Wayside shrines are everywhere in Naples: on every street-corner, in the smallest alley and on the busiest piazza. I grew up Catholic, but England isn’t peppered with wayside shrines the way Italy is, let alone Naples. Many of these shrines are not well-maintained, however. The protective glass or plastic is often dirty, scratched, or cracked; the statues and crucifixes within may be dusty or broken; photos and ex votos placed inside may be sun-bleached, like the plastic flowers often arranged in vases or jars. This neglect isn’t recent; I remember it already back in the 1980s. But some people still take care of shrines, hard as it is in such a dusty, filthy city, and they cross themselves as they pass by. Religious processions for saints’ days and festivals are frequent, with young people in marching bands or carrying banners. We saw fresh flowers too, and recent offerings.
Recently we walked up via Salvatore Tommasi, where the Carabinieri have their regional HQ, but is otherwise an ordinary, not very prosperous residential street, and saw that ceramic plaques had been put up commemorating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette at Lourdes. Here are the ones we found, starting from the eastern end of the street.
In the first is set out the second and third speeches by the Virgin to Bernadette: she asked her to come here for 15 days, and promised to make her happy not in this world, but the next.
Apparently the next words were said during the ninth apparition of the Virgin:
I think the next words refer to the bitter herbs the Virgin told Bernadette to eat as a sign of repentance and suffering, rather than to the Eucharist:
We also walked down part of one street, via Francesco Saverio Correra, and these are the shrines we saw on the way.
At this point we saw a war memorial, which I thought I’d include for its historical interest:
Fante means infantryman; ‘Mar.’ stands for marinaio, sailor; Geniere means he belonged to the equivalent of the “sappers”, the military engineers; ‘Av.’ is short for ‘Aviatore’, that is, airman, and ‘Art.’ for ‘artigliere’, artilleryman or gunner.
Note that in Italy WWI ran from 1915 to 1918, and WW2 from 1940 to 1943. In September of that year Italy went over to the Allies, and immediately found itself with a hostile occupying force on its hands. The memorial we found nearby on another street has to be understood in that context:
This Memorial is different. It does list two sailors and a soldier who fell in the War, but more striking is the list of people who are obviously civilians: three from one family, three from another, a child (little Pasquale Marino) and one other person, ‘all made brothers and sisters by the holiness of sacrifice’.
So many civilians could have been killed only during the “Four Days of Naples”, Le quattre giornate di Napoli, when the Germans, the Nazifascisti, were being chased from the city—perhaps, some say, unnecessarily, as they were already leaving of their own accord. I found a web-page that lists them all (or all but one) as victims of the random cannon-fire from the big gun placed by the German commander, Colonel Walter Scholl, in the Castel Sant’ Elmo on top of the hill overlooking the city, which was allowed to fire at random at any target. As a result the Reale family lost a man, perhaps father of the two sisters. Annamaria Finale was only two; Salvatore may have been her father; Francesca, née Dorso, her mother. The Finale family lived at no 18 Vico Bagnara, the Reale family at no. 12, and no. 16 was also hit, perhaps by the big gun, perhaps by machine-gun fire, and someone else died there—Giuseppa D’Ambrosio according to the memorial, Giuseppe according to the website, which doesn’t mention little Pasquale.
The Quattro Giornate are a controversial topic, and I won’t go into it here. But this memorial is a reminder of how good it is to live in a country that hasn’t been invaded since 1066. Or hasn’t had a civil war since the 13th c. (looking at you, Switzerland).
Padre Pio, in case you’ve never heard of him, is everywhere in Italy. (My husband and I refer to him as ‘Padre Prezzemolo’, ‘Father Parsley’, because Italians say of something ubiquitous that it is ‘come prezzemolo’, ‘like parsley’.) He was a priest and Franciscan friar, who lived a life of great holiness and self-denial. He reputedly suffered the stigmata on many occasions, beginning in 1918, and claims were made that he had other supernatural gifts associated with saints, such as bilocation. Interestingly, Pope John XXIII (like several other Popes) was not convinced by Padre Pio, and in 2007 it was revealed he had been kept secretly informed of Pio’s activities, especially with regard to the women who formed an almost unbreakable circle of protection around him. Nonetheless, he was made a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II (“Pope Ringo” to readers of Private Eye, as in ‘John, Paul, George, and…’).
The underlying conflict may be between two ever-present currents in the Roman Catholic church, one—which tends to be especially strong amongst the less educated—towards mysticism and miracles; the other towards doctrine and the authority of the Church hierarchy, which may either exploit or be threatened by the populist fervour of the other current, especially when major changes are under way, as with the Second Lateran Council. Padre Pio lived in Italy for the duration of the Fascist regime, and seems not to have had one bad word to say about it, not even about the racial laws.
There follows a list of the men who put up or restored the shrine. The lower inscription says: ‘Passing by this cross, you will make the sign of the Holy Cross, and then ask the Lord to save your soul.’ And people doing just that are still a common sight in Naples.