Thursday, April 8, 2010

Purgatory is now open!

The Underground Tour: The Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco (Santa Maria Church of the Souls of Purgatory) has re-opened and its underground can be visited by guided tour each Saturday morning.

Neapolitan noble families commissioned construction of this church in the early 1600's so that they could bury their loved ones in crypts under the city.

Stairs in the back of the church descend to an underground cathedral, now hollow tufo stone with niches on either side.

Across the cathedral, a doorway leads to a hallway where rectangular holes display skulls and bones.

From here, the visitor enters a cavern that has two long beds of dirt on either side. Looking closer, these are unmarked graves. Niches in the walls display more skulls and bones, sometimes with small pictures of the deceased next to them.

Up at the front of the room, an altar burgeons with flowers, rosaries, and other memorabilia left by devotees. To the right of the altar, sickly-sweet smelling flowers and handwritten cards sit underneath the remains of Lucia, the virgin-bride. Legend has it -- and many different versions of the legend exist -- that Lucia was the only daughter of Domenico d'Amore, the prince of Ruffano. In 1789, at the age of seventeen, she died of consumption shortly before she was to wed the Marquee Giacomo Santomango. The tragedy caused a tumult of heartfelt emotion by the populous who up until this day still leave fresh flowers and cards underneath her skull and bones.

Getting There: Via Tribunali 39, 80138 Naples tel: 081-5519547
The church is open Monday - Saturday from 10am-1pm, but the underground tour takes place only Saturdays. You should get there at 10am for a tour, although they might make you wait until more people show up. (In truth, the time of the tour varies according to what's happening at that moment.) The cost is 2 Euro.

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