Santa Caterina a Formiello

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Santa Caterina a Formiello

With museum-worthy paintings and sculptures on display, this church is a must-see of Naples. The Formiello in the name refers to the formali, the nearby underground aqueduct, which, according to history, the Aragonese also used to capture the town. The church and its dark piperno stone was designed for the Dominicans by the Tuscan architect Romolo Balsimelli, a student of Brunelleschi.

The side chapels are as interesting for their relics as they are for their art. In the Orsini Chapel, are the elaborately framed remains of St. Vincent Martyr and other Dominican saints, while the fourth chapel displays some 20 skulls of the martyrs of Otranto, brought to Naples by King Alfonso in 1490 after the Ottoman sack of Otranto in 1480, when 813 Christians were executed for refusing to renounce their faith. This event is in the rather surrealistic altar painting of the beheading of Antonio Primaldo, whose decapitated body, through the strength of faith, stands upright to confound his Ottoman executioner.

In the fifth chapel, a cycle of paintings by Giacomo del Po depicts the life and afterlife of St. Catherine, while in the vault Luigi Garzi depicts the same saint in glory. Up in the faded dome painted by Paolo di Mattei, Catherine, together with the Madonna, implores the Trinity to watch over the city.


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