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Miscellaneous Churches 6   

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San Pietro Martire. The main body of this ex-monastery now houses departments of the Federico II University of Naples.  The origins of San Pietro Martire go back to the Angevin dynasty in Naples when Charles II of Anjou authorized the construction of a new Dominican basilica. Construction was begun in 1294.  (At the time, the area was already a maze of tight alleyways close to the port; the layout of the area that one sees today was greatly changed by the urban rebuilding, the Risanamento, of the late 1800s.)

Originally the premises were meant to house only 13 monks, but, even then, building went forward only in spurts as priorities changed under succeeding monarchs. The Renaissance courtyard is the result of the first real expansion in the early 1500s. In the 1630s, the main belfry was added, the work of F.A. Picchiati. Further construction and expansion occurred in the 1750s. The monastery was closed under the French rule of Murat in the early 1800s and then definitively closed in 1864. The complex was badly damaged in WW II bombings (it is very near the port); it was entirely restored in 1979. The old "church part" of the complex is a university chapel today and is directly across from the main building of the university on Corso Umberto I. (update: As of January 2010, the church, itself, is closed.)


Our Lady of Mercy. (A.k.a. the Church of Sant'Orsola.) The presence of the Spanish Mercedarian order is part of the consolidation of the Spanish monarchy in the vice-realm of Naples in the 1500s. This church/monastery is at the western end of via Chiaia (now a pedestrian thoroughfare), a road that, indeed, was once the main way to get from the area around the Royal palace to the newer Spanish expansions to the west along the sea front. (Actually, it still is the easiest way if you don't mind a short walk.) The church is on the site of an earlier Chapel of St. Orsola from the 1400s; construction to incorporate that chapel into the newer church started in the late 1500s. The church is not particularly conspicuous from the front as it is abutted on both sides by other buildings. Like many church/monasteries in Naples, it was closed under the French in the early 1800s, but later reopened. It underwent extensive restoration in the 1850s. Ten years later, the unification of Italy forced the closure of virtually all monasteries in Italy. In 1874, the former monastic premises were sold and eventually converted into the Sannazzaro Theater, still operating. The adjacent church stayed a church and remains essentially what one sees today.

3. Santa Maria delle Grazie is below the Corso Vittorio Emanuele at a small square called Piazza Mondragone, a name historically applied to the entire premises that contain the small church: il Retiro di Mondragone, the Mondragone Retreat. The entire complex was originally a "conservatory", in the early non-musical use of the word to mean a shelter, a place where widows and destitute women might be cared for. The complex was founded in 1653 by Elena Aldobrandini, countess of Mondragone. Construction of the church, itself, was somewhat later than the shelter; the church is from 1715. Urbanization and subdivision of the area has reduced Santa Maria della Grazie to a rather sorry state. For a long time, it was simply closed but has recently been at least partially restored. It is considered an outstanding example of late Baroque art and architecture in Naples.


Santa Maria Assunta di Bellavista. It is difficult to say which church in Naples has the best view of the bay. This one has to be high on anyone's list. It is way out of town at Piazza San Luigi, on the long main road, via Posillipo, that winds west away from Mergellina and up the hill towards Cape Posillipo. (The photo, right, was taken from the road that runs down to the sea, the cape and villa Volpicelli.) From the long monastery-like façade, one is tempted to compare this church to the old Spanish buildings in downtown Naples—maybe spectacularly restored. Not so; in fact, from the side or above, you see that the building is not a gigantic monastic block, but simply a very long façade fronting a relatively shallow building. It was built in only 4 years, beginning in 1860 on land granted by Francis II (the last king of Naples) to two sisters of the Capece Minutolo family. The church, itself, is only the central portion of the building. The two wings were meant to house, respectively, a school and shelter for the poor on one side and dwellings on the other. The clean neo-Gothic façade, thus, is not a restoration, but the original design.

Santa Maria della Pazienza is commonly called the "Cesarea", after Annibale Cesareo, the royal secretary responsible in 1602 for the construction of what was then a church plus major hospital. It is located about halfway up the Vomero hill above the archaeological museum and accessible from below by the main road up, via Salvator Rosa. It is today just above the intersection of that street and Corso Vittorio Emanuele (a major east-west road which did not exist until the mid-1800s). The "Cesarea" was, at the time it was built, well outside of town. Originally, the church and hospital were under the direct administration of the Holy See. The hospital was closed in the late 1800s under a general move towards secularization of health-care facilities in Naples, and the administration of the church was transferred to the archbishopric of Naples.

Santa Maria del Parto (Birth) overlooks the small port of Mergellina and is quite easy to "underlook" if you are busy with the daily portside routine. Yet, the church is very old and very historic. It was founded by the great Neapolitan poet Iaccopo Sannazzaro on land he obtained in 1497 from Frederick II of Aragon. The king also gave Sannazzaro a stipend; thus, the poet spent the last years of his life working on his church and his poem, De partu Virginis, at the same time.

Although the entire complex has been divided and subdivided over the years, it is evident that the whole affair was once a single unit and was much bigger than the quaint church on top (photo). The original plans called for a two-level complex—the church that you see today on top and another church dug in the tufaceous cliff face below at a point where there was a cave that contained a well-known wooden presepe (manger scene) by Giovanni da Nola. The premises also included a monastery, using part of an earlier structure that had been on the site from the time of the Angevin dynasty. The first church was finished in good order, but the second part had some problems in the early 1500s due to a plague epidemic that forced Sannazzaro to leave Naples. Also, the French and Spanish were still fighting for control of the area; thus, at one point in the 1520s, the new church was converted into a military fortification. Before his death, Sannazzaro managed to get the property back, and heirs finished the project. Later, the monastery part was closed by the French in the early 1800s and, for a while, those premises became the private property of the Neapolitan opera impresario, Domenico Barbaia


The church of Santa Teresa degli Scalzi (aka Santa Teresa al Museo or Madre di Dio) is the eponym for the street on which it is located, just around the corner to the north of the National Archaeological Museum. The broad street was the new thoroughfare built by the French under Murat in the early 1800s to connect the historic center of the city with the royal palace of Capodimonte. In spite of the historical importance of the church and the great number of art works contained on the premises, it is almost never open to be visited. The interior of the church is a treasure trove, with works by painters Paolo de Matteis and Battistello Caracciolo and the sculptor Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, among many others. Also, the church holds a painting of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. It is by Giacomo Colombo and is from 1715, the era of the brief Austrian Hapsburg vice-realm in Naples. The chapel of St. Teresa within the church was designed by Cosimo Fanzago and is considered relevant in the history of Neapolitan Baroque art.

S.M. degli Scalzi
was built between 1604 and 1612 and was the first church and monastery of the Discalced ("barefoot") Carmelite Order in Naples. The founders were Carmelite monks from Spain, followers of St. Teresa of Ávila. The façade of S.M. degli Scalzi contains a stucco statue of St. Teresa and one of St. John of the Cross; the façade is from 1652 and is the work of Fanzago. [There is a seperate entry on the Ancient (Calced) Carmelite Order.]
When religious orders were closed in 1808, some of the furnishings within the church were moved elsewhere to conserve them as cultural artifacts. In this case, the original altar, built by the Neapolitan sculptor, Dionisio Lazzari (1617-89), was moved to the royal palace, where it resides today. The double stairway is the result of later construction in the 1830s after the church was reopened. The ex-monastic premises today house an Industry and Crafts Institute for the Blind.


San Carlo all' ArenaThis church with the strange name is located on the north side of via Foria, just east of Piazza Cavour, and is relatively late in the history of Neapolitan church building. The general layout of the building is attributed to the Dominican priest/architect Fra Nuvolo (Vincenzo de Nuvola, 1570-1643), but the church was not inaugurated until 1700 with work on the facade continuing as late as 1756. This is actually a rebuilt version of another church of the same name somewhat to the west of the present site; that church was opened in 1602 and is no longer standing. The name, itself, "Arena" means "sand" and refers to the former presence of a rain-fed river that ran along what is now via Foria, all presence of which has now vanished; the last witness to that presence, the nearby bridge of Sant'Antonio abate, was demolished in 1868. The church was home to the Cistercian order, which, however, had to abandon the premises in 1792 to make room for a shelter ("conservatorio"), a plan that never came to fruition. With the coming of the anti-clericalism of the short-lived Neapolitan Republic of 1799 and then of the longer-lived French rule under Murat at the beginning of the 1800s, the premises were used as a store-house; many of the art works contained in the church and monastery were lost. Thanks to the work of the Cistercian order during the cholera outbreak of 1836, they were again given the property. After the unification of Italy, the order was suppressed. The ex-monastic premises are today occupied by public buildings. The church today still contains significant art work and sculpture.


From its location, size and appearance, the church of Saints John and Theresa might seem much older than it is
—perhaps a sister to one of those many 16th -and-17th-century Spanish churches just below it in the Chiaia section of town, just above the western end of the Villa Comunale. Actually, it is more recent and consequently enjoyed a much shorter life as the church/convent it was intended to be. There had been an earlier royal villa of sorts on the property when it was acquired by members of the Discalced Carmelite order in 1747. Ten years later, a central church was added (photo) at the behest of the monarch, Charles III. Tradition likes to attribute the conversion and subsequent building on the premises to architect Angelo Carasale, who had just completed the San Carlo Theater; however, most sources now claim that the architect is unknown but, whoever he was, he owed a lot to Antonio Domenico Vaccaro.

The church is on the steep street, Arco Mirelli, about halfway up between piazza della Repubblica at sea-level and the long east-west road, Corso Vittorio Emanuele. If you step back from the front of the building and can keep from rolling down the hill, you will see just how large it is. In that respect, it has something in common with the earlier Spanish monasteries and convents. All convents and monasteries were closed by the French in the early 1800s and again after the unification of Italy in 1861; more recently, the former convent of Saints Giovanni e Teresa was converted to secular use as part of the Loreto Crispi hospital. The interior of the church contains works by sculptor Manuel Pacecho and paintings by Giuseppe Bonito (1707-89) and Francesco de Mura (1696-1782). Bonito and de Mura were both students of Solimena, and, interestingly, Bonito is better known for his popular renditions of Neapolitan life than for religious works.


The church of Santa Maria dell’Aiuto [Saint Mary of Eternal Help, or of Succour] is on the 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 #7, above) 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 the same 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—dedicated to Our Lady of Succour. (In an age in which such concrete manifestations of faith were held to be protection from earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius and pestilence, not only churches arose, but also the three so-called “plague columns” of Naples).

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.


San Giacomo degli Italiani -  I harbor no illusion that I will ever discover, much less write about, all of the little churches in Naples that are abandoned and falling apart. But sometimes I see one set incongruously in the middle of the modern city, and it stirs my urge to know more. Via Depretis is the avenue between Piazza Municipio (the site of the city hall) and Piazza della Borsa (the stock exchange). Like all such straight, broad thoroughfares in that section of Naples, it is the product of the massive reconstruction called the risanamento, a 30-year project of the late 19th and early 20th century. A smaller, yet important, wave of construction took place in Naples during the 1920s and 30s and produced those mastodons of Fascist Art Deco such as the main post office, the passenger terminal at the port of Naples, and all of the municipal and provincial government buildings on or near Piazza Matteotti.

Another such monolith is the telephone exchange about halfway along via Depretis. It gleams and towers over the rest of the neighborhood; indeed, it and the large risanamento building a few yards away could do an excellent car-crusher number on  the tiny edifice caught in the middle, the church of San Giacomo degli Italiani. The small church is closed, dilapidated and non-descript—yet, for what it's worth—it managed to survive two great waves of purposeful demolition and construction in the last century and even various random waves of destruction in the aerial bombardments of WW II.

The church was a remake in the 1570s of a nearby church of the same name that disappeared as part of Spanish construction in the 16th century. The original church was from 1328 and was the seat of the Order of the Knights of St. James. The appellation "degli Italiani" (of the Italians) may have been to distinguish it from another church—more familiar to Neapolitans and, indeed, still a functioning church—San Giacomo degli Spagnoli (today, simply called "San Giacomo," right next to City Hall). Or, says another theory, it was to honor sailors from Pisa ("Italians" as opposed to "Neapolitans") whose fleet rested in the port of Naples for a while on the way home from a victory over the Saracens further south in 1327. The façade of the present church incorporates the portal from the 1500s as well as a crest comprised of a shell, sword, and cross, the symbol of the Order of St. James. The church was left standing intentionally during the risanamento and was reconsecrated in 1901. I have been unable to find out if it served as a church after the giant building was put up next door. I suspect that it was closed during that period and simply never reopened. 
(add below, Feb 19, 2018)

The Way (& the Shell) of St. James 
(start 3 paragraphs up)

As far as "shell, sword, and cross," the symbol of the Order of St. James go, I am primarily concerned with the shell and ask you to examine these two images (left and right) and determine what graphic detail they have in common. (I just gave you the answer but pretend I didn't!) Right! The shell, seen on the right (looking like a real shell) on the facade of San Giacomo dei Italiani (and many others elsewhere, especially on the premises of San Giacomo (degli Spagnoli), adjacent to the city hall) is seen in stylized form (the "radiating" blue and yellow icon in the center of the pillar on the left) in this travel photo (from friend Preston Lamp. He was on the last leg of one of the most popular pilgrimages in Christendom, the Way of St. James, the road to the cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain). Rather than "radiating," however, the lines are really many roads coming in, leading to one place, Compostela de Santiago. They represent the grooves on the shells of clams found on the shores of Gallicia; some form of the shell, real or stylized, has for centuries been a symbol of the trek.

Today, this stylized shell (right) is seen along the many roads in Spain and France that lead to Santiago de Compostela and is being pushed by the European Union as a symbol of a united Europe harking back to the first use of "Europe" in the modern sense (in the 700s) (that is, a geographical area with generally common cultural features) that define a post-Roman area in southern, central and northern Europe, all dating back to  the 700s when the "reconquest of Spain" started and when Charlemagne declared the Holy Roman Empire; that is, when today's "Europe" started.

Whether or not the most poetic etymology I know of "Compostela" "field of stars" is true, or whether W.B.Yeats had any of this in mind when he wrote, "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you...and paced among the mountains overhead/ and hid his face amid a crowd of stars"...I'll leave that to you.

my usual thanks to Selene Salvi for her help


If the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is as old as legend says it is, no wonder UNESCO is willing to chip in €950,000 to restore it as a museum. That is, if it was really founded by Constantin the Great—around the year 300—that would put the church in the first ranks of paleo-Christian houses of worship in Naples. At the very least, the church is at least as old as one of the same name in Rome from the 500s, and, in any event, has been documented to be one of the first four parishes in Naples. The unusual name comes from the Greek adjective cosmedin (from Greek kosmidion), meaning ornate. The church in Naples held both Greek and Latin rites until around the year 1200. 

S.M. Cosemedin is also called S.M. di Portanova (New Gate) from its location near a medieval city gate of that name. The small square in front of the church is still called Portanova and is about one block in (i.e., to the north) from the modern straight boulevard named Corso Umberto, not far from the main building of the Federico II University.

The structure has been closed since the 1980 earthquake and is in impossibly bad and unsafe condition. Virtually nothing of the artistic interior remains, all having been either stolen/vandalized or removed for safekeeping. The configuration that one sees today is from the late 1600s and early 1700s, concealing the grounds beneath the main body of the church, site of a burial ground and presumably whatever remains of the original paleo-Christian premises. There are upper stories, as well. Through the centuries, various monastic orders found a home in an adjacent monastery, removed during the Risanamento, the urban renewal of the late 1800s. That construction/demolition also removed an ornate Baroque double stair-case at the entrance. I have heard nothing of current plans to start restoration or of the disposition of the monies supposedly allocated by UNESCO.

The Church of S. Maria della Concordia was built in 1556 to a design by Father Giuseppe Romano, provincial vicar of the Carmelite order. The church was built about a third of the way up the steep slope leading to the San Martino monastery and the Sant' Elmo fortress. The church was, thus, well above the new main street, via Toledo, and was at the high southwest section of the area still called the "Spanish quarters", built in the mid-1500s to garrison Spanish vice-royal troops. In those days, the slopes were still bucolic and sprinkled with churches and monasteries at about the level of today's road, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which winds along east to west just above the Concordia and other religious institutions from around the same period. These include the nearby church of Santa Caterina da Siena and the Convent of the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity (now known as the ex-Military Hospital).

The Concordia was restored in 1718 by Giovan Battista Nauclerio, best known in Naples for his work on the church and monastery of San Domenico Maggiore; the church was then completely restored in 1858. During the various closures of religious orders in Naples since Murat, the premises have also served as a boarding school, a music school, and even an infamous Debtors' Prison. The most significant painting on the premises is The Blessed Virgin with St. Michael; it is either by Giuseppe de Ribera or the Sicilian painter, Bernardo Azzolino (1572 - 1645).

Confusing historical note!  The church contains the tomb of one Gaspare Benemerino. According to one source (de Lellis, below), Gaspare was due to become the "22nd King of Fez" when he converted to Christianity, [thus] "...renouncing his powerful order to gain the eternal kingdom of Heaven." Since that note appeared in 1654, some sources have simply referred to Gaspare as the son of the "King of Fez," and as one who served Phillip III of Spain. This has led other sources to call Gaspare a son of the ruler of "The Kingdom of Fez," but Fez and the Kingdom of Fez are not necessarily the same and, in this case, are probably not.

First, the epitaph near Gaspar's tomb in the church simply says that he was an African king. Assuming the date on the epitaph (1641) to be the year of his death and the reference to "Pope Urban VIII" (papal reign 1623-44) to be accurate, there is some confusion. Although De Lellis transcribed the Latin epitaph to read that Gaspare served "Phillip III of Spain," the stone (photo, right) says "Phillip II" and even that is not clear. It might even be a "Phillip I" that someone has altered to "Phillip II" by adding a numeral. (Of course, that wouldn't fix the chronology, either, but it's as close to 'III' as they could squeeze in. "C'mon, who's going to notice. Let's go to lunch." This is likely to have been Guido & Vinnie's Epitaph and Pizza Delivery Service. They still exist!)

Second, there was, indeed, an historical state called the Kingdom of Fez with a limited existence, from 1472 to 1554, but that may be irrelevant. What De Lellis meant by "the 22nd king of Fez" was probably that Gaspare was from the city of Fez, a major religious center of Islam since the founding of the city in 789 by the Idrisid dynasty. The city has been called the "Mecca of the West." Rulers of Fez (as well as other parts of Morocco) have been various dynasties called by tribal names such as Idrisid, Almoravid, Marinid, Wattasid, and Saadi. (The Kingdom of Fez is also termed the Wattasid Sultanate.) Thus, de Lellis may have meant that Gaspare was the son of a king in a long, long chain of rulers stretching back to the founding of Fez. In any event, Phillip I (or even Phillip II) on the epitaph stone has to be a mistake, which De Lellis corrected to Phillip III (reigned from 1598 to 1621) in his transcription in order to set the chronology straight. So, Gaspare Benemerino died in 1641 in Naples. He was descended from Moroccan royalty, converted to Christianity and served Phillip III of Spain. I think. 


de Lellis, Carlo. Supplement to "Napoli Sacra" by Cesare d’Engenio Caracciolo. Naples, 1654.

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