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main index   ©Jeff Matthews   entry Feb 2005  revise May 2016


C
hurch of the Most Holy Redeemer



It is not hard to find churches in Naples that are 500 years old. As a matter of fact, if you know where to look, you can find paleo-Christian places of worship that are 1,000 years (!) older than that. Thus, a small church less than 100 years old, hidden away on a major thoroughfare of the city doesn't get a lot of press; yet, on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Naples, there is just such a tiny, exquisite jewel: the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer (Santissimo Redentore).

The street, itself, is not that much older than the church. In 1850, there was really only one way to get from Mergellina harbor in the west into the main part of the city to the east; that was along the Riviera di Chiaia, a road that ran (and still runs) the length of the old Royal Gardens (now the Comunal Park). Thus, if you stood at the seaside and glanced up at the Vomero hill overlooking that park and the sea, you saw a largely wooded area dotted with villas, old churches and farmhouses. The way up to those sites was by a number of smaller roads—or stairways—winding uphill (very!) from the city. The Bourbon King of Naples in those days, Ferdinand II, decided to "connect the dots" on the hill, so to speak, by building a major road that would turn inland directly from  the Mergellina harbor, angle up and run along the length of the hill about half-way up the height all the way to a point above the National Archaeological Museum, covering a distance of over two miles. It was completed in the early 1850s and named Corso Maria Theresa for Ferdinand's wife, the queen. After the unification of Italy, the name of the street was changed to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in honor of the first king of united Italy.

The Church of the Redeemer was built at the behest of Francesco d'Ayala-Valva (1854-1932) a member of a distinguished noble family in the Campania region of Italy. The completion date on a plaque on the premises is 1907. The church is remarkable for its medieval simplicity—the plain contrast of red brick and the white marble of the entrance, window arches, and hanging arches above the entrance and along the sloping roof that tops the "a capanna façade". There are two marble bas-relief ornaments on the façade: a lamb above the entrance; and the Last Supper in the center of the façade. There is a belfry to the left in the rear of the church. The architect was Antonino Maresca di Serracapriola. The architectural style is described in sources as "eclectic", but the intimacy of the tiny interior invites comparison with Greek Orthodox churches as does the large golden mosaic of Christ Pantocrator behind the altar (pictured). It, too, suggests Byzantium. The image is one of the most widely used religious images of Eastern and Greek Orthodox Christianity.  The most common translation of Pantocrator is "Almighty" or "All-powerful" The image is generally set in a central dome but has been, as here, adapted as an upright panel icon. The use of eastern Christian iconography is quite common in southern Italy and obviously goes back to the Byzantine presence in Italy, especially the south. (There is a larger image of this icon at this page in the photo albums.)


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