Thursday, November 12, 2009

Saint Restituta

Nook of Naples: Il Duomo is one of the primary destinations for any Naples visitor. The patron saint of the city, San Gennaro, is buried here and his blood is kept in an ampoule in a side niche. But, in search of an odious woman, Il Duomo also pays tribute to Santa Restituta.

Not much is known about her life, except that she was born in North Africa near Carthage and was killed during the Christian persecutions there. Although some believe that San Gaudioso brought her remains to Naples, the colorful legends surrounding Restituta make her odious.

In 304, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a large number of Christians continued to gather in the city of Abitina to celebrate the Eucharist. Fifty of them, including Restituta, were caught, arrested, and dragged in chains to Carthage. There, they were sentenced to death.

Legend has it that Restituta was tortured and then placed in a blazing boat, but her body was left unharmed by the fire. Her boat landed on the shores of Ischia where a Christian woman named Lucina walked along the beach and found the incorrupt body of Restituta, who was now dead. (Still today the Festival of Restituta is celebrated on the island of Ischia every May 16-18 and a church in her name also exists there.)

At The Naples Cathedral (or Il Duomo), an opulent nave is dedicated to the saint. Tucked away beyond it, the Duomo itself was built upon the remnants of a paleo-Christian basilica from the 500's A.D. The older basilica was dedicated to Santa Restituta. Today, you must pay to get into this cool one-room vestige where a bulbous dome sparkles with badly damaged Byzantine tiles and a fresco of Restituta remains in tact against the wall.

The stereotype of women in Naples seems to be that they are expected to be mothers who raise children, remain mostly inside the home, and stay obedient to their husbands. But the large number of female images within the Catholic Churches throughout the city point to another side of women's roles in Neapolitan history. In fact, Naples has over fifty official patron saints, at least twelve of whom are women. Restituta presents a marvelous example of an African woman who stood up for her beliefs and made a strong political statement for her time. Consequently, she was brutally killed, only to be admired centuries later for her courage.

To that, I say -- Amen.

Getting There: Il Duomo is in the heart of downtown Naples at Via Duomo 147. If you go by Metro, take the Piazza Cavour exit, walk in the opposite direction from the National Archeological Museum, and then take a right into Via Duomo. The National Church is a few blocks down.

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