Catacombs of Saint Gaudiosus

Napoli, Italy

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.

Description

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.

Curiosities

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.

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Details

Founded: 4th-5th century AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Italy

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Evelyn Chao (4 months ago)
Super interesting and unique site for anyone who’s interested in art, archeology, literature, general history, or the dead. It’s not at the scale of the Paris catacomb, but rather an in-depth tour into Napoli and its past. What I like the most was the tour left me thinking about the meaning of life as concluded by death, but not exactly about skeletons or death itself. There was no skull or bones here anyway. I visited San Gaudioso catacomb before walking to the San Gennaro catacomb. I preferred this one because of its more relatable yet profound stories in the murals. Also because I was the only person in the English tour. My guide was a kind and knowledgeable historian (an extra long beard guy with glasses) who spoke very good English, and we had a good conversation so the tour lasted about 70 minutes. Before I came here, I didn’t know Sanita neighborhood was formerly poor with crime and still am a bit underdeveloped- as I could see by walking to the other catacomb (btw I recommend against doing so due to blocked pedestrian sidewalks, so had to walk on main road at times, which could be dangerous). Thanks to my guide for opening up to talk about his neighborhood’s past and their voluntary initiative to bring tourism opportunities to north of the wall. For such a delicate historical site, I thought guided tours only would be necessary. In my humble opinion, the management team could open more time slots when it becomes possible, in that simply these two sites wouldn’t be enough to retain the tourists to stay longer, which would naturally happen when there are more coffee shops, restaurants, local neighborhood walking tours, and a reliable public transport to get here. Also please fix the church’s terrible toilets.
Günter Deutsch (4 months ago)
Very good experience a great tour through history and well worth the visit
seyed ahmad jafari (5 months ago)
Interesting tour guidance about the history
pier9623 (5 months ago)
It was an awesome place with great guides. Unique in the world, an experience I would suggest!
Filip Wachowiak (6 months ago)
Great place to visit even if you've seen the San Gennaro Catacombs, these Catacombs are different and even more interesting than San Gennaro's. The guide was very helpful and in fact because of the pandemic he happened to be our private guide.
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