Naples' Sansevero Chapel
By Rick Steves
Naples' Cappella Sansevero is a Baroque explosion mourning the body of Christ, who lies on a soft pillow under an incredibly realistic veil. It's also the personal chapel of Raimondo de Sangro, an eccentric Freemason. The monuments to his relatives have a second purpose: to share the Freemason philosophy of freedom through enlightenment.
|Giuseppe Sammartino's Veiled Christ.|
Study the incredible Veiled Christ in the center. Carved out of marble, it's like no other statue I've seen (by Giuseppe "Howdeedoodat" Sammartino, 1753). The Christian message (Jesus died for our salvation) is accompanied by a Freemason message (the veil represents how the body and ego are an obstacle to real spiritual freedom). As you walk from Christ's feet to his head, notice how the expression of Jesus' face goes from suffering to peace.
Raimondo de Sangro lies buried at the far (altar) end. An inventor, he created the deep-green pigment used on the ceiling fresco. The inlaid M.C. Escher-esque maze on the floor around de Sangro's tomb is another Freemason reminder of how the quest for knowledge gets you out of the maze of life.
To the right of the altar, the statue Despair struggles with a marble rope net (carved out of a single piece of stone), symbolic of a troubled mind. The Freemason symbolism shows how knowledge — in the guise of an angel — frees the human mind. On the opposite side of the altar from Despair, a veiled woman fingers a broken plaque, symbolizing...something.
Your Sansevero finale is downstairs: two mysterious...skeletons. Perhaps another of the mad inventor's fancies: Inject a corpse with a fluid to fossilize the veins so they'll survive the body's decomposition. While that's the legend, it was most likely constructed to illustrate how the circulation system works.
Information: Via de Sanctis 19. No photos are allowed in the chapel (but postcards are for sale in the gift shop).