Naples Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di San Gennaro or Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta) is a beautiful medieval cathedral in southern Italy that features the remains of an Early Christian basilica, many notable artworks, and the miraculous blood of San Gennaro.
History of Naples Cathedral
Naples Cathedral was founded in the 4th century on the site of a Greek temple dedicated to Apollo. Only the baptistery (5th century) survives from this early period.
The core of the present building was built in the French Gothic style in 1294-1323, begun by Charles I and completed under Robert the Wise.
Several reconstructions and renovations have altered the building since its completion. In 1407, the west facade was rebuilt by Antonio Baboccio after it was destroyed by an earthquake. The rest of the building had to be rebuilt after another earthquake in 1456.
The west facade was renovated in a Neo-Gothic style in 1877-1905 by Enrico Alvino; only the portal survives from the medieval facade.
What to See at Naples Cathedral
The large nave of the cathedral has 16 piers that incorporate more than 100 classical granite columns from the East and Africa. The decoration is mostly Baroque: the side walls bear portraits of 46 saints painted by Luca Giordano (d.1705) and the ornate ceiling was painted by Fabrizio Santafede in 1621.
Over the central doorway of the nave are several important Angevin tombs: Charles I of Anjou (d. 1285); Charles Martel (d. 1296); and his wife Clementina of Habsburg. The monuments were created by Domenico Fontana in 1599. The north transept also contains some notable monuments, including the tomb of Innocent IV (d. 1254), a Cosmatesque work of 1315, and the tomb of Andrew of Hungary, who married Joan I and was murdered by strangling, possibly on her orders, in 1345.
Extending from the left side of the nave is the Basilica di Santa Restituta, also known as the Capella di Santa Restituta. This is the oldest church in Naples and the original site of the cathedral, which was built over an ancient Greek sanctuary. It was rebuilt in the 14th century and again in 1688 after an earthquake, but some ancient features remain. The 27 columns may be from the ancient Greek temple and fragments of the Early Christian mosaic floor have also been revealed. Visitors can tour some of the most ancient features, including a Greco-Roman mosaic floor, in the excavations beneath the chapel.
On the right side of the apse in Santa Restituta is the ancient baptistery, known as the Chapel of San Giovanni in Fonte. Dating from the 5th century, it has a square plan and a square dome. Byzantine mosaics (also 5th century) are preserved in the dome, centering on a golden Chi-Rho with Alpha and Omega on a blue background with stars. Narrative mosaics lower down, some of which are quite fragmentary, depict: the Holy Women at the Empty Tomb; Christ Saving Peter from the Sea; the Miracle of the Multiplied Fish, the Traditio Legis, and St. Paul.
Off the right aisle of the nave is the Chapel of St. Januarius (Capella di San Gennaro), built by Francesco Grimaldi in 1608-37 in fulfillment of a vow made by the citzens of Naples. The chapel also functions as the cathedral treasury (Tesoro) and is elaborately decorated with Baroque art. There are no less than seven altars, four of which have paintings by Domenichino. A tabernacle behind the main altar enshrines a silver reliquary bust (1305) containing the head of St. Januarius. A large gilt-bronze grille separates the chapel from the nave.
Other notable side chapels include the fifth and seventh on the left, with 13th-century bas reliefs, and the sixth on the left, with a Byzantine-style mosaic of the Virgin Enthroned by Lello da Roma (1322).
The patron saint of the cathedral, St. Januarius (San Gennaro) was an Italian bishop martyred in Pozzuoli under Diocletian around 305 AD. His body was transported to Naples Cathedral around 400 AD. Very little is known about the saint's life or the specifics of his death; most accounts date from several centuries later.
As mentioned above, the Capella di San Gennaro is home to a reliquary bust containing the saint's head. In addition, the crypt altar contains two vials of San Gennaro's blood, which famously liquefies several times each year. According to tradition, the blood of San Gennaro first miraculously liquefied in the hands of Bishop St. Severus (d.409) after the saint's relics were transferred to Naples. The earliest written record of the miracle dates from 1389.
The miracle of the blood of San Gennaro is scheduled to occur three times each year: the first Saturday in May (at Santa Chiara Church); September 19; and December 16. The most important of these is September 19, the saint's feast day, when the cathedral is packed with pilgrims and curious onlookers hoping to witness the miracle. (It is possible to book a spot near the altar in advance by applying to the sacristan; see contact information below.)
The two vials of blood are enclosed inside a glass ampoule with two small handles. It seems that only one of the vials is the focus of the ceremony. On the appointed days, the bishop brings the ampoule close to the reliquary bust of St. Januarius, prays, raises the ampoule, and occasionally turns the ampoule upside down to check for liquefaction. The process normally takes at least a few minutes and sometimes as long as an hour.
The blood does not always liquefy and, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, is least likely to do so in December. It has also been known to liquefy outside of the feast days. The speed and completeness at which the blood liquefies is believed to be an omen for the city's fortunes in the coming year. Among the disasters that followed when it did not liquefy at all are a plague in 1527 and a deadly earthquake in 1980. The fortunes of Naples' football club have even been tied to the San Gennaro miracle.
If the blood liquefies, as it usually does, the bishop holds it up for the crowd to see and joyfully announces, "I give you the good news, the blood has liquefied." The miracle is celebrated with a 21-gun salute at the Castel Nuovo, then the ampoule is placed near the altar rail so that pilgrims can file past and kiss the miraculous relic.
Skeptics have offered a variety of non-miraculous explanations for the liquefaction, most of which involve the presence of a sticky substance such as wax or honey in the vial melting from the heat from the bishop's hands, the crowd, and the candles; or a gel-like substance that liquefies and bubbles when shaken (a process called thixotropy). A test with light in 1902 showed that the vial contains genuine blood, but the vial is sealed so the substance itself has never been tested. See "Article Sources" at the bottom of this page for further reading.
Quick Facts on Naples Cathedral
|Names:||Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta · Duomo di Napoli · Duomo di San Gennaro · Naples Cathedral|
|Categories:||cathedrals; shrines; miracle sites|
|Dedication:||St. Januarius and Virgin Mary (Assumption)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||40.852607° N, 14.260018° E|
|Address:||Via del Duomo 147|
|Hours:||Cathedral: Mon-Sat 8am-12:30pm and 4:30-7pm; Sun & holidays 8:30am-1pm and 5-7pm. |
Excavations: Mon-Fri 9am-noon and 4:30-7pm; Sat-Sun and holidays 9am-12:30pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Naples Cathedral|
- Paul Blanchard, Blue Guide Southern Italy, 11th ed. (London: Blue Guides Limited, 2007), 68-70.
- St. Januarius - Catholic Encyclopedia (1910). Includes a defense of the miracle against skeptical explanations made before 1910.
- Naples blood boils at miracle's 'debunking' - The Times Online, September 20, 2005
- Faith Conquers Fear of Swine Flu for Fans of Naples's Patron Saint - The New York Times, September 20, 2009
- Januarius (a.k.a. St. Gennaro) - Skeptic's Dictionary
- Science and the 'Miraculous Blood' - Joe Nickell, November 3, 2009
- Severus of Naples - Wikipedia
- Duomo (aka Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) - Frommers.com
- Duomo - Fodors.com
Map of Naples Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Naples Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.