Monday, May 26, 2014

For the Feast of St Philip Neri: The Oratory of Naples

The Naples Oratory was founded in 1586 by three disciples of St. Philip Neri, Antonio Talpa, Giovanni Giovenale Ancina (later bishop of Saluzzo, beatified in 1889) and Francesco Maria Tarugi (later cardinal), only 11 years after the Congregation of the Oratory was officially approved by Pope Gregory XIII. It was the Congregation’s first house outside of Rome, and since the founders came from the church where St Philip lived, San Girolamo della Carità, the Neapolitans have always called them the “Girolamini”. (“Girolamo” is Italian for “Jerome.”) It was immediately a tremendous success, and for centuries one of the most important religious institutions in Naples; the complex of buildings (including a huge church, two cloisters, one of which is also very large, and several smaller oratories) occupies a full hectare of land right in the middle of the city, across the street from the Cathedral. In its heyday, it was patronized by most of the important families in the city, which was then the capital of a large independent kingdom; it became famous for its art collection and magnificent sacristy. Like many of the great cultural and religious institutions of the former Kingdom of Naples, the Oratory has suffered much from various acts of suppression and confiscation; the center of Naples was also bombed during World War II, and a part of the complex which was damaged, the Oratory of the Assumption, is still in need of restoration over 70 years later. Nevertheless, the Girolamini remains one of the great monuments of St Philip’s apostolic labors, and those of his sons throughout the world.
The façade of the church, seen from the via dei Tribunali, the ancient decumanus maximus of Naples in Roman times.
The central nave seen from the door.

The coffered ceiling (partly missing) with an image of St. Philip.

The high altar.

An angel holding a candlestick at the corner of the sanctuary, carved by the Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino, better known for the famous image of the veiled Christ in the nearby Sansevero Chapel. (see linked article)

The right side-aisle. As in many Italian Counter-Reformation churches, the side-aisles are deliberately arranged as a kind of blind that separates the side chapels from the central nave, so that the faithful would not be distracted from the principal ceremony at the main altar.

A side altar dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. St Philip and St Charles knew each other personally, and the latter made generous donations towards the building of the Chiesa Nuova, the Oratory of Rome; they are pictured together in the altarpiece. In the statue, St Philip is shown trampling on a cardinal’s hat, a symbol of the many ecclesiastical dignities offered him, and always refused. The two busts on either side may be Ss. Cosmas and Damian, since a church named for them was pulled down to make way for the Girolamini; when this was done in the Counter-Reformation period , it was often on such terms that the new foundation was required to preserve devotion to the titular saints of the old one.

The main side-altar of the left transept contains relics of St Ignatius of Antioch, and the Roman martyrs Ss. Nereus and Achilleus. Another disciple of St Philip, the renowned historian Cesare Baronius, was made cardinal of the church of Ss Nereus and Achilleus in 1596, and presumably donated these relics. (It was Baronius who read the commendation prayers for St Philip as he lay dying.) I have never before seen a sepulcher in an altar decorated like this.

An emblem representing the heart of St Philip, enflamed with the love of God, in the floor close to the main door. Neapolitan Baroque churches are often filled with this elaborate kind of mosaic known as entarsia, in which the pieces of stone are cut as much as possible in the shape the artist wishes to make, rather than into lots of tiny pieces which are then used to build the images. (Some kinds of stone, however, are too brittle for this to be very practical, and more, smaller pieces are used, as with the yellow stone around the heart.)

The small cloister though which one now enters the church, with the dome above.

The great cloister.

The dome of the chuch seen from the great cloister.

The façade of the cathedral, seen from the former buildings of the community.

On the right side of the Duomo is the large chapel of Naples’ Patron Saint, Januarius (San Gennaro), the relic of whose blood famously liquifies on his three feast days. The chapel houses over 40 silver busts of various Saints, including this one of St. Philip; these are often carried in procession though the heart of the city by various confraternities on the three feasts.

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