Naples Trip Part 1: Huge cathedrals and tiny shrines

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One of the numerous little shrines you’ll find on the streets of Naples. This one is to San. Gennaro, Naples’ beloved patron saint

As my 30th birthday present, my husband took me on a trip to Naples last week. It’s been a dream of mine to visit there ever since learning all about Naples, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius in Latin class as a child. So I was really excited to go…and it was even more incredible than I imagined!

It’s a bit of a cliché to call a place “magical,” but I can’t think of a better word to describe Naples. From its ancient Roman ruins to its medieval streets to its colourful modern urban culture, there is something very otherworldly about Naples. And as a Pagan, I saw and experienced many things that filled me with joy. There’s a lot I want to share, so I’m going to spread the account of my Naples trip over several entries.

We arrived in the evening on Friday, and I was immediately struck by the weird, anarchic aesthetics of Centro Storico, the old part of the city where a large proportion of Naples’ most interesting sights are to be had. It’s very run-down, with peeling paint and graffiti on every wall, but it absolutely teems with life. And on each tiny street (crammed with people and motorbikes) you’ll often find some beautiful church or other historical site, making it the perfect place to just explore and soak up the atmosphere.

The first sight we visited was the cathedral (Duomo), which is free to enter and is open until the early evening. Most churches in Britain seem to close before sunset, so it was quite a treat for me to be able to visit a cathedral under the night sky!

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Inside the Duomo

We first discovered Naples' fascination with the skull motif in the Duomo - in fact, skulls are an important feature of religion and culture in Naples, both ancient and modern. Some attribute this to Naples' proximity to Mt Vesuvius, and the ever-present threat of death it brings.

We first discovered Naples’ fascination with the skull motif in the Duomo – in fact, skulls are an important feature of religion and culture in Naples, both ancient and modern. Some attribute this to Naples’ proximity to Mt Vesuvius, and the ever-present threat of death it brings.

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Another of Naples’ shrines

The Duomo is very beautiful, but in some ways, I actually found the tiny little shrines that are present all over the city (and especially the older, more run-down parts) even more intriguing. You’ll spot a shrine to Jesus, Mary or San Gennaro in almost every alleyway, usually illuminated at night; the story is that in the past criminals would steal street lamps, but putting the lamps in shrines would deter them. The shrines usually have offerings of flowers, and they are treated with great reverence; we spotted some locals make the sign of the cross as they passed.

They remind me so much of hokora, Japan’s roadside shrines. And they also demonstrated to me that Catholicism in Italy very much has a folk tradition that British Catholicism seems to lack. And as I later found out, there seems to be a link between Naples’ modern tradition of street shrines and its ancient Pagan past…

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Naples Trip Part 1: Huge cathedrals and tiny shrines

  1. EmilyAnn Frances

    Hi there! Love your photos and can relate to what you’re saying about Shinto and the street shrines in Naples. I’ve been to Japan twice and Italy once. I was always fascinated by Shinto because it is one of the few non-Christian religions where the Sun Deity is feminine. I invite you to visit my blog, http://www.throughthebyzantinegate.wordpress.com which presents the history of my maternal family line from 1800 through 1930. The story is interwoven with the trip to Agropoli (south of Naples) my maternal Grandparents took me on in 1976. Lots of photos and maybe you’ll find something of value there. I look forward to your other postings. I plan to enjoy them at a leisurely pace.

  2. Pingback: Naples Trip Part 4: Shadows and Skulls | Trellia's Mirror Book

  3. Pingback: Reflections on “Brida,” Paulo Coelho | Trellia's Mirror Book

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