Naples: Life, Death & Miracles  © 2002-2017       contact:     Jeff Matthews  
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The Duomo (Cathedral)

Naples duomoThe Duomo, the cathedral of Naples, is dedicated to San Gennaro, Saint Januarius, the patron saint of the city. It was built at the end of the 13th century at the decree of Charles I of Angiò near the basilica of Santa Restituta (of which more, below), a sixth-century church that was incorporated into the Gothic architecture of the later cathedral, itself. The cathedral has been restored numerous times over the centuries. It was redone after the earthquake of 1788 and again in 1887. Its marble portals, however, are original. 

Inside, the cathedral is 100 meters long and in the form of a Latin Cross, with three naves, divided by sixteen pillars that form Gothic arches and incorporate 110 granite columns. The ceiling of the central nave is of wood and bears five paintings by various artists: the Annunciation, the Presentation at the Temple, the Visitation, the Nativity and the Epiphany. High on the Walls of the central nave and the transept are paintings of saints done by Luca Giordano and his school; at the base of the pillars are busts of the first 16 bishops of the city of Naples. 

Above the door of the main entrance are monuments to Charles I of Angiò (d.1285) in the center; Charles Martel, King of Hungary (d.1295) on the right; and his wife, Clemenza of Hapsburg (d.1295) on the left. These monuments are the work of Domenico Fontana; viceroy Enrico Guzman Count of Olivares ordered them built in 1599 because the original tombs of those nobles had been destroyed. The side chapels are all quite interesting, containing a collection of funerary items, sculpture, frescoes and canvases that represent an exhaustive overview of figurative art from 1200 to 1700.

In the nave, the fourth chapel is the Brancaccio chapel; just beyond that you enter into the oldest part of the Cathedral, the Santa Restituta basilica, one of the most interesting examples of paleo-Christian Naples. Originally, it was a church in its own right, built in the 6th century. Its present three aisles divided by 27 antique columns are what is left of the original church after it was incorporated into the body of the massive new cathedral in the 13th century. They say that Santa Restituta was a young African woman, who, because she was a Christian, was abandoned to the sea on a boat set ablaze. The fire, however, died out and she was miraculously able to put ashore on the island of Ischia. In the eighth century her remains were brought to the church in Naples that then took her name. The baptistery of San Giovanni in fonte beneath Santa Restituta claims to be the oldest in Western Christendom and contains a number of mosaics of extreme interest. (See this link for a graphic display of the mosaics.)

Opposite the Gothic Santa Restituta is the Baroque chapel of San Gennaro del Tesoro, built between 1608 and 1637 to fulfill the vow made by the people of Naples on January 13, 1527, after a plague. The bust of Januarius is precious. It is of silver, done by French craftsmen and is a gift of Charles III of Angiò. It preserves part of the saint's skull as well as the vial of blood that is believed by the faithful to liquefy miraculously twice a year. This occurs in May and September, repeating the miracle that happened for the first time during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, when the remains of Januarius were moved to Naples from Pozzuoli, the site of his martyrdom on September 19, 305. The expectation by the populace of the yearly occurrence of the "Miracle of San Gennaro" remains one the most fascinating manifestations of faith in all of Christendom. 

Archaeological work done around the the Duomo since the 1960s has brought to light a number of Greek, Roman and medieval items of interest. Traces of four 'city blocks' have been found, formed by the intersecting upper and central decumani (the east-west streets of Greek Neapolis) and the stenopoi, or north-south cross-streets. A small temple has been uncovered on the ancient stenopoi corresponding to modern-day via Duomo. The blocks around the Cathedral were clearly incorporated into later Roman Imperial road-work within the city. With the coming of Christianity, a number of Christian churches started to appear in the area, but many of the smaller ones from before the turn of the millennium were torn down to make way for the Cathedral. 

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