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T
he Church of the Neapolitans in Rome


Some of the names of churches in Naples seem unusual to visitors. I am referring to such names as San Giorgio dei Genovesi, San Giacomo degli Italiani, San Giacomo degli Spagnoli and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. Respectively, they are the churches of the Genovese, the Italians, the Spanish and the Florentines. Why would you have separate churches for people from Genoa? Florence? And what about Spain? Italy? We are in Italy! What's going on?

You have to step back in time quite a few centuries to make sense of those names. The Kingdom of Naples was a separate state between 1150 and 1860. During those centuries, "foreign" communities of merchants and diplomats developed in the capital city, Naples; thus, in the same sense that there are today in Naples churches serving the English and German communities, for example, there were for many centuries churches in Naples serving those from Genoa, Florence and elsewhere. The above-mentioned "Spanish" church was in fact a major church and monastery (now the Naples city hall) built by the Spanish at the beginning of the viceroyal tenure in Naples (1500). It was named "of the Spanish" to distinguish it from the older church "of the Italians" and that latter name goes way back to 1328 and was a tribute to honor sailors from Pisa whose fleet rested in the port of Naples for a while on the way home from a victory over the Saracens further south the year before. They were "Italians" as opposed to "Neapolitans".

In the same fashion, the Kingdom of Naples (or the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) had its own churches "abroad." One of the best known of these is the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo dei Napoletani (photo, above). It is located in the Regola district of Rome on via Giulia. The original premises included a monastery and were dedicated to Sant'Aurea, martyred in Ostia in the third century. In its long history, the church has also been called Sant'Eustasio. The new church was built between 1574 and 1619 by the Neapolitan Confraternity of the Holy Spirit. The design for the new church was probably by Domenico Fontana, very active in Rome before his move to Naples, where he was the architect for the new Royal Palace in 1600. The Church of the Neapolitans underwent rebuilding at the beginning of the 1700s and again in the 1850s. By the mid-1900s, however, the church was in very poor condition and was closed; it was finally restored in the mid-1980s and reopened.

Among the art work within the church is the Martyrdom of San Gennaro, the last work by the great Neapolitan painter of the Baroque, Luca Giordano. Also, for a number of years, the church contained the remains of the last king and queen of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as well as those of their infant daughter—that is, King Francis II, Queen Maria Sofia, and Princess Maria Cristina Pia. The earthly remains of this last royal family of Naples were moved to the Church of Santa Chiara in Naples in 1984.


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