The sacred “grand tour” of Italy is the itinerary of Christian relics that extends from Rome throughout the entire peninsula. It touches Padua (Saint Anthony), passing through Genoa (St. John the Baptist), descending to Naples (St. Januarius) all the way down to Catania (St. Agatha). The relics are a business card of the faith, “transportable sanctity” that can be found throughout Italy: in the homes of the faithful, in museums, in antique shops, under church altars.
Praying to the bones of the first Christian martyrs kept in the Roman catacombs was a way to worship God; over time, possessing them came to mean conquering power and political prestige. The “pieces of saints” became talismans with miraculous powers; they could be transported easily, stolen from enemies and jealously guarded. Their trade has always been forbidden, but the prohibitions are easily circumvented: today the relics can only be donated (from religious congregations), but they are often stolen or falsified, feeding a rich black market (often online) that mixes fraud with good faith.