Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità & Catacomba di San Gaudioso

sights / Religious

Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità & Catacomba di San Gaudioso information

Naples , Italy
Piazza Sanità 14
081 544 13 05 (TBC)
Getting there
Metro: Piazza Cavour, Museo
More information
basilica free, catacomb adult/reduced €8/5, incl entry to Catacomba di San Gennaro
Opening hours
basilica 9am-1.30pm daily, 50-minute catacomb tours 10am, 11am, noon, 1pm daily
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While we love the baroque paintings by Andrea Vaccaro and Luca Giordano – not to mention the two contemporary sculptures by Riccardo Dalisi – it's the atmospheric catacomb beneath this 17th-century basilica that makes it unforgettable. Entered through the 5th-century Cappella di San Gaudioso , which lurks below the high altar, its damp walls reveal a rather macabre method of medieval burial.

Firstly, bodies would be stored in the arched wall niches, where the sciacciamorti (literally 'corpse squashers') would poke them to release all blood and bodily fluids. Once dried out, the body would be buried, while the skull would be cemented to the wall and set over a fresco of the dearly departed. The skull set above a frescoed body depicted with paintbrushes and a ruler belonged to 16th-century mannerist painter Giovanni Balducci. The Florentine artist had struck a deal with the Dominicans – in return for decorating their catacomb free of charge, they would allow him to be buried here (considered a priviledge at the time). Remnants of Balducci's frescoes remain, though much better preserved is the so-called Trionfo della croce (Triumph of the Cross) mosaic. Created in the 5th or 6th century, its earthy tones and unusually large lambs suggest that the artist hailed from Africa. The African connection continues with the catacomb's namesake, San Gaudioso, a North African bishop who died in Naples in AD 452 and was buried on this site.

In the Cappella di San Gaudioso itself, scan the walls for an intensely colourful 9th-century fresco of the Madonna and Child flanked by St Gregory and St Marciano. Recently restored, the image was discovered in the 1990s beneath a known 19th-century fresco.