Basilica of Santa Maria a Pugliano

Ercolano, Italy

The Basilica of Santa Maria a Pugliano is the main church in Ercolano and the oldest church in the area around Mount Vesuvius.

The church contains two pagan marble sarcophagi from the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, later adapted into Christian altars, probably in the 11th century. There are records of an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the 11th century on a hill called Pugliano. During the following centuries the church's popularity increased more and more and pilgrims flooded here from everywhere.

In the early years after the Council of Trent the church obtained formal acknowledgement of its eminence: in 1574 was first mentioned as basilica. In that century main works were made to enlarge and embellish the church. During the eruption of 1631 the churc was miraculously spared by the lava. Some years later a new street (via Pugliano) was built on the solidified lava to easily reach the church from the town centre.

The church is worth a visit for its remarkable history and art treasures: the massive 36-meter high belfry from the end of the 16th century is one of the oldest of the area. Inside the church, there are sarcophagi from the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, that prove the existence of inhabitants in the area of Herculaneum in the aftermath of the eruption in AD 79; the exquisite wooden statues of Madonna di Pugliano and Black Crucifix, both of the 14th century; the font of 1425, one of the oldest outside the cathedral of Naples; the high altar, of the 16th century; the wooden bust of St. Januarius of the 17th century, the magnificent wooden pulpit of 1685, coeval to the wooden choir and behind the altar. Most of the paintings were made by local artists in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Madonna di Pugliano is worshipped since ever, but before the statue of the 14th century the painted Byzantine-like Madonna di Ampellone was venerated. The main patronal festival is on 15 August, Assumption Day. A special worship is dedicated to St. Januarius, that is co-patron of Ercolano; the statue of the saint has always been carried in procession during the eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius toward the lava front. A bust of St. Januarius facing Mt. Vesuvius was frequently erected in villas and buildings to protect them by the fury of Mt. Vesuvius.

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Founded: 11th century
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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