| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Dec. 2004
When King Ferdinand and Queen Caroline were forced to flee the city of Naples—first by the revolution of 1799 and then by the forces of Bonaparte in 1805—they managed to hole up and survive quite nicely on the island of Sicily, well protected by the British fleet. Yet, in spite of this monarchy-saving help from the English, the Bourbons were intransigent when it came to allowing members of the Church of England the luxury of a bit of land on which to build a church. Indeed, the only non-Roman Catholic church in Naples was the Greek Orthodox church, which goes back to the mid-1400s.
The Bourbons thus denied all requests from the Anglican community in Naples for permission to build a church, both before those conflicts, as well as afterwards, when the monarchy was restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. For many years, the British community held church services on the premises of the British legation, housed in Palazzo Calabritto at the beginning of the Riviera di Chiaia.
That all changed in 1860 when Giuseppe Garibaldi, after the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples by forces under his command, granted the request and gave them the land near Piazza San Pasquale one block in from the sea-side Riviera di Chiaia and the ex-Royal Gardens (now the Villa Comunale, the large public gardens). The gift was—in the words of Garibaldi inscribed on a plaque on the premises of Christ Church in Naples—
...a very small return for such benefits received from them in support of the noble Italian cause...
Thus, the gift of the property was for services rendered by those English who had raised money for the cause of Italian unity and by those who had actually fought with Garibaldi's troops. It may also, according to some, have been one more way for Garibaldi, anti-clerical and particularly anti-Papal, to needle the Pope a bit.
After some bureaucratic quibbling over the fact that there was already a cavalry barracks on the land, the deed was finally ratified by the Italian government on August 10, 1861. The church was to be all English: the architectural firm was Thos. Smith of Hertford and London; the stone was from Malta; and all the furniture came from England. The mosaic behind the altar, however, was by Saviati of Venice. The foundation stone was laid on December 15, 1862 and the completed church was consecrated on March 11, 1865 by the Right Reverend Dr. Sanford, first Bishop of Gibraltar.
Christ Church has continued ever since—except for a break of three years during WWII—to serve the needs of the considerable English community in Naples as well as the less permanent, but sizable, contingent of British forces from the NATO community in Naples. It also serves the American Episcopalian community.
As an interesting sidelight, Garibaldi had earlier visited Britain to raise money for his campaign to invade the Kingdom of Naples. In Coventry, he is said to have planted and dedicated three oak trees with the words, "May they be struck down by lightning if ever my country declares war on this country." The story says that when Mussolini declared war on Britain some 80 years later, one of the oaks was struck.
[I have drawn some of this information from an article by Pamela Payne that appeared in The Lion Magazine in September, 1992. She, in turn, credited a booklet by Miss Winifred F. Allen.]
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