Seven Churches Visitation

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgical Year

A reader writes:

As a child I remember going to seven churches on Holy Thursday evening to
visit the Blessed Sacrament.  Can you explain the origin and significance
of this practice to me.  Is is still being done today?

I don’t have a lot of detail on this, but it apparently is a custom has been practiced in different places. I have evidence that it is a Polish Catholic custom, though it is also shared by other ethnicities, such as Italians.

Common sense would suggest that it may also be an urban custom (cities having the abundances of churches needed for folks to do this) compared to a rural custom (where churches are fewer & farther between).

There’s info on it and other Polish customs ON THIS PAGE.

It also appears to have been mentioned on a Knights of Columbus Page that has moved or is no longer on the web. That page stated:

The Altar of Repose

When the Eucharist is processed to the altar of repose after the Mass of Lord’s Supper, we should remain in quiet prayer and adoration, keeping Christ company. There is a tradition, particularly in big cities with many parishes, to try and visit seven churches and their altar of repose during this evening.

As to whether it is still practiced, according to the Denver Catholic Register, it is:

To this day, Italians customarily visit seven churches for Eucharistic adoration on Holy Thursday night, a reflection of the ancient pilgrimage practice of visiting seven Roman basilicas to obtain the plenary indulgence. Austrians light bonfires on Holy Saturday night to welcome the light of the risen Lord [LINK].

Perhaps others can comment with their knowledge of the custom.

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{ 36 comments }

Francis DS February 10, 2005 at 2:59 am

Jimmy, what is the reader’s nationality? I always presumed it was a uniquely Philippine custom/tradition? BTW, we call it ‘Visita Iglesia’ and we always did it, and yes on Holy Thursday as well.

Paul February 10, 2005 at 4:06 am

Our priest, from Puerto Rico, told me it was also their custom.

Christopher February 10, 2005 at 6:47 am

I know that it is a particularly popular custom in the city of Rome itself. Nearly all the churches in Rome really outdo themselves decorating their respective altars of repose, and remain open through the night (or at least until midnight) for those who are making the rounds. Of course, in Rome you can hit seven churches without walking more than a few blocks, and some people get really into the custom and try to go to as many as possible in one night.
I don’t know if the custom actually originated in Rome, but the density of churches there and the possible connection with the pilgrimage to the 7 basilicas might suggest so. I am given to understand that it was much more widespread custom in the old rite (though I haven’t looked into this myself) which is something of a popular survival in some areas. It’s survival in Poland in particular might have something to do simply with the generally conservative nature of Polish Catholicism, which seems to have a tendency to hold onto old customs of this sort (e.g., not eating meat on Christmas Eve).

Kevin February 10, 2005 at 8:01 am

Last person noted the Polish custom of not eating meat on Christmas eve. My Polish wife informs me that recently this was changed to no longer being a Eccles..’law’ in Poland –now it is only voluntary…encouraged

ken February 10, 2005 at 8:52 am

My home parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago takes a couple of bus loads of parishoners around for the visitation on Holy Thursday.

Jeff Tan February 11, 2005 at 4:08 am

And given that the custom in the Philippines comes from our Spanish colonizers from 1521, it is certainly an old one.

Rita March 8, 2005 at 6:12 am

My daughter just called me to ask if we know why we visited 3 churches on Holy Thursday. Since the Eucharist in the tabernacle is decorated beautifully with many flowers, my personal opinion is that it is to give additional reverence and glory to Our Lord in the Eucharist on the day that is right before Good Friday.

Clare Krishan March 4, 2006 at 7:24 am

Phoenixville PA does it too – last year I started at St Basil’s with “washing feat” Mass in early evening and beautiful bell choir and then as time permitted visited as many of other parishes (St. John Neumann of 40hrs fame was stationed in one of them as a young immigrant priest) in the city boundaries until the churches are closed around 10 pm or so – each tabernacle was adorned with flowers too

Jeff March 6, 2006 at 11:24 am

One Holy Thursday I went to visit my sister who was studying at BU at the time, and she and the Catholic student group there made a similar “church-hopping” pilgrimage. I went along, amd though I only lasted through the first three before I had to go home, it was very neat.

Valerie March 15, 2006 at 3:46 pm

I don’t know the origin of this custom, however, St. Philip Neri had this 7 church pilgrimage as one of his special devotions and used it to evangelize the youth. On St. Philip’s feastday, May 26th, my children’s school embarks on this devotion for the children in grades 5 to 8. It is very special for them.

Carmine March 19, 2006 at 5:18 am

My mom used to do this also , walking from our 3 decker in Dorchester all the way to Jamaica Plain
(Boston area) visiting seven churches . We only drove when the weather was bad. I’ve also wondered where the tradition came from. I doubt anyone does this anymore.

Tiago Avila March 25, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Jimmy, do you know when this tradition of visiting the seven pilgrim churches of Rome was established, and whether there is any particular rule that says that the pilgrim must visit them on foot alone and on the same day, or of having to pray certain prayers at each one of them as you visit them, or anything in those lines?
Thanks,
Tiago

Tiago Avila March 25, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Jimmy, do you know when this tradition of visiting the seven pilgrim churches of Rome was established, and whether there is any particular rule that says that the pilgrim must visit them on foot alone and on the same day, or of having to pray certain prayers at each one of them as you visit them, or anything in those lines?
Thanks,
Tiago

John Ferriter April 13, 2006 at 3:39 pm

It’s still done in Buffalo NY; I have driven one of approximately 50 busses that dart from church to church bringing the faithfull to pray and reflect on life as it was then and is now.
There are probably as many people out till midnite chasing churches as there are in the pubs on Holy Thursday!

J. R. Stoodley April 13, 2006 at 3:53 pm

It still done in Syracuse NY as well, except I’ve never heared of busses getting involved. People just drive their own cars, but the larger churches and the Cathedral usually remain open and visited until around midnight.

Ryan C April 13, 2006 at 6:08 pm

What a wondeful tradition! I’ll have to remember this.

TracyQ May 19, 2006 at 4:42 pm

Our huge extended family has done this for years. My smaller family decided to join them after Holy Thursday Mass this year, and it was one of the most beautiful, blessed things we’ve ever done! What a joy to see a huge family, probably at least 30 strong coming into every church, reverently, and lovingly, to pray to our Lord and Savior! BTW, we live in Buffalo, NY (a suburb), and love to see the beautiful, old churches! Our family on my husband’s side also have Polish AND Filipino descent. LOL! I guess this tradition is REALLY in our blood! :o )

Buffalo Florist December 31, 2006 at 7:42 am

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from Europe February 22, 2007 at 12:58 pm

This seven churches visitation would have been pretty easy when the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper was celebrated IN THE MORNING – i.e. until 1956 (BEFORE Vatican II). Then people had the whole day to visit the “altar of repose”. The following morning – Good Friday morning – the liturgy of 3.00pm was celebrated early IN THE MORNING.
Nowadays these liturgies are celebrated (usually) on Holy Thursday evening (the Chrism Mass has been restored in the Latin Church as a separate Mass, preferably on Holy Thursday morning) and at 3.00pm on Good Friday afternoon. Thus, the “place of repose” as it is called now (“locus repositionis” in the Roman Missal) is in operational from after the evening Mass and until the afternoon Good Friday liturgy. However!!! you may find that the Blessed Sacrament is removed on Holy Thursday night for security reasons: it is preferred to leave the Bl Sacrament in the tabernacle at the place of reposition between the Thursday Mass and the moment of Communion on Good Friday, but this is not always practiced due to security considerations: the Blessed Sacrament would in that case be kept in the sacristy, for example.

Some Day February 22, 2007 at 1:22 pm

The seven visitations (or seven in and outs when only one church is accessable) have a plenary indulgence when 7 Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory bes.
And the other typical requirements.
In spanish at least, they call it La visitacion al los monumentos (the visitation of the monuments)

Mari Rodriguez February 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I am currently preparing a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches after our Holy Thursday Mass, and return to our Parish to adoration until midnight.

Cynthia De Souza March 31, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Hi Im from Malaysia. Today is Palm Sunday and yes we do believe in visiting 7 churches on the nite of Holy Thursday. Altho I have not done it b4, but i intend to start this year. For the past couple of years, Ive fasted 40 days for Lent. So this year, I will definitely try to continue the traditions of the Holy Week.

Michael Austin April 5, 2007 at 8:36 am

When I was a child one of the teaching Sisters of St. Joseph told our Sunday School class that she and her friends – when she was a child – had visited every church on Good Friday on their bikes in complete silence between 12:00N and 3:00PM. As a child I did this myself, though I don’t remember lasting 3 hours worth of complete silence or even 3 hours period. Hearing about a similar visitation on Holy Thursday is new to me and very interesting.

Chris April 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm

I am from Buffalo NY. I have been visiting the seven churches for as many as the past 15 to 20 years. I started with my mom who has now passed on, but now I continue with my son. Some years there are quite a few visitors to the churches, even when the weather isn’t too nice. I heard the reason for seven churches to be visited is one church for each of the seven last comments the Lord made while dying on the cross. I always thought it was mainly a Polish custom, but now have read that many ethnic backgrounds practice this very nice tradition.

Mary April 6, 2007 at 5:46 am

Thanks so much for the international memeories of visitation of seven churches. I remember my mother taking four of us in the Chicago suburbs. She only lasted through four churches and we did it only once but I never forgot it. I ‘m going to try to persuade my husband to do it with our grandson who is staying with us this Good Friday.
Since it is now a Good Friday custom on account o f timing, I’m glad for the person suggesting it be connected with the seven last words of Our Lord. Our grandson is only eight so a devotion with a lot of movement will hopefully be a blessing to him as well as to his grandfather and I.

Mary April 6, 2007 at 5:47 am

Thanks so much for the international memeories of visitation of seven churches. I remember my mother taking four of us in the Chicago suburbs. She only lasted through four churches and we did it only once but I never forgot it. I ‘m going to try to persuade my husband to do it with our grandson who is staying with us this Good Friday.
Since it is now a Good Friday custom on account o f timing, I’m glad for the person suggesting it be connected with the seven last words of Our Lord. Our grandson is only eight so a devotion with a lot of movement will hopefully be a blessing to him as well as to his grandfather and I.

Jay September 4, 2007 at 2:14 am

As one of the comments rightly said, this devotion was formally established by St Philip Neri and pilgrims are required to visit seven Basilicas in Rome on the same day. They include St Peters, St Mary Major where the relics of the crib are venerated, St John Lateran with visit to closely located Santa Scala Church – where pilgrims venerate the real steps transferred originally from Pilate Palace – and where pilgrims follow up on their knees the steps of Jesus after scourging, and four minor Basilicas: St Paul outside the Walls where St Paul is buried, St Lawrence the Deacon, San Sebastian and Santa Croce Church where the relics of Passion are venerated.
Very inspiring and edifying tradition. God bless you all

Larry January 12, 2008 at 12:43 am

I am originally from Southern California, lived in New York for 25 years and now I am teaching in Rome, Italy. I live on the Via della Sette Chiese, the street of the seven churches. It is a road that connects the seven pilgrimage basilicas visited by St. Philip Neri and groups that he guided in the 16th Century. (There is a 20th Century church of St. Philip Neri that I can see outside of my dining room window.) When living in New York City I was part of a group that visited seven city churches every year on Holy Thursday.

Mark Johnson February 11, 2008 at 11:10 am

I don’t know about the origins of it, but my family and I have been doing it for the last 10 years or so in the L.A. area. We don’t always visit seven churches but always at least a few. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s interesting to see how each church prepares its exposition. It also imparts a sense of peace, I guess from driving through traffic and then stopping at a place where it’s dead silent and people are engrossed in contemplation and prayer; then back into traffic, then the peaceful silence again, etc.; and knowing that it’s the same Lord in each place though the surroundings vary. I highly recommend it.

Tom Smith February 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

For what it’s worth, almost every church in Pittsburgh is open on the night of Holy Thursday for late-night adoration. The Newman Clubs of the various universities in the city typically organize a pilgrimage to seven parishes.

Ed Hunter March 13, 2008 at 6:56 am

I grew up with this tradition. I always assumed that it was only a Polish tradition because it was my Polish Mother who led the way. Its wonderful to see that it is simply a world-wide Catholic tradition.
I unfortunately travel for my work and seldom am I home for Holy Thursday since that’s the day I am usually returning home. Not be deterred, I simply do it on Good Friday between Noon and 3:00 PM. I now take my Grandchildren with me and we enjoy the time together as well as the wonderful church architecture.

jo youstra March 23, 2008 at 9:57 am

When I was a child growing up in Washington, DC, the Mass on Holy thursday was celebrated in the morning, and the Blessed Sacrament was taken from the main altar, and a procession of clergy, altar boys (no girls, then), and children accompanied the Blessed Sacrament to a side altar, decorated with flowers and candles.
My parents and siblings visited seven churches Holy Thursday evening, and we typically recited 6 times the Our Fathers, Hail Mary, and Glory be to the Father.
My parents were Italian immigrants, but I have talked to non-Italians who remember following this devotion, but no one seems to know the origin.
Now with Holy Thursday Mass celebrated in the evening, I think the custom has been discontinued in our area.
Jo

Tom March 30, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Visiting seven churches , symbloizing the seven sSacraments:
Baptism
Eucharist
Reconciliation
Confirmation
Marriage
Holy Orders
Anointing of the Sick

Liz Ferguson December 30, 2008 at 8:19 pm

I have been living in Mexico City since 1990 and the Visita de las 7 Casas (Visit to the 7 “houses” or temples) is an important part of many Mexican’s Holy Thursday traditions. It has also become a favorite of mine over the years.
It has nothing to do with the 7 sacraments. It is, in fact, meant to be a representation of the VIA CRUCIS and the “stops” (visits or stations) that were made by Jesus on his way to Calvary:
1st Visit: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22: 39-46) 2nd Visit: Jesus bound and taken before Annas (John 18: 19-22) 3rd Visit: Jesus taken before the High Priest, Caiaphas (Matthew 26: 63-65) 4th Visit: Jesus taken before Pilate (John 18,35-37) 5th Visit: Jesus taken before Herod (Luke 23: 8-9; 11) 6th Visit: Jesus taken before Pilate again (Matthew 27: 22-26) 7th Visit: Jesus given the crown of thorns and led to his crucifixion (Matthew 27: 27-31)
Each visit is made in a different church on Holy Thursday. In Mexico no time is specified. People may begin when the churches open their doors first thing in the morning or they may begin in the evening.
Upon entering the church one kneels, makes the sign of the cross, reads the above noted scriptures, reads a special meditation and ends with 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys and 5 Glorias. After this, one makes a personal reflection before moving on to the next church.
In Mexico they sell small booklets outside the churches with the prayers to be used as a guideline. However, most eliminate the actual scripture leaving only the meditation (which may or may not coincide with the scripture). Many Mexican Catholics perform a “Holy Hour” (Hora Santa) after the last visit.
Everything I have ever heard about this tradition indicates that it was started by Saint Philip Neri. However, I am not sure that this information is accurate. However, as a participant each year, I can assure readers that this is the tradition followed in Mexico and that it is a very common practice among the devout in this country and its main purpose is meditation and reflection.
If I can be of further help to anyone in this matter, please contact me. This is a beautiful tradition of meditation and reflection in world full of frenzy and rush and I would love to share it with as many people as I can.
For those of you who speak Spanish, look it up on the web under “la visita de las siete casas.”

V Asher Perez de Garcia March 2, 2009 at 6:34 pm

old/new it started with a few ladies from work, we all take off on Holy Thursday & meet early that morning of breakfast & we start our walk to visit seven churhes starting @ the Virgen de Gudalupe Catholic Church & ending @ San Fernado Catherdral.
Our orginal group was 9-10, now we have 28-29 total every year some one else joins us. We have been doing this for over 15+ years we meet @ same place & visit the same seven churches,
When we are done, we all sit down for a nice lenten meal @ one
of the local resturants.

Letticia April 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Well, even Catholics in Asean countries visit 7 churches during Holy Thursday. My parents of Indian descent and their parents too practised it. I have been doing this traditional and faithful even now with my teenage children. Praise God!

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