Over the last 40 years, half of all Italians interviewed in sample sur-veys have stated that they go mass at least once a month. A comparison between a 2004-05 survey and a direct counts performed in the churches of the Venice patriarchate (around four hundred thousand residents of Northeastern Italy) suggests that surveys strongly overestimate church at-tendance (both regular and occasional). This may be due mainly to three causes: a stronger tendency among less educated religious individuals to participate willingly in surveys about religion (i.e., sample bias); the de-sire - shared by many low frequenters - to self-represent themselves as coherently religious people; differences in the interpretation of the mean-ing of questions on mass attendance (while interviewers and researchers intend to record a behaviour, interviewees adapt their answers to their at-titude on religion). The consequences of these hypotheses on some as-pects of research on religion in Italy are discussed. If the results of the study carried out in Venice could be extended to Italy as a whole, the idea of a strong and persisting proximity between Italians, the catholic church and religion would have to be reconsidered.