Miracles March 2014

Big in Italy: Miracles

A new tabloid covers saintly celebs.
Cover: courtesy of Miracoli; cherubs: Poodlesrock/Corbis

I believe in angels and I speak with them,” Juliette Binoche, the Academy Award–winning actress, told Miracoli, a new Italian tabloid, last July. She isn’t alone. Miracoli, which bills itself as “a magazine of hope” and hit a circulation of about 120,000 in its first four months, is competing with some of Italy’s top weekly magazines by covering miracles, saints, and the latest Virgin Mary sighting in the bark of a tree with the pulpy flair of a celebrity tabloid. Every Saturday, readers find a star’s firsthand account of the miraculous amid tales of spontaneous recoveries from cancer, a horoscope-like Saints of the Week page, pilgrimage itineraries, and saintly centerfolds (including, in one issue, a baroque rendering of Saint John the Baptist, muscular and naked save for a delicately draped cloth).

“I wish you could buy this magazine in churches,” a reader named Marietta gushed in a letter to the editor. But so far, it’s available only on newsstands. Churches, anyway, would prove a lackluster marketplace: a 2009 study showed that while Italy’s overall Sunday Mass attendance is high among European countries, with about 30 percent of Italians attending every week, only 13 percent of 22-to-32-year-olds go to Mass so regularly. Some experts have suggested that miracle mania might be filling the spiritual hole left as church pews empty out. “Often, those you no longer see at mass, you find kneeling at Lourdes or Medjugorje or Fátima,” the Catholic journalist Vittorio Messori wrote in 2012, referring to famous holy sites across Europe.

The Catholic Church has made no official comment on Miracoli, though that doesn’t mean it’s gone unnoticed in the Holy See. Last November, a group of priests with connections to the magazine waited in Pope Francis’s receiving line during a general audience and, kissing his hand, passed him the latest issue. The pope took the magazine with a sheepish smile. According to the following week’s cover story, he told them, “I’m going to read it!” 

Presented by

William Brennan is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He's also written for Slate and The New Yorker.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In