The Sant’Eligio Maggiore Church was the first church in Naples commissioned by the House of Anjou. There is a tragic story linked to the Arch of Sant’Eligio next to the buidling. Most of the works of art that used to adorn the church have been moved to museums.
Sant’Eligio Maggiore Church Naples
History and description
The Chiesa di Sant’Eligio, Dionisio e Martino was built in 1270. The church is located next to a hospital, as a result of which the building enjoyed certain royal privileges.
In the 16th century, a “Conservatory for Virgins”, where young women were trained to become nurses, was added to the hospital. A “Madonna of Mercy” can be seen in one of the rooms of this boarding school, with a cut on her face from which on one occasion real blood is said to have flowed.
Not much remains of the original church. The many restorations (due to earthquakes, fires and damage inflicted during World war II) have all left their marks.
After World War II, the marble wall coverings were removed. As a result, the original tufa wall is visible again.
What to see
The 16th century Gothic main portal decorated with plant and animal motifs is located on the side of the church. The original portal is no longer used.
The apse, which is decorated with medieval paintings, is divided into three sections. Facing it is a Gothic style marble cross with an image of St. Eligius engraved in it.
Pope Urban V
On one of the pillars is a well-preserved effigy of Pope Urban V (1310-1370) from the 14th century. The pope is depicted holding effigies of Peter and Paul. It was custom to portray Urban V in this way.
Sala del Governatorato
The “Governors’ Hall” is actually called Sala del Consiglio del Banco e del Pio Luogo del Real Stabilimento. In 1787, Angelo Mozillo painted this room with frescoes referring to Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso. This epic poem from 1581 has the First Crusade as its theme. In it, the Christians, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, battle the Muslims during the Siege of Jerusalem.
The cloister was originally the courtyard of the infirmary. Next to the stairs leading to it is a 15th-century bas-relief with the figure of a warrior and a coat of arms.
The fountain in the courtyard is a later addition. The sculptures gracing its basin depict a lion, a bird, a scorpion, a book and a sword. The four lower basins were used to let animals quench their thirst.
Arch of Sant’Eligio
The 15th-century Arch of Sant’Eligio connects the bell tower to the hospital. The arch is decorated with a clock, underneath of which two sculpted heads are visible. The heads depict Duke Antonello Caracciolo and a young girl who he was in love with. When he was rejected, he kidnapped her father and forced her to yield to him. The family asked Isabella of Aragon for justice. Caracciolo was taken to the Campo del Moricino next to the church to be executed. However, he first had to marry the girl so that she would inherit his possessions. He begged for the girl’s forgiveness. The girl was about to give in when she was startled by the face of an old man and died on the spot. Caracciolo, deprived of a chance to ask for clemency, was beheaded. The queen had their likenesses engraved on the arch. The clock was added in the 19th century.
Paintings by Massimo Stanzione, Cornelius Smet, Francesco Solimena and others, formerly on display in the church, have been transferred to museums.
Address: Via Sant’Eligio, 1 – 80133 Napoli. Opening hours: From 08:30 to 13:00; Sunday from 09:00 to 13:30. Admission: free of charge. (Note: Times and rates are subject to change).