What Not to Wear
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
You are about to enter a church in Italy - but you may be non-Christian, non-religious, Buddhist, atheist, pagan, Jewish, or come from another religious tradition. Whoa, there's a dress code to get in the church? What is appropriate etiquette? Can I take photos?
The most important thing to remember is to act respectfully. Yes, the churches are full of important art works and are architecturally important, but they are primarily places of worship. It may not be your place of worship but it is someone's place of worship.
First of all, for both men and women, cover your shoulders and don't wear clothing that falls above the knee. Churches in large urban areas may turn you away or give you a unique clothing accessory - something resembling a large dryer sheet to cover the offending areas. Some churches post helpful signs, like the one below outside of Santa Croce in Florence. Churches in smaller towns won't have someone monitoring clothing but may have a sign. For women, carry a scarf that you can use to cover your shoulders.
Last fall in Florence I saw some young women turned away from the Duomo by the clothing monitors because they were wearing very short shorts and skimpy tops. They didn't understand why they couldn't go in. In Siena I saw a young child ask her father why he had to wear the “dryer sheet” stiff non-fabric covering over his shoulders to enter the Cathedral.
Photo below: tourists outside the Duomo, Florence. Some of these tourists will not see the inside of the church.
Many churches have signs outlining the appropriate etiquette. Some also have signs like the one below at the Sanctuary of St. Francis at La Verna asking visitors to observe appropriate dress, silence and respect. This is a very holy site where St. Francis received the stigmata. The site is venerated and has many visitors.
Rough translation of the sign: "Listen up! The beauty and sanctity of this place asks for silence, attention and respect." Not the time to use your cell phone. Nonetheless, the signs don't always have the intended result.
Photos are fine to take as long as you don't use flash. Keep your chatter to a minimum. In popular churches with many tourists you may find some areas inside the church are roped off for parishioners to pray or attend services. Some churches are closed during mass as the number of tourists are disruptive to services. And usually the number of tourists outnumber those attending the services.
Take in the art, beauty and sanctity of these places and allow yourself to be fully present in these very special places. Sit in a pew and take it all in before you check it off your list.