Pope Francis’ visit to Jerusalem in Hollywood – kath.ch

On Sunday, Pope Francis travels to southern Italy – to the cinema city of Matera. For many, Matera is the holiness of Hollywood. Or as “Oberammergau of the Bible movie”. From Pasolini to James Bond, many films have been made here.

Sylvain Maximilian Hall

Matera is considered one of the oldest cities in the world. The area was settled 12,000 years ago. In the thirteenth century the city was at its height.

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993

Centuries later, it became a social hot spot. The book “Christ Came Only to Eboli” by Carlo Levi, published in 1945, tells about the disastrous living conditions in Matera. Many people lived in the now famous caves on the outskirts of the city. They were sick and lived in a confined space with their animals.

The infant mortality rate was 50 percent. In the 1950s, people were resettled in social housing. In 1993 UNESCO decided that the caves are part of the world cultural heritage.



Leading actor Evan Sagnet and director Milo Rao. In the background: Matera.

The city is ideal for biblical epics and Jesus films due to its original architecture. Thanks to its arid landscape and numerous caves, the city is often the setting for film crews. The following films shaped the city and made it known to an international audience.

“The First Gospel – Matthew” by Pier Paolo Pasolini


Scene from Pasolini's adaptation of the Bible

Scene from Pasolini’s adaptation of the Bible

Pasolini used only surviving quotations from the Bible according to Matthew for his 1964 film Jesus. The film was shown in black and white with amateur actors and caused quite a stir at the Venice International Film Festival. Pasolini dedicated the film to Pope John XXIII. The director surprised many critics with this work. Because the director was gay and a recognized atheist. He said, “In order to preach, I had to dive into the soul of the believer.”

“The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson


Mel Gibson played Jesus in

Mel Gibson played Jesus in The Passion, which was filmed in Matera.

It is considered one of the highest-grossing religious films of all time and one of the most controversial. The images of violence in The Passion of the Christ paint brutal realism. Mel Gibson attached great importance to an application that was as historically accurate as possible. In the movie, only Latin, Aramaic, and Hebrew are spoken – and translated accordingly. The scene of the bloodthirsty crucifixion was shot against the wonderful backdrop of Matera and cemented the place as a tourist magnet.

“Ben-Hur” by Timur Bekmambetov

Probably the most famous Ben-Hur movie is 1959 where Charlton Heston starred. But this is not the only movie. In 2016, Timur Bekmambetov reworked the story. Despite thousands of extras and Matera’s great movie background, the movie, which sold for $100 million, was not able to impress either the critics or the audience.

“Mary Magdalene” by Garth Davis


A scene from the movie

A scene from “Mary Magdalene” by Garth Davis

In November and December 2016, Australian director Garth Davis filmed Mary Magdalene’s story in and around Matera. Rooney Mara starred and Joaquin Phoenix played Jesus. Spartan furniture and understated aesthetics are amazing. Thus Davis attempts to recount the life of Mary Magdalene without additional pity and poetry.

“The New Bible” by Milo Rao


Jesus (Yavn Sagnet) and his disciples at the Last Supper.  outside the scene

Jesus (Yavn Sagnet) and his disciples at the Last Supper. A scene from “The New Bible” by Milo Rao.

The Swiss film director and director incorporates documentation and fiction into his film. On the one hand, it tells the story of Jesus in a fragmented form. On the other hand, it documents the fate of refugees in the city of Matera. The film shows a political and social hotspot.


Moussa Zerai is considered

Musa Zerai is known as “Father Moses”. In the movie “The New Gospel” he plays a disciple of Jesus in Matera.

Black activist Evan Sagnet plays Jesus, the emeritus doctor of Lucerne, Muse Zerai, a disciple. The New Bible is perhaps the only biblical film that addresses the current story of Matera and paints a comprehensive picture of the region and the exploitation of refugees.

James Bond: No Time to Die by Carrie Fukunaga


James Bond (Daniel Craig) is a sick agent

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is a sick agent

The new James Bond introduction has it all. Ironically, Bond begins 007’s new adventure in Matera, southern Italy, and the filming location of the famous Jesus films is the starting point for the hero’s passion.

While Milo Rao performs a political emotional drama in Matera that seeks publicity, Cary Fukunaga (director) introduces James Bond who withdraws into Matera’s private life. But this form of early retirement simply does not want to work. One can read The New James Bond as a sentimental play by an early retiree in mainstream cinema.

James Bond visits the tomb of Vespers, who died tragically in Venice, in Matera. This visit to the cemetery means the greatest danger to Bond’s life.

Pope Francis travels to the Eucharistic Congress


Pope Francis during a mass in Kazakhstan.

Pope Francis during a mass in Kazakhstan.

And Pope Francis? Although he is considered a Pasolini fan, he does not travel from Hollywood to Matera due to Jerusalem. But because of the National Eucharistic Conference, which ends on Sunday with a papal mass.


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