Cristina

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    • Isn’t it amazing that they can be repurposed into a museum or night club? I could make a small one into a place to live. They are usually elaborate with a rose window and tall ceilings. I could live in one:)

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  • I had no idea this happened – I thought once a church, always a church! I will definitely take a look at the book mentioned – I’m sure it’s very interesting. Was this church you photographed open to go into? I’m wondering if they are as richly decorated as so many churches in Italy!

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    • The church I photographed was abandoned and empty. I didn’t try to enter because it looked very overgrown with shrubbery. You will get a chance to look at several churches that have been repurposed by click the link at the end of the article. It is very fascinating! Imagine a former church now an auto shop!

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