Duomo di San Gennaro
The shrine to the paterfamilias of Naples, San Gennaro, the city's cathedral is home to the saint's devotional chapel, among the most spectacular—in the show-biz sense of the word—in the city. With a colonnade leading to an apse bursting with light and Baroque splendor, the Duomo's nave makes a fitting setting for the famous Miracle of the Blood
, when the blood of the martyred San Gennaro liquefies (hopefully) in its silver ampule every September 19 before an audience of thousands massed in front of the Duomo's altar. San Genna, fa'o miracolo! Fa ampresso! Nun ce fa suffrì!
yell the congregants during the ritual— "Saint Genna, do the miracle! Hurry up! You'll pay for it if you don't do it!" If St. Januarius (to use his ancient Latin name) doesn't cooperate, however, it's usually the city that winds up paying, or so the locals believe: eruptions of Vesuvius, cholera outbreaks, and defeats of the Naples soccer team have all been blamed on the saint when the miracolo
has failed to occur.
The Duomo was first established by Charles II of Anjou, using imported French architects, on the site of a previous structure, the Cattedrale Stefania (AD 570), and next to an even earlier structure, the still-extant Basilica di Santa Restituta (4th century AD). Already restored in 1456 and 1484, it was largely redesigned in 1787 and 1837. The original facade collapsed in the earthquake of 1349, and the present pseudo-Gothic concoction is a modern (1877–1905) fake by Enrico Alvino and Giuseppe Pisanti, which, however, reemploys the doors—still majestic in spite of extensive damage—from the 1407 facade. The central door, by Antonio Baboccio, features a Madonna and Child
by Tino da Camaino under its arch. Inside, the splendid nave welcomes all, with a gilt wooden ceiling (1621) and golden roundels painted above the pillars by Luca Giordano and his school depicting various saints. From the nave head to the right side of the church to see the chapel devoted to the city's patron saint.
The Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro
, or Chapel of the Treasure of Saint Januarius, was built in 1608–37 by the Theatin architect Francesco Grimaldi to fulfill a desperate vow pronounced by city fathers during an outbreak of the plague (January 13, 1527), some 80 years earlier. The chapel honors San Gennaro (250–305), one of the earliest Christian martyrs; as bishop of Benevento, he was executed at Pozzuoli during the rule of Emperor Diocletian. The entrance to the chapel is marked by a heavy gilt-bronze baldachin gate (1668–86) by noted architect Cosimo Fanzago, who also designed the chapel's superb floor, and is flanked by statues of Sts. Peter and Paul by Giuliano Finelli. Inside, the elegant Greek-cross plan is decorated everywhere possible with gold, colored marble, bronze, and paint, but nothing could be too overdone for the home of San Gennaro's most famous DNA sample and the fabulous treasure of jeweled offerings bestowed by numerous sovereigns. The 40-odd brocatello
columns, with their musty tones of dried roses, were sent from the quarries of Tortosa in Valencia, Spain. The high altar on the back wall (1689–90), designed by the painter Francesco Solimena, seems to swell as it tries to contain the opulence of the central relief, created in silver (circa 1692) by Giovan Domenico Vinaccia (who inserted into it a portrait of himself holding eyeglasses). Above the altar, against the wall, is a large bronze of St. Gennaro on his bishop's throne by onetime Bernini assistant Giuliano Finelli. Also behind the altar are two silvered niches donated by Charles II of Spain to house the reliquaries containing the blood of the saint (the right-hand one) and his skull. This latter reliquary consists of the famous gilded medieval bust done by three French artists (1305) set on a silver base from 1609, the actual repository of the precious vials of the saint's blood.
Note Il Ribera's San Gennaro in the Furnace
(1647), on the right-hand wall—perhaps the most beautiful church painting in Naples. Dating from his early Neapolitan period, it clearly shows the influence of Velasquez in the figures on the left, and it's imbued with a Mediterranean luminosity that is rare in his work. The chapel, a veritable church-within-a-church, also has its own sacristy (sometimes closed), which contains a luxurious washbasin by Cosimo Fanzago. This room leads into a suite of rooms with frescoes by Giacomo Farelli and a splendid altarpiece by Massimo Stanzione; at the back are kept the 51 statues of the "co-patron" saints, displayed in the chapel proper in May and September and which accompany the reliquary of the blood on its annual procession to Santa Chiara.
The main altar sits in the resplendent apse redesigned in 1744 by Paolo Tosi and framed by two magnificent jasper columns found in a dig in 1705. A staircase on either side of the entrance to the presbytery (high altar area) descends to the Caraffa Chapel, better known as the Succorpo di San Gennaro
, or, more simply, the crypt (1497–1506), a Renaissance masterpiece by Tommaso Malvito in the form of a rectangular room divided into three naves by rows of columns. Malvito also carved the imposing statue of Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa, who commissioned the chapel.
Coming back up into the nave and continuing in a counterclockwise direction, you find the Chapel of San Lorenzo, with highly restored frescoes by Lello da Orvieto (circa 1314–20). This chapel hides an elevator that ascends through one of the corner towers to the roof, which offers an intimate yet panoramic view of the historic quarter. Nearby is the tomb of Pope Innocent, sculpted in 1315 and redone in the 16th century by Tommaso Malvito. The sarcophagus to the left belongs to Andrea of Hungary, the unfortunate consort of Queen Joan I, who allegedly had him strangled in Aversa (at least the dogs at the foot of the deceased show a little sadness). Beyond the tombs of Pope Innocent XII and the late-Renaissance chapel of the Brancaccio family, a door leads to the Chapel of Santa Restituta. The Cappella di Santa Restituta
is in fact the oldest church in Naples, dating from the 4th century AD and, according to tradition, built by order of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, on the site of a temple to Apollo. It was dedicated to Santa Restituta in the 8th century when the martyr's relics were transferred to the church. Outside the Duomo (on the south side) is the ticket booth for the various showpieces in the cathedral (entrance: €7). This includes entrance to the flashy but somewhat dry Museo del Tesoro di San Gennaro
housing religious works by silversmiths over the centuries, the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte—a square room with an octagonal dome, built by Bishop Soterus in the middle of the 5th century, which still dazzles with its rare, gorgeous, and important early Christian mosaics, the Royal Chapel, and the underground archaeological site.
Address: Via Duomo 147
Phone: 081/449097 Duomo; 081/294764 museum
Hours: Daily 8:30–12:30 and 4:30–7