The church of Santa Maria delle anime del Purgatorio ad Arco, one of the main baroque monuments of Naples, is located in via Tribunali. The fame and importance of this church, already famous in the seventeenth century, are mainly related to its Baroque decoration, centered on funeral themes, and the cult of the deceased.
The church was built in the seventeenth century, when the cult of the dead reached its peak, thanks to the initiative of a confraternity founded in 1604 with the intent to raise funds for the celebration of masses of suffrage, the project was entrusted to the great sculptor and architect Cosimo Fanzago.
Funerary motifs recur on the facade, on the outside tapestries with skulls and bronze crossbones, often adorned with fresh flowers and inside.
The church has a single nave, three side chapels and an apse surmounted by a dome, where the magnificence of Baroque art and funerary symbols match perfectly. Inside, covered with polychrome marbles, it is possible to admire important works of art; in the third right chapel, The Death of St. Alexis (1661) by Luca Giordano, in the presbytery the beautiful marbles by Dioniso Lazzari (1655-69), of which the sculpted motif with skull and bones behind the eighteenth-century high altar is impressive; The altarpiece presents The Madonna with the Souls in the Purgatory by Massimo Stanzione and, above, St. Anne and Mary at the feet of the Eternal Father by Giacomo Farelli; on the left, one of the masterpieces by the sculptor Andrea Falcone, the tomb of Giulio Mastrilli, one of the main benefactors of the confraternity, who died in 1652.
In the third chapel on the left is the work of Andrea Vaccaro Transito di San Giuseppe, in the first chapel of San Michele di Gerolamo de Magistro.
The interior, the sacristy and the oratory of the Immaculate and the hypogeum, house the museum of the Opera Pia Purgatorio ad Arco, which exhibits liturgical objects, vestments, chalices, books, furnishings of the celebrations and other testimonies ranging from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
A staircase to the left of the entrance leads to the large hypogeum, where there are burials dating back to the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth centuries, the object of popular veneration.
Until a few years ago, the most famous part of the church was the cemetery below, thanks to the survival of a religious practice deeply rooted in the city, the cult of the so-called “souls of purgatory”, also called “pezzentelle souls”, a cult aimed particularly at the anonymous dead and without relatives, considered intermediaries between mortals and official deities.
The devotees took care of their material remains, in particular the skulls, the so-called “capozzelle“; this guaranteed peace to the dead who offered, in exchange for treatment, protection and advice on problems, concerns and even frivolous issues, such as numbers to play the lottery and love affairs.
This practice also took place in the crypt of Sant’Agostino alla Zecca, in that of San Pietro ad Aram and in the cemetery of the Fontanelle.
Address: Tribunali, 39 (street)
Church: Monday to Saturday from 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.
Museum and Hypogeum: Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 14.00
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