The Catacombs of Saint Gaudiosus are underground paleo-Christian burial sites (4th-5th century BC), located in the northern area of the city of Naples (now Stella district). The catacombs were probably occupied on a pre-existing Greek-Roman necropolis in the district known nowadays as Rione Sanità, that was uninhabited at that time. According to tradition, it was the burial site of St. Gaudiosus, a bishop arrived in Naples from North Africa, due to a shipwreck.
His burial took place between 451 and 453 and the place, although was already the tomb of another bishop, St. Nostriano, became an object of veneration and since then known by St. Gaudosio name.
The urbanization of Rione Sanità began only around the sixteenth century and, with it, also the catacombs returned to their original burial function. During the seventeenth century, with the construction of the basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità just above the ancient church or chapel of St. Gaudioso, the underground cemetery was 'modernized' with profound changes in its original structure until the destruction of some of its parts.
After the outbreak of 1656, the vast limestone caves in the valley became a huge open-air graveyard and here, at the time of Joachim Murat, numerous bones from the 'mummification rooms' were moved as well as victims of other epidemics such as cholera of 1836.
Nowadays, only a small portion of what were the original catacombs.
Access to the catacombs is in the crypt, under the raised presbytery of the church dedicated to Our Lady of Health. This subject is represented in a fresco pheraphs detached by a wall of the old church, due to a mud slide.
Our Lady of Health (5th – 6th century), probably the most ancient Marian representation of Naples, is now kept in the first right side chapel of the basilica. Many inhabitants of the neighborhood, however, believe that the church is dedicated to St. Vincent Ferrer, because of the popular devotion to this holy Dominican and of the beautiful wooden statue of him, placed at the left of the altar.
The crypt, once a long corridor catacomb, clearly contains on the vault and on the walls, visible frescoes by Bernardino Fera representing stories of martyrs. The arcosolium, placed at the entrance, guards the Tomb of San Gaudioso, with a sixth-century mosaic decoration.
In the various cubicles that open along the arms of the catacombs, were located 5th – 6th century frescoes (St. Peter's, among others, and San Sossio, deacon of Pozzuoli) and a mosaic dating before the late 5th century. The tufa sculpture of the dead Christ to the left of the entrance dates back at the end of the 7th century. The 7th century was for the catacombs a new period of use, especially by the Dominican friars. In this era it was, in fact, still widespread the use of the drainer: stone cavities in which corps were leaned into a fetal position, to make him lose the fluids.
The Dominican friars thought that the head was the most important part of the body as the seat of thoughts; that’s way, after drying, the heads were preserved, while the rest of the body was amassed in the charnel house.
During this period was also exercised a macabre practice to take the heads of the now dried corpses and lock them in the walls and painting below a body that would give some indication of the profession of the deceased. This type of burial was reserved for the wealthy classes and was later abandoned due to hygienic reasons.
Of the German’s body, embedded in the walls, only the skulls survived, due to the fact that the surface had been deteriorated by the humidity. Most of that skullcaps are smaller than modern men ones, maybe because of the different nutrition and the healthier way of life.
The Neapolitan actor Antonio De Curtis, known as Totò, was a native of the Rione Sanità and he was used to frequent its catacombs, where there is a fresco representing death winning over Everything.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.