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Maria Christina of Savoy

 

I live near a street in Naples that will never change its name. This is remarkable, since the roller–coaster of historical and social change plays games with Neapolitan urban nomenclature like you wouldn't believe. Via Roma used to be Via Toledo (or maybe it's the other way round); Via Gramsci used to be Via Helena; even the street I live on—named for Victor Emanuel II, the first king of united Italy—was originally named for Queen Maria Theresa of Naples in 1850 when the street was built.

The lucky, name-changeless thoroughfare I speak of is Viale Maria Cristina di Savoia. Maria Cristina was born in 1812 and died in 1836, a tragically brief life. She was from the royal house of Savoy, the dynasty that eventually came to rule united Italy later in the century. Maria Christina was exceptionally devout and would have entered a convent but for family pressure to marry her off in one of those arranged cross–dynastic affairs that European royal houses used to think were so advantageous. In 1832 she was forced into a marriage with King Ferdinand II of Naples, obviously as a means to cement relationships between the northerners (Savoy) and southerners (Bourbon). Her husband was King "Bomba", (bomb), so–called for his suppression of revolutionaries in Sicily in 1848. He was the next–to–last king of Naples. Their son, Francis, would be the last king. She died two weeks after giving birth to him. Her husband's second wife was Maria Theresa, the original eponym of my street.

In her brief life in Naples, Maria Christina was totally devoted to benevolent works, actively promoting expansion of crafts, small industry, and institutions to provide for the poor. She was also responsible for mitigating her husband's tendency to hand out death sentences. She quickly became the focus of admiration—even adulation—of the people. She was easily the most beloved queen in the long history of the Kingdom of Naples. In short, she was a saint. Not metaphorically, either. At her death, a cult sprang up around her and her episodes of intercession (to use the Roman Catholic terminology). The process to canonize Maria Christina began in 1859 and she was beatified in 1872. I think she is the only queen (or king) of Naples to be so honored. She rests in the church of Santa Chiara.

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