Miscellaneous Churches 6
San Pietro Martire.
The main body of this ex-monastery now houses departments
of the Federico II University of
Naples. The origins of San Pietro Martire go
back to the Angevin dynasty in
Naples when Charles II of Anjou authorized the
construction of a new Dominican basilica. Construction was
begun in 1294. (At the time, the area was already a
maze of tight alleyways close to the port; the layout of
the area that one sees today was greatly changed by the
urban rebuilding, the Risanamento,
of the late 1800s.)
Our Lady of Mercy. (A.k.a. the Church of Sant'Orsola.)
The presence of the Spanish Mercedarian order is part of
the consolidation of the Spanish monarchy in the vice-realm of Naples in the
1500s. This church/monastery is at the western end of
via Chiaia (now a pedestrian thoroughfare), a road that,
indeed, was once the main way to get from the area
around the Royal palace to the newer Spanish expansions
to the west along the sea front. (Actually, it still is the easiest way if you
don't mind a short walk.) The church is on the site of
an earlier Chapel of St. Orsola from the 1400s;
construction to incorporate that chapel into the newer
church started in the late 1500s. The church is not
particularly conspicuous from the front as it is abutted
on both sides by other buildings. Like many
church/monasteries in Naples, it was closed under the
French in the early 1800s, but later reopened. It
underwent extensive restoration in the 1850s. Ten years
later, the unification of Italy forced the closure of
virtually all monasteries in Italy. In 1874, the former
monastic premises were sold and eventually converted
into the Sannazzaro Theater, still operating. The
adjacent church stayed a church and remains essentially
what one sees today.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is below the Corso Vittorio
Emanuele at a small square called Piazza Mondragone, a
name historically applied to the entire premises that
contain the small church: il Retiro di Mondragone, the
Mondragone Retreat. The entire complex was originally a
"conservatory", in the early non-musical use of the word
to mean a shelter, a place where widows and destitute
women might be cared for. The complex was founded in
1653 by Elena Aldobrandini, countess of Mondragone.
Construction of the church, itself, was somewhat later
than the shelter; the church is from 1715. Urbanization
and subdivision of the area has reduced Santa Maria
della Grazie to a rather sorry state. For a long time,
it was simply closed but has recently been at least
partially restored. It is considered an outstanding
example of late Baroque art and architecture in Naples.
Santa Maria Assunta di
Bellavista. It is difficult to say which church
in Naples has the best view of the bay. This one has to be
high on anyone's list. It is way out of town at Piazza San Luigi, on
the long main road, via Posillipo, that winds west away
from Mergellina and up the
hill towards Cape Posillipo. (The photo, right, was taken
from the road that runs down to the sea, the cape and villa Volpicelli.) From the
long monastery-like façade, one is tempted to compare this
church to the old Spanish buildings in downtown
Naples—maybe spectacularly restored. Not so; in fact, from
the side or above, you see that the building is not a
gigantic monastic block, but simply a very long façade
fronting a relatively shallow building. It was built in
only 4 years, beginning in 1860 on land granted by Francis II (the last king of
Naples) to two sisters of the Capece Minutolo family. The
church, itself, is only the central portion of the
building. The two wings were meant to house, respectively,
a school and shelter for the poor on one side and
dwellings on the other. The clean neo-Gothic façade, thus,
is not a restoration, but the original design.
The church of Santa Maria dell’Aiuto [Saint Mary of Eternal Help, or of Succour] is on the small east-west street of that name about 150 yards into the old city across the street (via Monteoliveto) from the east side of the main post office. It is just past the better-known church of Santa Maria la Nova.
The architect was Dionisio Lazzari [--> index 'L'] and, in its newly restored condition (after years of being closed), the church may be appreciated for the absolute gem of the Neapolitan Baroque that it was. The historian Celano (writing when the church was new) recounts what has become folklore surrounding the origins of the church—that two children in 1635 posted their own crude drawing of the Blessed Virgin in a window of a lower floor of what was then the Palazzo Pappacoda (not to be confused with a church of the same name) and collected donations. When they had collected enough, they hired a real artist to do his own rendition on canvas—again to solicit donations. The process gained speed and by the time of the great plague of 1656, a small chapel had been founded and then a church—on the site of the original Pappacoda building—dedicated to Our Lady of Succour. (In an age in which such concrete manifestations of faith were held to be protection from earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius and pestilence, not only churches arose, but also the three so-called “plague columns” of Naples).
The church is in the design of a Greek cross—that is, a central nave with a transept of equal length as the nave; it has a central dome. A partial inventory of the art works contained in the church includes:
—three paintings by Gaspare
Traversi dated 1749: The Nativity, The
Annunciation, and the Ascension of
—the monument tomb of Gennaro Acamparo by Francesco Pagano from 1738;
—also by Pagano, the angels that support the candelabra of the main altar;
—the painting of The Virgin of Succour by Giuseppe Farina;
—The Flight of Joseph by Nicola Malincolico;
—the side ovals of The Archangel Michael by Giacinto Diano.
The restoration of Santa
Maria dell’Aiuto has been spectacularly successful.
San Giacomo degli Italiani - I harbor no illusion that I will ever discover, much less write about, all of the little churches in Naples that are abandoned and falling apart. But sometimes I see one set incongruously in the middle of the modern city, and it stirs my urge to know more. Via Depretis is the avenue between Piazza Municipio (the site of the city hall) and Piazza della Borsa (the stock exchange). Like all such straight, broad thoroughfares in that section of Naples, it is the product of the massive reconstruction called the risanamento, a 30-year project of the late 19th and early 20th century. A smaller, yet important, wave of construction took place in Naples during the 1920s and 30s and produced those mastodons of Fascist Art Deco such as the main post office, the passenger terminal at the port of Naples, and all of the municipal and provincial government buildings on or near Piazza Matteotti.
such monolith is the telephone exchange about halfway
along via Depretis. It gleams and towers over the rest of
the neighborhood; indeed, it and the large risanamento building
a few yards away could do an excellent car-crusher number
on the tiny edifice caught in the middle, the church
of San Giacomo degli Italiani. The small church is
closed, dilapidated and non-descript—yet, for what it's
worth—it managed to survive two great waves of purposeful
demolition and construction in the last century and even
various random waves of destruction in the form of the aerial bombardments of WW II.
The church was a remake in the 1570s of a nearby church of the same name that disappeared as part of Spanish construction in the 16th century. The original church was from 1328 and was the seat of the Order of the Knights of St. James. The appellation "degli Italiani" (of the Italians) may have been to distinguish it from another church—more familiar to Neapolitans and, indeed, still a functioning church—San Giacomo degli Spagnoli. Or, says another theory, it was to honor sailors from Pisa ("Italians" as opposed to "Neapolitans") whose fleet rested in the port of Naples for a while on the way home from a victory over the Saracens further south in 1327. The façade of the present church incorporates the portal from the 1500s as well as a crest comprised of a shell, sword, and cross, the symbol of the Order of St. James. The church was left standing intentionally during the risanamento and was reconsecrated in 1901. I have been unable to find out if it served as a church after the giant building was put up next door. I suspect that it was closed during that period and simply never reopened.
If the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is as old as legend says it is, no wonder UNESCO is willing to chip in €950,000 to restore it as a museum. That is, if it was really founded by Constantin the Great—around the year 300—that would put the church in the first ranks of paleo-Christian houses of worship in Naples. At the very least, the church is at least as old as one of the same name in Rome from the 500s, and, in any event, has been documented to be one of the first four parishes in Naples. The unusual name comes from the Greek adjective cosmedin (from Greek kosmidion), meaning ornate. The church in Naples held both Greek and Latin rites until around the year 1200.
S.M. Cosemedin is also called S.M. di Portanova (New Gate) from its location near a medieval city gate of that name. The small square in front of the church is still called Portanova and is about one block in (i.e., to the north) from the modern straight boulevard named Corso Umberto, not far from the main building of the Federico II University.
The structure has been closed since the 1980 earthquake and is in impossibly bad and unsafe condition. Virtually nothing of the artistic interior remains, all having been either stolen/vandalized or removed for safekeeping. The configuration that one sees today is from the late 1600s and early 1700s, concealing the grounds beneath the main body of the church, site of a burial ground and presumably whatever remains of the original paleo-Christian premises. There are upper stories, as well. Through the centuries, various monastic orders found a home in an adjacent monastery, removed during the Risanamento, the urban renewal of the late 1800s. That construction/demolition also removed an ornate Baroque double stair-case at the entrance. I have heard nothing of current plans to start restoration or of the disposition of the monies supposedly allocated by UNESCO.
The Church of S. Maria della Concordia was built in 1556 to a design by Father Giuseppe Romano, provincial vicar of the Carmelite order. The church was built about a third of the way up the steep slope leading to the San Martino monastery and the Sant' Elmo fortress. The church was, thus, well above the new main street, via Toledo, and was at the high southwest section of the area still called the "Spanish quarters", built in the mid-1500s to garrison Spanish vice-royal troops. In those days, the slopes were still bucolic and sprinkled with churches and monasteries at about the level of today's road, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which winds along east to west just above the Concordia and other religious institutions from around the same period. These include the nearby church of Santa Caterina da Siena and the Convent of the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity (now known as the ex-Military Hospital).
The Concordia was restored in 1718 by Giovan Battista Nauclerio, best known in Naples for his work on the church and monastery of San Domenico Maggiore; the church was then completely restored in 1858. During the various closures of religious orders in Naples since Murat, the premises have also served as a boarding school, a music school, and even an infamous Debtors' Prison. The most significant painting on the premises is The Blessed Virgin with St. Michael; it is either by Giuseppe de Ribera or the Sicilian painter, Bernardo Azzolino (1572 - 1645).
Confusing historical note! The church contains the tomb of one Gaspare Benemerino. According to one source (de Lellis, below), Gaspare was due to become the "22nd King of Fez" when he converted to Christianity, [thus] "...renouncing his powerful kingdom...in order to gain the eternal kingdom of Heaven." Since that note appeared in 1654, some sources have simply referred to Gaspare as the son of the "King of Fez," and as one who served Phillip III of Spain. This has led other sources to call Gaspare a son of the ruler of "The Kingdom of Fez," but Fez and the Kingdom of Fez are not necessarily the same and, in this case, are probably not.
the epitaph near Gaspar's tomb in the church simply says
that he was an African king. Assuming the date on the
epitaph (1641) to be the year of his death and the
reference to "Pope Urban VIII" (papal reign 1623-44) to be
accurate, there is some confusion. Although De Lellis
transcribed the Latin epitaph to read that Gaspare served
"Phillip III of Spain," the stone (photo, right) says
"Phillip II" and even that is not clear. It might even be
a "Phillip I" that someone has altered to "Phillip II" by
adding a numeral. (Of course, that wouldn't fix the
chronology, either, but it's as close to 'III' as they
could squeeze in. "C'mon,
who's going to notice. Let's go to lunch." This
is likely to have been Guido & Vinnie's Epitaph and
Pizza Delivery Service. They still exist!)
Second, there was, indeed, an historical state called the Kingdom of Fez with a limited existence, from 1472 to 1554, but that may be irrelevant. What De Lellis meant by "the 22nd king of Fez" was probably that Gaspare was from the city of Fez, a major religious center of Islam since the founding of the city in 789 by the Idrisid dynasty. The city has been called the "Mecca of the West." Rulers of Fez (as well as other parts of Morocco) have been various dynasties called by tribal names such as Idrisid, Almoravid, Marinid, Wattasid, and Saadi. (The Kingdom of Fez is also termed the Wattasid Sultanate.) Thus, de Lellis may have meant that Gaspare was the son of a king in a long, long chain of rulers stretching back to the founding of Fez. In any event, Phillip I (or even Phillip II) on the epitaph stone has to be a mistake, which De Lellis corrected to Phillip III (reigned from 1598 to 1621) in his transcription in order to set the chronology straight. So, Gaspare Benemerino died in 1641 in Naples. He was descended from Moroccan royalty, converted to Christianity and served Phillip III of Spain. I think.
de Lellis, Carlo.
Supplement to "Napoli
Sacra" by Cesare d’Engenio Caracciolo. Naples,
to entire Miscellaneous Churches series from the table at the top of this page