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..................................................................................................................................................................................This is miscellaneous article #1 in the portal for Traditions and Customs Dec.21, 2019
This comes from Luciano Mangiafico, frequent contributor to these pages.
A Kinder, Gentler Way to Get to Heaven
Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Yes, yes. I do those things but isn't there something a little more ...uh... enjoyable? Something that feels good? Know what I mean? Huh? Do you?
The Story of Giulia Di MarcoGiulia Di Marco (1575- d. after 1615) claimed to have celestial visions, the gift of prophesy, and she advocated sexual relations in lieu of confession and penance. She was a saint to many noblemen, clergymen, and the poor of Naples. And she died in a Rome dungeon as a penitent heretic.
by Luciano Mangiafico
Take at least some of what they say about Giulia and her "crimes" with a grain of salt since most of that comes from a book by an unknown Theatine monk, Istoria di Suor Giulia Di Marco. The Theatines were her enemies and accusers. Other information comes from the records of the Inquisition; then, a 1959 book by historian Fausto Niccolini, who called Di Marco a shameful charlatan and prostitute; then, a 1998 paper by historian Elisa Novi Chavarria; and there are a few other minor sources. She and her “accomplices” confessed and those records are in the Vatican archives but are of little value since they may have been obtained by torture or by a promise to spare their lives.
The foundling wheel of the AnnunziataGiulia was born in Sepino, a small town in the Molise region, not too far from Naples. Her father was a farmer and her mother was the daughter of a Turkish slave woman. When Giulia was 12 her father died, and she was given as a servant to a merchant in Campobasso; when he died she moved in with his sister and both moved to Naples. There, she had a child, whom she left in the foundling wheel in the Convent of the Annunziata (image, right). She said later that this traumatic experience was the turning point in her life: she became a Franciscan nun and started claiming religious visions. Those who saw her in the throes of her visions said she wasn't faking.
where Giulia abandoned her baby.
Giulia was small, swarthy, and illiterate, but she quickly gained a reputation for saintliness. She was popular with the poor and uneducated, yes, but also with aristocrats, Spanish officials, even the Viceroy,* and others, including priests, monks, and nuns.
*[Readers are reminded that Naples --meaning all of southern Italy-- was at the time partThe Jesuits, recently established in Naples, favored her activities, not so much for her doctrines and activities, but rather to oppose the Theatine order, who considered Giulia a heretic.
They called her “Sister” Giulia. Whatever her purpose, she took a priest and a lawyer as partners. The priest, Aniello Arciero from Gallipoli in Puglia, was smart and persevering (and allegedly Giulia's lover). The lawyer, Giuseppe De Vicariis, was married with a family. He was a true wordsmith who could twist the absurd into the believable.
The trio was very popular and their religious theories convinced many Neapolitans. In his Theory of Spiritual Life, the lawyer, De Vicariis, put into words what Giulia and Arciero were about: sexual acts were a form of meditative prayer and welcomed by God. Jesus commanded us in John 13:14 to “Love one another…”. They turned that into eroticism that then became “carnal charity.” Giulia adored her body. Her sexual organs became a way of partaking of her own holiness. Making love with sister Giulia was a substitute for prayer and confession and was a direct way to commune with God. She became very popular with young unmarried males, and gained powerful protectors. Giulia then borrowed from her contemporary in Naples, Sister Orsola Benincasa (1551-1618, more below) and started to call herself “mother.” She had a congregation: the women were "daughters" and the men were "sons".
In 1606-07, the Holy Inquisitor in Naples, Dominican inquisitor Deodato Gentile began an investigation into whether Giulia indeed had gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. He decided that she did not and placed her in a convent in the nearby town of St. Antonio Abate. Her popularity, however, continued to grow, so he sent her to another nunnery in the small town of Cerreto Sannita, about 65 km/40 m northeast of Naples.
In the meantime Father Arciero, Giulia's counselor was called to Rome to defend himself before the Inquisition and was put in a Roman monastery, forbidden to return to Naples. During her absence, Giulia’s fame as a living saint grew, and she was eventually allowed to return to Naples.
Her popularity grew and she moved about town in a carriage. Her premises were frequented by the higher aristocracy. The “religious practices” moved to more spacious quarters and finally to the Palazzo Orsini Gravina on Via Monteoliveto (image, right). In that large palazzo, visitors to Sister Giulia were split into two groups: the married and older men went to rooms where they were urged to pray, while the younger single men could visit Giulia or one of the other “sisters” and commune with God through "carnal charity."
Orsola Benincasa (1547-1618)
Because of her unorthodox activities and popularity, Sister Giulia became a major irritant to the other “live” saint then in Naples, Sister Orsola Benincasa (image, left), who spurred Theatine priests of the Church of San Paolo Maggiore to investigate Giulia again. Historian Francesco Maria Maggi's Biography of Sister Orsola Benincasa (1655) says that in 1614 Benincasa and Di Marco met in the convent of Santa Maria della Concezione to size each other up. Benincasa came away convinced that Giulia was diabolical. Benincasa then pressed the Theatines, who subverted four priests and some nuns, all Giulia’s followers, to spy and get the goods on the "saint" and her immoral activities.
Giulia counted on the protection of many of her followers, including bishops, cardinals, noblemen, and even the Spanish Viceroy. The viceroy, however, feared a scandal and threatened to evict the Theatine order from the territories he controlled if they kept harassing Sister Giulia. Giulia had her own spies, however, even in the Inquisition office, and managed to get the active support of the powerful Jesuits. Thus, it all came down to a turf war: Theatines and the Roman Inquisition on one side and Jesuits and the Spanish vice-royal government on the other.
Papal Nuncio Deodato Gentile finally stepped in and told the viceroy that he would handle the situation discretely so that none of the nobility or powerful would be hurt in the prosecution of Giulia and her two friends. The viceroy let Gentile go ahead and Giulia was quietly arrested.
The lawyer, De Vicariis, had already been arrested and transferred to Rome to join Father Aniello. Giulia was then smuggled out of Naples and brought to Rome. During their imprisonment, to avoid being burned alive at the stake, the three confessed. Father Aniello was particularly loquacious in the description of his sexual activities with Giulia, even saying that she had had five or six abortions. For his part, lawyer De Vicariis explained that he had truly believed that sexual union with Giulia or her "sisters" was not a sin but a way of receiving virtue and grace from the Holy Spirit, and that he had engaged in these activities thinking spiritual thoughts all the while. The trio renounced their beliefs and were sentenced to life in prison at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, where they died. (image, left).
To drive the point home, Giulia’s confession was read in the Naples Cathedral, yet most Neapolitans were convinced that she was a saint and had been railroaded by Deodato Gentile, who preferred Sister Orsola Benincasa, whom the Church could control better than they could Sister Giulia.
Whatever the lurid accounts were of sexual exploits clothed in religious garb, those (all males!) who moved the levers of power in the church, must have been alarmed by a woman who claimed to interpret God’s word and who could cut them off from the grace of God. Indeed, she saw herself as a substitute for confession, one of the ways in which the clergy controlled the faithful.
What about her other acolytes, the noblemen, government figures, the cardinals, bishops, and other men and women of the cloth? They renounced their former views quietly and life moved on. All was, if not forgiven, forgotten.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -comments added on Dec. 25, 2019
1. from Selene Salvi:
I've just read the story you published about Giulia Di Marco. It was really very interesting. In the 1600s Naples was the capital of the Counter Reformation. There were more churches than houses! Religious orders fought one another to control the territory and the souls of those who lived there. Saints sprouted up everywhere and if there weren't any, you invented them. The miraculous liquefaction of of clotted blood, for example, wasn't just the prerogative of San Gennaro. There was liquid blood all over the place... that's right, it was a time right out of "pulp" fiction (and this is back in the Baroque!)2. a response from LM, the author of the original article:
Selene is absolutely right. There were more nuns and monks in Naples than any other Italian city, except Bologna and Lecce, but as far as real estate occupied and controlled in the city by religious institutions, Naples was number 1. And San Gennaro, indeed, was/is not the only one whose blood liquefies in Naples.The blood of St. Stephen, kept in the Convent of Santa Chiara, liquefies on August 3 and December 25; that of St. Alfonso Maria De Liguori, kept in the Church della Redenzione dei Captivi runs liquid on August 2, and the blood of both St. Pantaleone and St. Luigi Gonzaga, found in the Church of Gesù Nuovo on June 21. A chapel in the Convent of San Gregorio Armeno holds two ampules that allegedly contain the blood of St. John the Baptist. Originally, although the blood came to Naples from France in the 13th century and was kept in one ampule in the chapel of the nunnery of Sant’Arcangelo in Baiano, the miracle occurred for the first time on August 29,1554.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -This is miscellaneous article #2 in the portal for Traditions and Customs added Jan.9, 2020
Saints Past, Present and Pending - a remarkable survey
Saints & Holy Relics in Naples
During the Renaissance and for the next two centuries, Neapolitans were either gullible or maybe just blessed by saints, holy women [see the entry directly above], visions, miracles, and sacred relics. Holy relics were abundant in the city and the kingdom of Naples, particularly after the start of the Counter Reformation (the late mid-1500s). Saintly relics, whole bodies, body parts, and items associated with Christ, the Virgin Mary, and saints, were necessary for churches or other religious institutions. They attracted pilgrims, and pilgrims brought in money, either as alms or by buying candles, religious images and books, statuettes, rosaries, etc. And as Miguel Gotor has noted in his I Beati del Papa. Santità, Inquisizione e Obbedienza in Età Moderna (2002) [The Pope's Saints: Holiness, Inquisition and Obedience in the Modern Age], the Church used saints, relics, and devotional ceremonies to strengthen its grip on the faithful and to stabilize its own power and often that of civilian authority.
The importance of holy relics led to commerce and often to fraud. One example had to do with Florence and a nunnery in the town of Teano, northeast of Naples. In 1352, when the new Cathedral of Florence, then dedicated to St. Reparata, was almost complete, civil authorities were eager to place in it a relic that the cathedral was named for. The Florentines sent a delegation to the Kingdom of Naples to buy the saint’s body, or body parts, from the nuns of the Church of Santa Reparata (image) outside the walls of Teano, where the remains were located. Florentine chronicler Matteo Villani says the nuns were reluctant to make any deals, but finally agreed to sell the Florentines the right arm of the saint if it could be done in secret. The arm was sawn from the body, and the delegation sent word home to be ready with appropriate holy hoopla. Indeed, the Florentine city fathers organized a grand reception and on June 22, 1352 they put the holy arm in the new cathedral. Fast forward to October 1356. The city fathers had hired jewelers to adorn the holy arm with gold, silver, and precious stones, and they discovered that the arm was made of wood and plaster. The Florentines, not wanting to admit that they had been swindled, kept the affair quiet. The funny thing was that since 880 the body of Santa Reparata had not been in the convent in Teano at all. In that year, the bishop, to protect the relic from marauding Arab pirates, moved it to the town Cathedral of San Clemente inside the city walls. The holy remains were not returned to the original church until 1909, 1128 years later!
Sacred relics in Neapolitan churches have included, or still include, the blood of St. John the Baptist, St. Patricia, St. Januarius, (San Gennaro, the city’s chief patron), St. Stephan, St. Luigi Gonzaga, St. Alfonzo Maria de Liquori, and St. Pantaleone. Besides blood, the actual bodies of St. Cajetan and St. Andrea Avellino and the remains of countless saints were housed in Neapolitan churches. In all, the city has 52 patron saints and relics of most of them are in its churches.