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Santa Maria Regina Coeli


In a city where most convents and monasteries have long since been taken over by the state and secularized into municipal buildings, schools and even police stations, Santa Maria Regina Coeli ("Queen of Heaven) is still a "working" convent. The church and convent are still in the hands of the order of the Sisters of Charity, founded by the Jeanne-Antide Thouret (1765-1826), a benevolent order that has survived the various waves of state takeovers of religious orders in Italy since the French Revolution. (Also see this entry on the ex-monasteries of Naples.) The original order was closed—as were all orders under French revolutionary rule in Europe—but in 1811 King Murat arranged for the Sisters of Charity to come to Naples and be settled in Santa Maria Regina Coeli. (The order started in France and is still quite active, counting about 3,000 members present at more than 350 sites in the world.)

The church, itself, is a very large hidden treasure of the Neapolitan Baroque—"hidden" in the sense that it is not in the "tourist heart" of Naples, meaning the street known as Spaccanapoli or via dei Tribunali, the two main east-west streets (decumani) of the old city. (See this map.) The church and convent are up the hill almost at the north-west corner of the old city, on the third and little known decumanus. Santa Maria Regina Coeli goes back to 1590 when an order of Augustinian nuns acquired the premises and set about building their new home. The original architect is cited in sources as G. V. Della Monaca, but also as G. F. di Palma. In any event, major renovation was undertaken by F.A. Picchiatti in the 1680s.

The entrance to the church (photo) consists of a high double stairway leading up to a portico and arcade with frescoes by anonymous Flemish artists. The interior is a single nave with side chapels. Internal decorations are from the second half of the 1700s. There is significant art work within the church, including works by Stanzione, Giordano, Gargiulo (aka Micco Spadaro), Ragolia, Bardellino, Lorenzo Vaccaro, and Filippo Vitale. The large adjacent convent on the north is in the form given it in the late 1600s by Picchiatti. The courtyard is still well-kept and contains an 18th-century pool with water-plants at the center. On the end wall in the refectory is a significant 16th-century panel painting by an unknown artist of the "Miracle of the Funeral from the Sacred House of Maria a Loreto." 

A musical sidelight in the long history of Santa Maria Regina Coeli is the fact that the great Neapolitan composer Domenico Cimarosa was choir director from 1796 to 1800, at which point he was arrested for his alleged complicity in the republican revolution of 1799. (He had written the republican anthem.) At his trial he said he was apolitical. He wrote that anthem because they told him to, just as he had written royal Bourbon anthems earlier. He was exiled.

 
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