In the year 326 the 80-year-old empress Helena, an archaeologist before such a profession existed, travelled to the Holy Land in order to re-discover the sacred sites that had been hidden or desecrated. She came across a tomb embedded in stone, a hill and a cave. These three elements are constant features of the various “surrogate” Jerusalems, formally shrines, that can be found scattered along the Italian peninsula. Jerusalem is everywhere, a presence that thoroughly permeates Italy thanks to a centuries-long dialogue that manifests itself in the country’s history and each of its cities’ stones. Once the Holy Land had become inaccessible, parts of its sacred sites were recreated in Italy. Undertaking a penance walk to buildings and relics such as the Sacred Mountain of Varallo, the Seven Churches complex in Bologna, the Holy Face of Lucca, San Vivaldo, Acquapendente or the Holy Sepulchre of Brindisi means recovering their memory and re-experiencing the emotions of that original pilgrimage.
Franco Cardini is professor emeritus of Medieval History at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, research director at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and a fellow at Harvard University.