Travelling Turtle

Church of Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory – Naples

Naples is a city rich of history and fascinating traditions, including the cult of the souls in Purgatory. A place that deeply embodies this tradition is the Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory Museum Complex. This is a mysterious and evocative place that offers a unique experience in the world of the afterlife.

Located in the heart of the historic center of Naples, Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory is also known as the church “de’ ‘e cape ‘e morte” (that in napolitan language means “of the heads of dead”). Its history is shrouded in an aura of mystery and devotion, since the sanctuary was built to house the souls of Purgatory who appeared to the faithful requiring prayers for liberation.

The complex, commissioned by the lay congregation of the “Opera Pia of Purgatorio ad Arco”, is made up of two levels:

  • the “upper church”, symbol of the earthly world;
  • the “lower church”, symbol of the afterlife.

The underground environment is accessible through an opening in the floor of the upper church and is characterized by a very “austere” appearance. In the center there is an anonymous tomb surrounded by black chains and dimly lit by four lights arranged at the corners. At the bottom of the crypt there is a seventeenth-century altar decorated with a large black cross.

Church of Saint Mary of the souls of purgatory

The cult of beggarly souls

On the side of the room there is an opening that leads to another cemetery area where the numerous skulls of the so-called “Pezzentelle Souls” are preserved. Pezzentelle Souls are the souls of the deceased who no longer have family or friends who care for them or who pray for their eternal rest. These are people who have been abandoned by the memory and devotion of the living, and who therefore risk being left without prayers and without spiritual light. Precisely for this reason the custom of “adopting” these souls by taking care of their skulls developed in Naples.

Lucia’s skull

Among the many skulls present in Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory, that of Lucia is very famous. According to legend, the skull belonged to a young woman named Lucia, who lived in the 18th century. It is said that the girl died young the day before her wedding. Her skull was found intact and in perfect condition during a restoration of the church. Since then, Lucia’s Skull has become an object of veneration and devotion for the faithful. Many people believe that it is endowed with miraculous powers and that it can intercede for the needs and prayers of those who turn to him with faith and devotion.

For anyone interested in the history, religion and culture of Naples, this museum represents an essential stop.