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   page entry Jan 2011

The Girolamini Church and Monastery Complex

(also spelled 'Gerolomini' in some sources)

These four items appeared separately in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated and have been consolidated onto a single page here. There is a fifth item with a link to another entry.

entry July 2003
    1.                Girolamini

Directly across from the Cathedral of Naples on via Duomo is the large complex of the church and monastery of the Girolamini. It is on the site of an earlier building, Palazzo Seripando, which was donated to the disciples of San Filippo Neri in 1586. The original building was demolished and construction started on the new complex in 1592 on plans by the architect Giovanni Antonio Dosio. The church (item, below) is in the style of the Florentine Renaissance: a Latin cross with three naves and lateral chapels. The entrance is on Piazzetta Gerolamini around the corner on via dei Tribunali

Members of the order were called Girolamini because the premises were the first site of the church of San Girolamo della Carità. Much of the premises, including the impressive library and archives, has been recently restored. Like many buildings from the period of the Spanish viceroyship (1500-1700), this one, too, was “touched up” by the great architects of the later Bourbon period. In this case it was Ferdinando Fuga who redid the façade in 1780. 

Near the entrance is the building where the philosopher Giambattista Vico lived for 20 years and that until the middle of the 1700s, housed the Conservatory of the Poor of Jesus Christ, an orphanage that trained children to be church musicians. It is in Naples that this use of ‘Conservatory’ (a place where children were ‘conserved’— hence, an orphanage) was, thus, extended to mean a music school. The renovated premises house an impressive art gallery and are the site of a number of exhibits throughout the year. 

entry May 2005
     Church of the Girolamini

May is traditionally the time of the year in Naples when everything is open: all the royal palaces, museums, archaeological sites, and many of the otherwise difficult to visit, obscure churches and bits and pieces of ancient, medieval, and Spanish Naples. The streets are crawling with tourists holding maps upside down and even many locals setting out to explore their own city, having fooled  themselves into thinking that they need no maps. I set out to see if everything really was open and chose a place I had never been inside of: the Church of the Girolamini (photo, left), one block from via Duomo and the cathedral of Naples. Alas, "everything" has to be downgraded to "almost everything."

The Girolamini, with its massive white marble facade, was not open to visitors. It is, I think, the largest closed church in Naples, or at least the most spectacular closed church in Naples. (But see the last two items, below.) The main church, itself, is one block west of via Duomo on via dei Tribunali, thus, in the heart of the historic center of the city. In a city full of  medieval and Baroque churches and monasteries, the premises that contain the church of the Girolamini constitute one of the most supremely important "religious areas" in the history of the city. As you stand looking at the church, directly in back of you, as a matter of fact, stands another closed church, the much smaller Santa Maria della Colonna, from the late 1500; it was the nucleus of one of the original music conservatories in Naples, home to composer Giovan Battista Pergolesi.

The complete grounds of the Gerolamini include not only the large church in front of you, but the vast monastic complex (photo at top of page) around the corner and directly across the street from the cathedral. Church and monastery are the result of construction from the 1590s on land donated to the disciples of St. Philip Romolo Neri (1515-1595) founder of the religious order known as the Congregation of the Oratory. The church is, thus, also known as San Filippo Neri. The church and monastery have undergone dramatic renovation through the centuries; the facade of the church, for example, is the work of Ferdinand Fuga, the great Neapolitan architect of the 1700s. The church is closed simply because it was structurally unsound, having been badly damaged by bombing in 1943. According to shop owners who live right next to it, it has been closed for "at least 30 years." Written descriptions of the church claim it is undergoing "extensive repairs."

You don't really need to get into the church to appreciate what a treasure it is. Mounted high up on the facade by the twin belfries are statues of  saints Peter and Paul, the work of Giuseppe Sanmartino, most known for his haunting sculpture of The Veiled Christ, on display a few blocks away at the Sansevero Chapel. The ornate interior of the church is a repository of Neapolitan Baroque art, including works of Beinaschi and Solimena.  During restoration, a least some of the items have been moved to the adjacent monastic grounds for safekeeping.

After staring at the closed church for a while, I walked around the corner to the entrance of the monastery, purportedly the home of an impressive library and art gallery. It was open, and from within the grounds you can look up and see scaffolding high up on the dome of the church. Someone is up there working and restoring, working and restoring. The courtyard, itself, is a delight (photo, left)
quiet, lush green, and totally isolated from the outside world. One is reminded of Heine's remark that he, a Jew, would go into Catholic churches in Germany because they were perfect for getting away from the oppressive summer's heat! In Naples, if you are oppressed by noise and traffic (and if you aren't, there is something wrong with you), you can walk into any number of monastery grounds and simply sit there and be alone.

The Girolamini library and art gallery have had a similar checkered history of being open/closed to the public. At least for now, the art gallery is open. It is up one flight of stairs in the monastery; the windows overlook the main street, via Duomo, and face directly onto the main entrance of the cathedral, itself. The gallery is relatively small but holds one of the most important collections of Neapolitan art, works running from the late 1400s to the 1700s, including works of Solimena, Giordano and Ribera.

Except for the caretakers, busily engaged in watching work on the cathedral across the street, I was the only person in the gallery.

October 2009

3.  It feels good to be able to write this! The largest closed church in Naples, the church of the Girolamini, closed for over 30 years, has been partially reopened and may be visited. The  large white house of worship is part of the entire Girolamini complex and sits on the north side of via dei Tribunali just around the corner from the intersection of that street and via Duomo. The façade bears magnificent sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino; the interior contains works by Francesco Solimena, Luca Giordano, Belisario Corenzio, and many noted artists of the Neapolitan Baroque. Construction of the church was begun in 1592. As recently as 1968, the interior was still spectacular enough to stand in for the cathedral of Naples in a film entitled Operazione San Gennaro [Eng. title: The Treasure of San Gennaro]. It bears mentioning that when we say "reopened," we mean in the cultural sense —that is, as a museum or art gallery— not as a house of worship. That has also happened elsewhere in Naples—at the church of Santa Maria Donna Regina, for example.

May 2011

4.  The church of the Girolamini was reopened on Saturday, May 14. I stopped by today (Sunday) and to my admittedly non-expert eye, they did a magnificent job with one exception —the organ. As I mention elsewhere, the instrument was a wreck. I expected, or at least hoped for, a cosmetic reconstruction since a complete musical restoration appears to be prohibitively expensive. Instead, they have simply removed the organ and polished up the organ loft/niche in the north transept just to the left of the main altar; the frame that held the pipes has also been redone, but the pipes, themselves, are gone. That space is now empty; I don't know if there are plans for further restoration.

Also, some of the side chapels still await whatever works of art are to be installed in them. Some of the works already back in place are four paintings by Luca Giordano: St. Gennaro in the Furnace; St. Charles Borromeo and St. Philip Neri; St. Charles Borromeo Kissing the Hand of St. Philip Neri; and St. Nicholas of Bari and the Saving of the Three Innocents. Those works by one of the best-known artists of the Neapolitan Baroque were in storage for safe-keeping and their return to public display is an important step in preserving the cultural history of the city. Also to be returned are three works by the Bolognese painter, Guido Reni (1575-1642): Jesus Meeting John the Baptist; The Ecstasy of St. Francis; and The Flight into Egypt.

In spite of my comments in the entry above this one, it seems to me from the interior of the church —the pews and altars are placed appropriately— that the Girolamini is not destined to be a museum but will serve as a house of worship, at least occasionally.

update, March 2013:

See this link for an entry on the episode of book thefts at the library of the Girolamini.

update, May 25, 2018. Another similar episode.

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