A treasure trove of art and architecture lies hidden within the churches that dot the landscape of Aviano

The St. Mary of the Mountains Roman Catholic Church in Marsure is built about a third of the way up the foothills that run into the Alps and is visible from Area 1 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The view of Aviano from its gardens is probably the best there is.


By KENT HARRIS | Stars and Stripes | Published: October 8, 2020

Churches are everywhere in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy.

There are those such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Duomo in Milan that attract millions of tourists every year. And then there are those like the dozens within a 15-minute drive of Aviano Air Base that don’t.

Most Americans drive by several of those churches during their daily commutes to and from Aviano, but few visit the houses of worship.

Of course, getting inside some of Italy’s smaller churches — including those near Aviano — can be an issue. Hours are far from standard. If there’s no one there at a particular time, the doors are often locked. During a recent half-day, self-guided tour of eight churches on or near the SP-29 — commonly known to Americans as the “Mountain Highway” — almost half the churches weren’t accessible.

That was regrettable, because almost every church in Italy has something to offer those who like architecture or art. Sculptures, paintings, mosaics or other pieces, many dating back before there was a United States of America, are commonplace.

The highlight of our tour was a visit to the Madonna of the Mountain church in Costa, a suburb of Aviano. Built about a third of the way up the hills that begin around Aviano and end as part of the Alps, the church’s gardens offer probably the best view of Aviano to be seen. Visitors can park in a lot next to the church or walk up to it, passing the stations of the cross that depict the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion.

The church’s interior is small and simple, but there’s a sculpture of Mary and the baby Jesus and a few other items that stand out.

That was also the case for the handful of other churches during the visit. A colorful altar piece here. A towering bell tower there. A grinning statue of a local saint. A painting depicting a scene from the Bible.

Another plus about visiting churches in Italy? It doesn’t rain inside. And the sun, no matter how hot it is, comes in via stained-glass windows.

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DIRECTIONS: The SP29 is easily reached from Aviano and the surrounding area. There are more than 100 churches in the province of Pordenone. Most can be found via GPS or local maps.

TIMES: Many of the larger churches near Aviano open at 10 a.m. or slightly earlier. Some close for lunch. Some smaller ones appear to be rarely open.

COSTS: There’s no fee to enter any of the churches around Aviano. It will cost a few euros to light a prayer candle if that’s your desire and they’re available.

FOOD: There are several restaurants along the SP29 near Aviano. But they’re generally not open for lunch, with the possible exception of weekends. There are also numerous grocery stores and dining options in Aviano and larger communities just a few miles away.

ETIQUETTE: Avoid entering while services are going on. Dress appropriately — generally, no short shorts, sleeveless shirts or T-shirts with logos or messages that could offend — and be considerate of others inside. Some people are there to pray. Don’t interrupt them. Be quiet while inside: Sound carries well in most Italian churches, and even whispers can be heard across surprisingly long distances.

INFORMATION: Information on some churches can be found (in Italian) at: www.diocesi.concordia-pordenone.it/diocesi_di_concordia___pordenone/00000002_Home_Page.html. Some have their own social media pages: facebook.com/MadonnaDelMonte.Marsure.Fvg

This sculpture of the Madonna and baby Jesus is one of the focal points of the interior of the St. Mary of the Mountains Roman Catholic Church, a short drive from Aviano Air Base, Italy.