The Baroque (Santa Maria delle Anime del) Purgatorio ad Arco Church in Naples was built in the early 17th century. Believers came to the church after visiting the cemetery underneath it. The facade is decorated with motifs referring to funerals.
Purgatorio ad Arco Church Napels
Address: Via dei Tribunali, 39 – Napoli. Telephone: +39 081 440438. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 14:00. The museum, including guided tours, must be booked in advance via e-mail: email@example.com. Tours are held Monday through Saturday at 12:00 in Italian and, Saturday only, at 11:00 in English. Admission: the church is free, the museum is 7 Euro (3 Euro for children).
(Note: Opening times and admission prices may have been subject to change since the time of writing).
History and description
Construction of the Purgatorio ad Arco Church began in 1616. The construction was paid for by a number of aristocratic families, with the intention of making it into a cemetery for the less fortunate.
The addition Ad Arco is explained by the former proximity of a tower. This tower was called Torre d’Arco because it was open on all four sides so that people could pass underneath. Although the tower had already been razed to the ground in 1564, the neighborhood continued to be called ad Arco by the local population.
The complex consists of two levels. The upper part represents the world of the living and the hypogeum below it that of the dead.
The consecration of the upper part of the church took place in 1638. It consists of a single nave with three side chapels. The transept is smaller than usual.
The lower part was not completed until the 18th century, so from then on it was used as a cemetery for the poor.
A major restoration was needed after the 1980 earthquake. The reopening took place in 1992.
What to see
The facade is decorated with skulls and bones. The portal and the relief above it (“The Madonna with the Souls of Purgatory”) date from the 18th century and are the work of Cosimo Fanzago.
The church features paintings by Luca Giordano, Andrea Vaccaro and Massimo Stanzione, and others.
The marble winged skull is the work of Neapolitan Baroque sculptor Dionisio Lazzari.
Museum and Hypogeum
The sacristy and facade now make up the Museo dell’Opera Pia del Purgatorio ad Arco. The cemetery below the church is also part of the visit.
The Hypogeum is the same size as the church itself and is accessed through a trapdoor. Along the side walls are many niches and altars dedicated to the cult of souls in purgatory. These souls are called anime pezzentelle (“beggar souls”).
The collection includes liturgical objects and vestments, chalices, books and objects from the 17th to the 19th centuries used in celebrations.
Skull of Lucia
The biggest attraction of the Hypogeum is the so-called “Skull of Lucia”, decorated with a crown and bridal veil. Lucia was about to marry when she found death. There are several legends about the cause of this death. Some say she was murdered on her way to the altar, others claim she committed murder herself and still others are certain she died of an incurable disease. It was her father who had the skull interred in the church.
The church is best known for its devotion to the Souls in Purgatory.