Sacred spaces are, and have always been, places of reception: hospitality is in fact a precept of God. Many biblical passages remind us of this, such as the one (Gen 18, 4-5) in which Abraham welcomes three guests, washes their feet and offers them a piece of bread and a place to rest under a tree. Saint Benedict too, in chapter 53 of the Rule, insisted on the need to honour pilgrims and travellers, who should be welcomed with a charitable service ready for devotion and stated that all guests who entered the monastery should be received as if they were Christ, washing their hands and feet.

The reception of travellers, the sick, and pilgrims in religious centres in the Middle Ages has been one of the cornerstones of the life of many monastic and convent communities scattered throughout the territory. The growing number of domus hospitals and xenodochii, recorded from the early centuries of the Middle Ages until the 15th century, demonstrates the need for them and their widespread dissemination in Italy and Europe. It seems to be possible to identify some phases of this development linked to the different monastic and convent orders that dedicated themselves to relieving the suffering of travellers and the sick. An initial significant presence along the road axes was followed by a subsequent phase of settlement in the major urban centres. Each community had its rules which also influenced the choice of where the sites were positioned, the buildings in which to receive pilgrims and the architectural typologies, often clearly designed to identify the place immediately.

The research findings presented here derive from research aimed at identifying religious hospitality architectures through a study of the documentary sources and an analysis of the buildings still preserved in the territory of Northern Italy. In particular, the analysis of the main cases linked to monastic hospitality, such as the Sacra di San Michele – the centre of worship of Archangel Michael, an essential step in the pilgrimage between Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and San Michele del Gargano in Puglia – Novalesa and Staffarda constitute the main theme of this investigation (Figure 1).

Even today these cases represent places of pilgrimage and reception of great interest and inflow; the long tradition of hospitality that has characterized the Christian world since the Middle Ages until the present day seems to be continuing, and is indeed revitalized and reaffirmed by recent pastoral guidelines. Religious tourism in the contemporary era has seen a significant increase linked to a form of spirituality that rediscovers the history of the oldest monasteries as a place of meditation and prayer. The tourism of major religious events and shrines that represent an attraction for millions of people is increasingly witnessing more intimate visits aimed at rediscovering the historical values of the journey, which is often undertaken on foot in the footsteps of the pilgrims as modern homines viatores on the trail of ancient experiences and spirituality.



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