Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco The church of the “pezzentelle” souls In the heart of the old town of Naples, along via dei Tribunali, is the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio in Arco, known to the Neapolitan people as the “de’ ‘e cape ‘e morte” church. Crossing its doorway begins a real journey into the Neapolitan culture between art, faith, life, death. From the small and beautiful 17th century church, which houses the precious marbles and the winged skull of Dionisio Lazzari, together with masterpieces by Massimo Stanzione, Luca Giordano and Andrea Vaccaro, one descends into the ancient and grandiose hypogeum which still hosts the fascinating cult directed at anonymous human remains who become special intermediaries for invocations, prayers, requests for intercessions. A small museum set up in the spaces of the elegant sacristy completes the itinerary.

The church

This admirable 17th-century jewel was commissioned in 1616 by the laic congregation Opera Pia Purgatorio in Arco to the architect Giovan Cola di Franco, and consecrated in 1638. The structure was designed on two levels, an upper church referring to the earthly dimension and a hypogeum, cemetery area, which concretely represented Purgatory. The care of the souls in Purgatory was one of the main points of the new counter-reformed church and all the decorative scheme of the complex was designed to remind passers-by and devotee that souls awaited a prayer in intercession to be able to free themselves from the fire of Purgatory and ascend to Paradise. The façade, the decoration of the church and the Sacristy, the liturgical furnishings, everything refers to the theme of Purgatory, and also the entire iconographic program is dedicated to the theme of death through testimonies of the 17th century: the St. Joseph’s Passage (1650-51 ) by Andrea Vaccaro, in the third chapel on the left, the Death or Ecstasy of Sant’Alessio, an early masterpiece (1661) by Luca Giordano, in the third chapel on the right. Splendid, in its preciousness, the canvas on the back wall, depicting the Madonna of the souls in purgatory (1638-1642), by Massimo Stanzione, overlooks the winged skull, a valuable marble sculpture by Dionisio Lazzari, now hidden by the altar; above the triumphal arch, the sequence is crowned by the classically composed scene of Sant’Anna offering the Virgin child to the Eternal Father (1670) by Giacomo Farelli, and bright thanks to the chromatic tones, in the first chapel on the left, Archangel Michael slaying the devil (1650) by Girolamo De Magistro.

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