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

Kaye Jones (17 months ago)
A real must see if you are interested in the history of the people of Naples. An excellent tour offered by local young guides. Brilliant and a bit spooky.
Piotr Sieczkowski (18 months ago)
Small but interesting catacombs where you can learn how the process of mumification in XVII century Naples looked like (and it was pretty gross)
J Edgar (20 months ago)
Great history. Well presented. English speaking guides are very knowledgeable and have very good presentation. The organization is doing a great job cleaning up the area. This is a must see in Naples
Annalisa DS (2 years ago)
This catacombs are just astonishing, you can still feel the history and the tradition of this place. The guide explained us all the details and the tour was really pleasant. The association "la paranza" is doing an amazing work in restoring the historical sites all over the city and promoting the tourism. Their courage is inspiring.
K. Kevin Wang (2 years ago)
The church is open for limited hours, but is certainly worth a visit. The tour guide, Julia, did a fantastic job, and had a lot of passion for her work. When there were technical issues with the POS machine, she was flexible with coming up with other solutions for the payment. They are also doing important work for the community for which I have a lot of respect.
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