Mike Aquilina

Naples Explodes with Delights

Wednesday June 17th 2009, 9:57 pm

The New York Times, of all places, regales us with early-Christian archeological finds in Naples, Italy. Tolle, lege: Deep in the Heart of Historic Naples.

Another day, we took an English-language tour at the catacombs of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, which began behind the Church of Madre del Buon Consiglio and just past a courtyard overlooking clotheslines, lemon trees and scooters. Down below we walked, first seeing small chapels, which held the bodies of wealthy families; in one “cubico,” a haunting fresco from the sixth-century A.D. memorialized a family with a young child. The bodies of humbler citizens were placed in wall niches that are now empty. We walked through ancient arches amid a silent mustiness, and learned that this catacomb’s earliest use was in the second century A.D. Here, too, is the site of three early churches, the oldest dating to the fourth century; two of them were built underground. We saw a painting of Adam and Eve from the third century A.D. and symbols of Greek goddesses. Near the exit was a fresco of a bishop from the ninth or 10th century, found about a year ago.

Later, in the Sanità district, we toured the Catacombs of San Gaudioso — named for an African bishop who arrived in Naples in 439 — and saw skulls set into wall niches with frescoes below them depicting the dress of their owners’ professions: a judge’s robes, a knight with a sword. In the women’s area, the frescoes showed only long dresses: “The women had no professions, of course,” our guide explained.

You’ll find more up-to-the-minute Neapolitan archeological news here.