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Miscellaneous Churches (1)  

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These churches were certainly not "miscellaneous" to the people who built them, nor to those who have frequented them over the centuries in Naples. It's just that a separate item about each church in Naples would denude the cyberforests of the world. These, then, are the first entries of a potentially very long series noting the presence of the many small or less noticed churches in a city where—in 1700—ten percent of the population belonged to the clergy.

Santa Caterina a Formiello is at the extreme eastern end of the old historic center of the city, near the old eastern wall of the city and the gate called Porta Capuana. It was founded about 1510, completed in 1593, and dedicated to the virgin martyr of Alexandria. It constituted an important part of an ancient monastery that originally belonged to the Celestine order and which passed to the Dominican fathers after 1498. They kept it until the 19th century, when the monastic premises were closed and used as a wool factory. Exceptional frescoes by Luigi Garzi from 1685 and various 16th century funeral monuments are kept within the church. The church has a single-aisle Latin cross interior covered by a barrel vault with five chapels on either side.

San Giovanni a Carbonara is at the northern end of via Carbonara, just outside what used to be the eastern wall of the old city. The name carbonara (meaning "coal-carrier") was given to this site allocated for the collection and burning of refuse outside the city walls in the Middle Ages. The monastery/ church complex of San Giovanni, itself, was founded by Augustinians in 1343. The church was completed in 1418 under King Ladislaus of Durazzo, who turned the church into a Pantheon-like tribute to the last of the Angevin rulers of Naples. It was expanded over the course of the following three centuries and contains sculptures and artwork of considerable interest, including the chapels of Caracciolo del Sole and Caracciolo di Vico.

Santa Caterina a Chiaia
(photo left) is also known as Santa Caterina martire) and is near Piazza dei Martiri in the western, Chiaia section of the city. The church was built originally as a small family chapel by the Forti family and then ceded to the Franciscan order, which expanded it by 1600. The church that ones sees today, however, is the result of a series of remodelings, including one as late as 1732 in the wake of a serious earthquake in that year. The facade is characterized by a representation of the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The main entrance is marked by a plaque commemorating a restoration of the facade in 1904. Art work in the interior is mostly dedicated to the life of Saint Catherine, including a prominent dome display by Gustavo Girosi from 1916.

The church of Sant'Anna dei Lombardi (the somber building on the left in this photo) was originally known as Santa Maria di Monteoliveto (Mount of Olives). It is the single remaining religious remnant of what was once the Mount of Olives monastery, founded in 1411. The entire complex was at one time one of the largest monasteries in Italy. Urban renewal from the 1930s literally built around the old monastery, leaving much of the original structure standing in the center. At the east end, the church, itself, is still in use, but the adjacent monastery is now the Pastrengo barracks of the Carabinieri (Italian national police force).

Art within the church and the façade, itself, display the influence of the Florentine Renaissance. Within the church are the monument tomb of Maria d'Aragona, the tomb of architect Domenico Fontana, and paintings by Giorgio Vasari and Pedro Rubiales. It is also home to a group sculpture in terracotta from 1492 by Guido Mazzoni of the Lament over the Dead Christ. The church once housed three paintings by Caravaggio: St. Francis in Meditation, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, and Resurrection; but they were destroyed in the earthquake of 1805. The original design of the church was greatly modified in the 1600s by architect Gian Battista Cavagna, and the church had to be restored after the bombings of WWII. As of February 2009, the church is again open to visitors.

The church of Santa Maria dell’Aiuto [Saint Mary of Eternal Help or of Succour] is on a 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 [see Lazzari, Dionisio(1) (2)] 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 a similar 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 and dedicated to Our Lady of Succour. In an age when such concrete manifestations of faith were held to protect from earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius and pestilence, not only churches arose, but also the three so-called “plague columns” —or votive spires—of Naples. See (1) (2).

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 Virgin;
—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.

The church of Santa Maria della Sapienza is one of the large, old churches in Naples that no one notices. It is on via Costantinopoli near Piazza Bellini, an area greatly affected by the risanamento, the urban renewal of the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Specifically, the church and convent were affected by the construction of the nearby First Polyclinic Hospital and medical school of the University of Naples, which required the demolition of some nearby buildings. After the unification of Italy, it was common practice in Naples to convert old monasteries to secular use, usually leaving the adjacent churches intact. (Sometimes they didn’t, as in the case of the church of Croce di Lucca, the old convent of which was adjacent on the south to the convent of S.M. della Sapienza.) The Sapienza convent was demolished, but the church was left standing; yet, it has been closed for many years and is badly in need of restoration.

There was a convent on the site in 1519, quite early in the period of the Spanish vice-realm in Naples. The unusual name, Sapienza (knowledge) derives from what was on the property before that: a shelter for poor students, sponsored by Oliviero Carafa (1430-1511), from one of the best-known families in medieval and Renaissance Naples. He was an Italian cardinal, the archbishop of Naples, friend of popes (and would-be Pope, himself), diplomat and great intellectual patron of Renaissance arts. (He is, for better or worse, remembered today for his opposition to Michelangelo's use of nude figures in the fresco of The Last Judgement.) The name Sapienza stayed with the premises when the convent was built. The later configuration of S.M. della Sapienza comes from a complete rebuilding done between 1625 and 1670. Some sources claim that the remake was the idea of Francesco Grimaldi (1543-1613), whose work in Naples on the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro in the cathedral and Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalcone is well-documented. That is possible, but he died before real work had even begun; thus, the premises took their newer form through the work of two other architects, primarily Giovan Giacomo di Conforto and Orazio Gisolfo. Most sources attribute the facade to Cosimo Fanzago, the greatest Neapolitan architect of the time. The interior was noteworthy for the presence of frescoes by Belisario Corenzio (c. 1558 - 1643) and paintings by Giovanni Ricca, Domenico Gargiulo (aka Micco Spadaro), and Andrea Vaccaro, among others. The paintings have long since been removed from the decaying church for safekeeping.

The basilica of San Gennaro extra moenia ("beyond the walls") was the first church in Naples named for San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city. The origins are probably in the 4th century, that is, at the time that the mortal remains of the martyred saint were moved to the adjacent catacombs at the foot of the Capodimonte hill, well to the north of the ancient city walls. The tomb of San Gennaro with this adjacent church was an important site of worship in the early centuries of Christianity in Naples. The site went into severe decline when the Longobards invaded Naples in 831 and removed the remains of the saint to Benevento. A short time later, in 872, the Benedictine order started construction at the site of a large monastery dedicated to Saints Gennaro and Agrippino (the patron saint of Naples before San Gennaro). They rebuilt the basilica and incorporated it into the north end of the monastery, making the entire structure well over 200 meters long. For hundreds of years, the monastery continued to use the nearby catacombs as a cemetery. In the 1400s, the monastery premises were converted to a hospital; it served in that capacity during the plague of 1479 and subsequent outbreaks. In the 1600s the facility also served as a kind of poorhouse, caring for the indigent and not just the sick, acquiring the name of San Gennaro dei Poveri (of the poor). It is still an important medical facility in Naples. The basilica is now on hospital premises and is more correctly called the Basilica di San Gennaro dei poveri. (See also the general entry on the catacombs.)

Basilica of Santa Lucia a Mare

The minor pontifical basilica of the sanctuary of Santa Lucia a Mare was set up as a parish and at the same time a sanctuary and, more recently, a minor basilica. The basilica-sanctuary is in the Santa Lucia district, within the historic center of Naples. Always a goal for pilgrimages, it was built as a parish in the second half of the 18th century and rebuilt in the second half of the 20th century as a diocese sanctuary dedicated to the popular cult of Saint Lucia.1* The church is called "a Mare" (on the sea) because it once stood on the shore of the beach before the expansion of that area out into new blocks of land reclaimed from the sea and built on landfill during the urban renewal of Naples in 1900.

There is no simple answer to "When was it built?" The structure in this image (right) was built as described above. Tradition says it is on a site of an "original" church (of which there is no trace) founded by a niece of the Emperor Constantine, but there is no mention of this original church before the ninth century. The first occupants were Basilian monks, who had a monastery on the nearby islet of Megaride, where today the Castel dell'Ovo (the Egg Castle) stands. The church then passed to nuns of Santa Patrizia, the female branch of the same order.

The church is typically called a "monument" because it's an important part of the history of the city. It you go there today, it is impossible to see why. The entire area has changed since the early-mid 1800s, and time has not been good to the church.

This image should explain why. The orange sections are buildings (almost all hotels) on the new blocks of land "reclaimed from the sea and built on landfill" mentioned above. (From far left to far right of this image is about 500 mtrs/600 yrds). The original seaside road was via Santa Lucia, which still moves up and angles off to the right to the Royal Palace and Piazza del Plebiscito. The church of Santa Lucia a mare is hidden away just to the left of the sideways letter S. in the street name "via S. Lucia." It is now almost impossible to find, but it didn't use to be. You were right above the beach and just up from the Egg Castle (just below this image).

In 1588 much of the building was remodeled. In 1845 an adjacent road was raised, which buried the church. The current church was rebuilt on top of that, and that is the church that was practically destroyed in 1943 by bombs. It was rebuilt immediately after the war. The works of art now on the premises are sparse: On the main altar there is an eighteenth-century polychrome wooden statue by Nicola Fumo (1647-1725)2** which depicts Saint Lucia; in the choir loft there is a panel of the Rosary by Teodoro d'Errico (1588); in the parish office there is a portrait of the priest Luigi Villani by Gioacchino Toma. Other works, medieval and modern, were destroyed during WWII.

*1. [The saint, herself, was a very real person, more precisely known as Lucia of Syracuse (283-304) because she was born in Syracuse on the island of Sicily. She died there as well, a martyr to emperor Diocletian's infamous persecution of Christians. The closer you get to Sicily the more likely you are to hear her referred to as "Santa Lucia of Syracuse." Although her mortal remains are interred in Venice, "the headquarters" of her devotees is still the Church of Santa Lucia of the Sepulcher in Syracuse.]        back to top of this entry

**2.[Fumo was one of foremost sculptors of the Neapolitan Baroque. He was born near Salerno and studied under Cosimo Fanzago. He worked almost entirely in polychrome wood, and many of his works are still extant  in various places in the province of Campania. Some are elsewhere, as far away as Madrid.                                                   back to top of this entry

There is a complete discussion of the saint, herself, here.

sources: Napoli Sacra, 12° itinerario. pp. 726-7. Elio de Rosa, editore, Cosmofilm, S.p.A., 1996.

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