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

Emi Steadman (3 months ago)
A spectacular experience! Our tour guide (Eduardo? I think) was extremely knowledgeable and gave us an amazing insight into the history of these Catacombe. We paid €21 for 2 tickets and the tour lasts an hour. If you are in Naples this is a must.
Kat Anderson (4 months ago)
First, it’s nice & cool down in the catacombs, it’s so cheap to visit, the guides are good and the history is fascinating. Your ticket to one catacombs site also gets you into the other catacombs site and the cemetery. You also walk through the opulent basilica (church) and see where you can stand over the catacombs. And, you will learn of the continuing work always going on to discover more artifacts and solve more mysteries. A MUST DO in Naples! Buy your ticket online ahead of time so you get your choice of time & language on the tour.
Angelo Esposito (4 months ago)
Interesting place to visit, the guide was very passionate and the nativity is fabulous. The catacombs are nice and need to be visited. With the same ticket, you can also visit the catacombs of San Gennaro and take a discount for visiting other places. For sure a place to go if you are visiting Napoli.
Bella Norris (4 months ago)
Super interesting to learn about the significance of those catacombs. I don’t remember our tour guides name but he said he was giving tours since he was 18 and now he’s 34. He was very knowledgeable about everything and it gave me more appreciation for that part of Naples.
Martin Zagorov (4 months ago)
Very interesting catacombs located underneath a cathedral in Naples' suburbs. It will take you around 30 minutes to reach it from the centre. The entrance fee is €7 and it includes a tour guide. The tour takes around 50 minutes. You will have to wait for a round hour in order for a tour to start. However, there weren't any bones, skulls or bodies which was a bit disappointing for me. But overall it was a great sight!
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