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The church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is in the Vomero section of Naples, near the square, Piazza degli Artisti. It is new (from the 1960s) and was a replacement for the church of the same name that existed until the 1950s in the center of town. That church was near the port and went back to the 1200s. The interesting name “dei Fiorentini” meant that the church existed through the centuries as a house of worship for the community of Florentine citizens—mostly merchants—who lived in the capital of the Kingdom of Naples during those years.
From the clean, white, unadorned exterior of the church, it is not at all evident that the premises are a repository of medieval and Baroque art, but it is so; most of the art from the original church was moved to the new one. These include works by Marco Pino, Giovanni Balducci, and Paolo de Matteis. (The large canvasses are arrayed along both sides of the church; otherwise the walls would be totally bare, which means that the original plans for the new church foresaw the placing of such art work in the interior.)
The parish priest, Don Raffaele
Sogno, may be the only one in Naples who uses modern
audio-visual methods during church services. He
employs slides, recorded music, and poetry readings
related to the particular point in the Gospel he is
trying to make.
The dome and
belfry of the basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità rise
conspicuously above the modern road level. "Modern," in
this case refers to the early 1800s, when the French rulers of Naples decided
to extend the main road, via Toledo, north out of the
city and up to the Capodimonte
Palace. The new road essentially passed above the
section of Naples called "Sanità,"
still today one of the most crowded sections of the
city, the tight and twisting alleys of which were
largely untouched by modern renovations of the city in
the 20th century. The road was called "Corso Napoleone"
for a short time after it was built but is now via Santa Teresa degi Scalzi
(named for the nearby church of Santa Teresa degli Scalzi, the
first church and monastery  of the Discalced
Carmelite Order in Naples. "Discalced" means
"barefoot"). At the point where the street passes over
the Sanità, the street name changes to Corso Amedeo di Savoia
S. Maria della Sanità (interior)
The origin of the name: At the end of the 1500s an ancient image was found in the church. It was of the Madonna with Child and is probably the oldest image of Mary in Naples (from 5th-6th century). It was an icon of formidable therapeutic power! Just staring at it intensely would heal. That healing image is the origin of the name of the church and of the entire quarter, Sanità, which means "health" .The church is also popularly referred to as "San Vincenzo della Sanità," after the Dominican saint, Vincenzo Ferreri, particularly revered in the Sanità quarter of Naples. The basilica was built between 1602 and 1613 and was actually built atop an original house of worship buried by mudslides centuries earlier and rediscovered in 1569. The original church was connected to the veneration of San Gaudioso bishop of Abitina in the Roman province of Africa (approximately, parts of modern Tunisia and Libya).Tradition says that Gaudioso died in Naples in c.451 after being set adrift from the north African coast by the Vandal King Genseric. At Gaudioso’s death in Naples, his remains were interred in the catacombs that bear his name today. His followers then founded a monastery at Caponapoli, a short distance away but within the ancient city walls (approximately, the height looking north over the National Museum and moved his remains there. That led to the abandoning of the active religious community that had grown up in the original area and to a long period of neglect not rectified until the 1500s when a 6th-century image of the Madonna and Child was uncovered in the area. (That painting is now in the basilica.) This started a wave of pilgrimages that turned into true urban expansion as the Neapolitan populace started to move outside the historic city walls for the first time. That, in turn, led to the construction of the Basilica beginning, as noted, in 1602. The main altar (photo, above) was purposely set atop and joined internally to the paleo-Christian catacombs of San Gaudioso; access is from the space beneath the altar.
The Basilica is considered one of the most important monuments to the Counter-Reformation in Naples and the interior is a palimpsest, from preexisting burial grounds to architecture of the Counter-Reformation and then to more modern works including 19th-century handicraft and recently acquired works of modern art. Art work on the premises includes a number of paintings by Luca Giordano. The spectacular marble pulpit and double stairway combine to form one of the most theatrical affairs of its kind in any church in the city and, perhaps, in all of Italy. That construction is from the years 1677-1705. Towering above the scene is a magnificent organ from the early 1700s, last restored in 1940. According to information from Gian Marco Vitagliano, a Neapolitan restorer of such instruments, this one has two manuals (keyboards) and about 2,000 pipes. It is, alas, not currently in working order and plans for restoration are unclear.
The church of San Giorgio dei Genovesi is on via Medina between the City Hall and the main police station. There used to be a sign indicating that the premises were the site of something called the University Chapel. Now, however, the premises have recently been acquired as classroom space for the "Parthenope" University of Naples. The church was finished in 1620, which makes it old in some places in the world but not in Naples; indeed, it stands next to a church that was built 300 years earlier. The term Genovesi in the name—as with "Fiorentini" (above)—indicates that it originally served the needs of a foreign community, in this case Genova. San Giorgio dei Genovesi was built on the site of the first commercial theater in Naples. The church is the work of Bartolomeo Picchiatti (b. Ferrara, c. 1571; d Naples, 1643),who moved to Naples in the late 1590s at the invitation of prominent architect, Domenico Fontana. Picchiati is first noted as a supervisor of construction on Fontana's new Royal Palace. S. Giorgio dei Genovesi is one of the few surviving examples of Picchiati's work in Naples. He is the father of architect Francesco Antonio Picchiati.
update: Sept. 2014 I heard some time ago that the new Partenope university had acquired classroom space in this very historic building. I also recall seeing a plaque to that effect at the entrance. That seems to have changed. The city now announces that by Christmas, the church will be converted to... drum-roll—or at least some really loud catcalls, boos and raspberries... a football museum! That's right. Instead of locating it, oh, let's see, in the San Paolo stadium, they're putting it here--"it" being a collection of soccer balls, photos, uniforms, posters, plaques, trophies and other memorabilia (spray cans, stink-bombs, and forbidden firecrackers?) Various spokespersons are even proud of the idea. Just think, they say, this will be the only museum of its kind NOT located on the premises of sports arena! Gee.
Santa Lucia al Monte is in the middle of what was once a vast Franciscan monastic complex from the 1550s. The entire complex was set onto the site of a ready-made flat space in the hillside, an excavated Angevin quarry from the 1300s. It is directly below the San Martino hill on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele at a point where that east-west road makes a turn to the north. The area enjoys an unobstructed view to the east and south towards the sunrise, Mt. Vesuvius, and the Sorrentine peninsula. When the monastery was built, it was totally out of the city in a truly bucolic setting. It may no longer be bucolic, but it is still scenic; thus— with the fate of monasteries being what it was in the 1800s in Italy (they were all closed)—the monastery premises (just to the left of this photo) now serve as a many-starred luxury hotel, San Francesco al Monte; the premises around the corner to the right are now used by the department of jurisprudence of the nearby Suor Orsola university. The church has recently been restored.
The church of San Giovanni Battista delle Monache is on via Costantinopoli just outside (west) of what used to be original Greek and Roman wall of the city. The nucleus of the church/convent was started in 1597 by a group of sisters ("monache" in the name of the church) from Capua. The construction proceeded sporadically as the order bought up pieces of property in the area, and it was not until 1673 that the whole site was given some coherent design under the eye of one of the great architects of the time, Antonio Francesco Picchiati. The finishing touches on the impressive facade and corridors of the convent were done by Giovan Battista Nauclerio in the early 1700s. The church is in the form of a Latin cross with lateral chapels; the main altar is adorned by Luca Giordano's John the Baptist Preaching.
The church is now across the street, laterally, from the Academy of Fine Arts. Actually, the Academy is the original convent. That situation arose as a result of the closure of the monastery in the early 1800s by the government of Murat and then, in the 1850s, a massive restructuring of this ancient area that saw the laying of the new street that divided the convent church from the convent itself. After the unification of Italy, the convent premises were converted to be the art academy.
Santa Maria a Cappella Nuova. This inconspicuous, though colorful, church is a tiny clerical remnant of what was once a gigantic monastic complex on the eastern side of Piazza dei Martiri. The complex had paleo-Christian origins, being the site of a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary from the fifth century. According to tradition, that chapel, itself, was on the site of an earlier Roman temple of Serapis. Between the 12th and 16th centuries the premises were expanded and became the abbey of Santa Maria a Cappella Vecchia (“old chapel”). There was a Chiaia Gate on the site—an entrance to the western side of Naples and the then new road, Riviera di Chiaia, which ran along the water's edge. The date “1506” is still visible on the ruins of the gate. Later, a second chapel was added on the west side of the complex and named Santa Maria a Cappella Nuova ("new chapel"); the red church that one sees today (photo) on via Domenico Morelli is that second chapel.
Much of the ancient religious structure was bought by Giuseppe Sessa in the early 1700s and converted to a private dwelling, still called "Palazzo Sessa." It was the official residence of the English ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, William Hamilton, and Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson had apartments there; also, Goethe visited in 1787. What was once the courtyard of the entire complex is now a dead-end alley named via Santa Maria a Cappella Vecchia that runs in from Piazza dei Martiri and is the site of a few antique shops, a gymnasium (the ex-old chapel!), and also provides passage to the Jewish synagogue of Naples.
The church of San Domenico Soriano
is directly across the street from the large square, Piazza Dante. As with all the
other large churches on that side of the street for many
blocks on this main thoroughfare of downtown Naples, San
Domenico Soriano was once part of a much larger monastic
complex. All such monasteries were closed in the early
1800s under Murat. Some were
reopened in 1816 but closed again in the 1860s after the
unification of Italy. This monastery, however—the yellow
adjacent building on the south aide of the church—was
never reopened as such. It served as a military barracks
between 1816 and 1860; it now houses Naples municipal
The church was started in 1619, with basic construction not complete until 1660. The monastic grounds were not finished until well into the 1700s. (The conspicuous belfry was not added until 1759.) Some of the greatest names in Neapolitan architecture and sculpture were involved with the design, construction, and ornamentation of the church over many decades. These include Francesco Picchiati (the royal architect and original designer of the great column at Piazza San Domenico Maggiore), Giuseppe Sanmartino (sculptor of the Veiled Christ), and Cosimo Fanzago (whose works in Naples are almost without number).
San Francesco delle Monache is another of the small churches of Naples that is now closed and that attracts little or no attention from passers-by. It is on via Santa Chiara directly across from the side entrance of the church and monastic complex of that name and is dwarfed by the presence of the larger church. Construction of San Francesco delle Monache was started in 1325 under Robert of Anjou as a temporary residence for the sisters [monache] of the Order of St. Clare while construction on the nearby convent of Santa Chiara proceeded. Religious tradition links the building of San Francesco delle Monache to a donation by a nun from Assisi of a life-size "true portrait" of St. Francis of Assisi. The church that one sees today was dedicated as a separate church in 1646 and underwent restoration in 1750 at which time the façade of wrought-iron and "piperno" lava stone was put in place. The entrance thus resembles a transenna, i.e. the open-work screen of stone or metal normally enclosing a shrine within a church and is unusual in Neapolitan religious architecture. The church was closed in 1805 when religious orders were closed under the French rule of Naples. It became a military barracks, then a girls’ school. The entrance is only to the church, itself, which was much smaller, of course, than the original complex of church plus convent; the entire structure extended north to the corner of what is now via Benedetto Croce. That part of the original San Francesco delle Monache is now separately known as Palazzo Mazziotti.
The church/convent is of some historical interest. Benedetto Croce recalled that “it was one of the major focal points of attempted religious reform in Naples and in all of Italy.” This is in reference to the presence in the convent for 30 years of Giulia Gonzaga (1513-1566). She moved to Naples in 1535 and became a friend and disciple of Juan de Valdez, the “Italian Martin Luther,” who was active in Naples at the time. After Valdez’ death in 1541, Giula Gonzaga inherited his papers and provided for their further dissemination. Her “heretical” activities brought her to the attention of the Inquisition; nothing came of that, however, due to the timely intervention of her powerful Gonzaga cousins.
The Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso [Succour or Eternal Help] all’Arenella is at the beginning of what is now called the “high Vomero” (although Arenella was traditionally a separate village). A plaque outside the church lists the first priest to minister to the parish as one “Giacomo Francesco Conte, 1599.” The church originally had an adjacent monastery, long since converted to secular use. There is little left of the original church on the outside; the façade is a result of restoration done since the late 1700s and as late as 1960. The church is near the birthplace of Arenella’s “favorite son,” the poet and painter, Salvator Rosa.
Purgatorio ad Arco. The complete name of this church is Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio [of the Souls in Purgatory] ad Arco. Casual passers-by along via dei Tribunali are likely not even to notice it except as just another small non-descript church in the heart of the historic center of Naples. It does catch the eye, however, for the presence of the remarkable display of skulls engraved into the facade—these are the so-called memento mori. (Facade detail, photo below. Other examples are here and here.)
The church was built in 1616 to the plans of Giovanni Cola di Franco and Giovan Giacomo Di Conforto at the behest of various families of the Neapolitan nobility seeking a place for their burial crypts. The portal and entrance are the work of sculptor, Giuseppe de Marino. The inside presents a single nave with a reduced transept and lateral chapels. The interior contains art work by Neapolitan artists of the time such as Andrea Vaccaro and Luca Giordano.
The underground chamber—called a “hypogeum”—is particularly interesting and presents an almost pagan-like array of symbols at certain points. As the name of the church indicates, the church was dedicated to the souls in Purgatory, and there were times when 150 masses a day(!) were celebrated in the church.
San Giuseppe dei Nudi. [St. Joseph of the Naked]. The unusual name derives from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, Matthew 25:36, "...nudus et operuistis me...," [KJV: "... I was naked, and ye clothed me...,"], Christ's well-known admonition to charity. The association of the local merchants distributed clothing to the poor at Christmas and on the Feast day of St. Joseph, March 19. Under the Bourbons, the King would be present at the distribution, and, in 1849, Pope Pius IX was present. After 1860, the ritual was limited to only the feast day of the saint.
The church, itself, is in the area to the west of the National Archaeological Museum on the slope that leads up to Vomero. It is on a square named for the church; indeed, even the straight, narrow street is so named. It was built around 1750 by the architect Giovanni del Gaizo [1715-96], a prominent architect of the period and a pupil of Domenico Antonio Vaccaro. The church was redisgned in 1888. Among the works of art contained within the church is a stautue of Joseph holding the baby Jesus in one hand and, in the other, a small cane of real wood put into his hand at an uncertain date but certainly not part of the original. The cane is apparently the source of a bizarre Neapolitan expression, explained here.
Santa Maria delle Grazie a Toledo. In a city full of remarkable examples of Baroque churches, this much more recent and relatively small neo-Classical church on via Toledo (aka via Roma) does not stand out particularly. On the other hand, if you start walking down at the Royal Palace and head up towards this church, it is the first one that you come to after many blocks of businesses, shops and banks—a long stretch without a church on a street in Naples. That, itself, is remarkable. (The secret is that directly behind via Toledo is the large Spanish Quarter, a section with enough churches to satisfy anyone.) The church is on the site of the earlier church of the Madonna of San Loreto, founded by the Theatine order in 1628. That church was given over to the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows (Sette Dolori) in 1835; they employed Carlo Parascandolo to rebuild on the premises in the latest neo-Classical style, which he did (as one sees from the facade (photo). The interior has three naves with a vault dome. The art work within the church is in keeping with the modern exterior of the period; that is, there are various lesser-known works by "academic" artists of the early 1800s such as Gennaro Ruvo and Tommaso de Vivo. There are are also two statues by Tito Angelini, one of the sculptors who did the statue of Dante that dominates the square of that name. There is one interesting, older (1759) example of sculpture within the church, and that is the Symbols of the Evangelists and the Mystic Lamb on the main altar. That part of the altar was done by Giuseppe Sanmartino, sculptor of the world-famous Veiled Christ.
Church of the Concezione al Chiatamone. Before the 1890s, when city rebuilders added a modern road and blocks of high buildings in front (!) of this church, it was right on the sea and had an unobstructed view of the Bay of Naples. The church is on via Chiatamone, below the height of Mt. Echia, and once the main seaside road from the west into the city, passing along the Santa Lucia section of town and the Egg Castle. It now looks semi-abandoned, though it is not. The church plus the adjacent monastery of the Camillian Order, known as Ministers to the Sick, were built in 1623. (Members of the order were also called crociferi after their symbol, a red cross; thus, the church is also called Crocelle al Chiatamone. The property changed hands in 1821, at which time a restoration was undertaken. The church contains the tomb of the artist Paolo de Matteis and holds a significant collection of either his works or those of his students.
Church/Convent of Sant'Antonio delle Monache a Port'Alba (St. Anthony of the Sisters at Port'Alba). ("Port'Alba" is the arched passage across the street from the square. It leads to Piazza Dante.) This site is easier to find if you simply remember that it is at Piazza Bellini next to the statue of that famous composer. The original name of the convent was S. Antonio di Padova. It was founded in 1550 on the premises of a preexisting building from the 1400s. There were actually two adjacent preexisting buildings, both of which were eventually incorporated into the convent, but not at the same time. The story is complicated.
The so-called "Italian Wars" of the early 1500s involved a French invasion of Naples by Lautrec in 1528. It failed, but both owners of the two respective pieces of property were executed for treason, having gone over to the French side during the invasion. At that point, both properties came into the hands of the prince of Conca, who consolidated them into single holding by actually bridging the narrow street that had separated them. At the same time, the entire area in front of the buildings (today's Palazzo Bellini) was subject to massive reconfiguration. New city walls were built in the area between 1543 and 1547. At that time, a new street was opened, S. Maria di Costantinopoli, the broad street that runs north from Piazza Bellini to the museum. In front of the original two buildings, the old walls were removed and the square was rebuilt at a lower level such as to be on the same level as the new street. That explains the stairway and balcony on the north side of the square (visible in photo), necessary in order to provide entrance to the higher placed structures from the 1400s. (They were higher placed because they were actually built on a hill, the slope that leads up to the highest point of historic Naples, the NW corner, where, indeed, the ancient Greeks built their acropolis.)
The sisters of S. Antonio di Padova opened the convent in one of the buildings in the 1550s, but the adjacent building (known as Palazzo Conca) led a separate existence for many years. It was, indeed, regal, and it led a splendid existence until the Conca fortune ran out. At that point, 1637, that property, too, was acquired by the sisters of S. Antonio and it all became a single convent with the entire premises known as Palazzo Conca. The convent was named S. Antonio di Padova, but assumed its current name of Sant'Antonio delle Monache a Port'Alba in the 1800s. It became better known by the diminutive, Sant' Antoniello, and is still called that today in spite of the historical marker in front, which uses the official nomenclature of S. Antonio.
The building was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1694; it was rebuilt to a plan by Arcangelo Guglielmelli (1648-1723) prolific painter, architect and engineer (and oddly overlooked in many urban histories of Naples). The double stairway that we see today was added to the structure in 1757. Religious orders were suppressed in 1808 under Murat and the premises were used as a "conservatory"—that is, a shelter and orphanage—for well over a century. The property was acquired by the Frederick II University of Naples in 1995. The premises were recently restored and since 2009 have housed the BRAU (Biblioteca di Ricerca dell'Area Umanistica), (Library for Research in the Humanities, formerly called Library of the Department of Letters and Philosophy) of the Frederick II University of Naples. The interior of the premises are evidently baroque and still display rich stucco decorations from the 1694 restoration of the church by Guglielmelli. The altar is of marble and mother-of-pearl. There was a precious painting, Santa Cecelia in Ecstasy, by Bernardo Cavallino, but it was removed to the museum at Capodimonte. The interior holds other noteworthy works of art, as well.
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