is some confusion about the terminology
regarding one of the most picturesque churches
in the Bay of Naples. On the slopes of
Vesuvius just above the town of Torre del
Greco is a small hill, visible from the entire
bay. Upon that hill there perches a white
church with an adjacent monastery; the facade
of the church faces southwest and is stunning
to behold at sunset. I have always called the
church Sant'Alfonso because that is what I
must have heard at one time or another. Wrong.
is called Sant'Alfonso. The church is San Michele Arcangelo,
St. Michael the Archangel.
First, archaeology confirms that the hill was used by the Romans and, before them, the Greeks. The oldest documented name for the hill is Greek-Pandiera, "all sacred." The earliest Christian name is Monte San'Angelo, in use by the 5th century. There was for many centuries at least some sort of small Christian chapel on the hill. The earliest references to a house of worship dedicated to the Archangel Michael is from the 1400s. Also, in the early 1500s a small hospital was built to take in those with contagious diseases. In 1577 the Camaldolese religious order moved to the premises, and in 1602 a church and hermitage dedicated to Arcangelo Michele were dedicated. The hill, itself, then became known as Sant'Angelo ai Camaldoli, (not to be confused with the well-known Camaldoli monastery on the hill in back of Naples, itself). New buildings were begun in 1714; the old church was demolished, and the Baroque church that one sees today was started in 1741. It is in the form of a Latin cross and has two facades, one facing the sea and the other facing the monastic quarters.
With the French takeover of the kingdom of Naples in 1806, religious orders were suppressed and the Camaldolese were expelled from the premises. Interestingly, the town of Torre del Greco had the opportunity to buy the property at the time but did not do so; the town fathers apparently feared excommunication if they bought property from the anti-clerical minions of Napoleon. The property was returned to the Camaldolese in 1826, ten years after the return of the Bourbons to the throne of Naples. After the unification of Italy in 1861, the order was again dispossessed and the premises were put up for sale. There follows a string of private owners of the ex-monastery, some with little regard for the history of the property, as a result of which some works of art and even parts of the considerable monastery library dribbled away by hook or by crook.
*I'm curious about a German woman who would buy property near Naples in 1943. I have nothing on her except that she was seen sporting a rare René Boivin "pagoda" headdress in 1941, was "renowned for her great taste and elegance," was a friend of Coco Chanel, and was married to Baron Eberhard von Stohrer, (d.1953) the German ambassador first to Franco's rebel court in Salamanca during the Spanish civil way and then to Madrid, itself, from 1939-1942. She acquired the property in the same year (1943) that her diplomat husband was recalled to Berlin and held onto it until a year after his death. There's probably a good story behind all this. Somebody please write me and tell me what it is!
update: August 2011
Aaaaah, thank you! Maria Ursula von Stohrer's name is better known in connection with another site in the Bay of Naples, the Castiglione Thermal Baths on the Island of Ischia. In the 1930s she and her husband visited Naples and she decided to acquire property. She decided on the ancient Castiglione site and bought it in 1936. After the war she returned to Ischia and dedicated the rest of her life to developing the property into a flourishing commercial enterprise. She passed away in 1988 on Ischia. (^)