I hadn't planned to include this on my day of exploration but i had a little time, and I saw a sign and....
.....it was an experience I am very, very glad I did not miss!
The Capella Sansevero was first constructed as the chapel of the Di Sangro family in 1590. In 1613, a later family member converted into a family tomb. But what you see now....and it is stunning...is the result of plans set in motion by Raimundo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero...a known alchemist.
In the mid-1700s that he commissioned one Giuseppe Sammartino to be the sculptor of the chapel...and what a truly magnificent, and most wonderfully-skilled, job that man did!
In the centre of the chapel lies an (apparently) marble sculpture of the dead Christ, covered in a sculpted marble veil so thin that fine detail of the body beneath is clear. It is a truly stunning achievement.
And around the chapel are most wonderful sculptures by Sammartino and others. I was expecting the veiled Christ to astound me, but I was even more astounded by the complexity of the netted man: 'Il Disinganno' (Disillusion) by Francesco Queirolo.
But I also know that in the chapel are 'marble' sculpture which are not marble at all. They were created from a substance invented by (or partly by) alchemist Prince Raimundo. I wonder which they are?
There are many Masonic symbols within, for the Prince was (perhaps inevitably) a Mason. And the original floor tiles formed a maze: another deeply important (and somewhat enigmatic) symbol. You can see some of them on display within the chapel, although the floor is now simple black-and-white tiling.
Underneath the chapel two strangeness are exhibited: skeletons of a man and a pregnant woman, with all their arteries, veins and capillaries in place. For centuries it was believed that Prince Raimundo's alchemical skills had allowed him to create a substance which hardened all these vessels after death, so they could be displayed. But common sense would dictate this could not be so, for flesh and muscle are not there...only bones and vessels.
It has been shown in recent times that the vessels are actually made of beeswax, wire and silk. Close examination (through glass) certainly shows that the main vessels are most definitely not 'real'. But, even so, it is still a wonderfully complex achievement and must have taken whoever did it (not, I suspect, the Prince himself) many months to create.
So...you really must visit Sansevero for the sculptures, even if you don't want to see the anatomical display. They are truly unmissable.
No photos are allowed, and there are several guardians on duty. So I have had to resort to photographing the postcards I purchased, to give you an idea of what you must not miss.
The chapel is open on weekdays 10-1740. Closed Tuesdays. Open Sunday and holidays from 10-1.10. It has longer opening hours on some dates through the year and is closed on e.g. 25th December. For details look at 'orari e tarriffe' on the museum website below. Entrance fee was 7 euro in 2011.
The website has an English version and is very detailed...well worth reading.
You buy tickets from a small office on the corner of the chapel end of Via Francesco di Sancti and Calata San Severo. You can just about see it in my photo (the chapel entrance itself is on the right).
Tucked away in the side streets of the historic centre, and well-signposted, is this small chapel. Many legends are attached to the founding of the chapel, relating to miracles worked on this site. But the chapel owes its fame not to these miracles but to the work of the seventh Prince of Sansevero, Prince Raimondo de Sangro, who carried out extensive remodelling of the chapel and filled it with masterpieces of sculpture. The most famous, and the star attraction here, is The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino (1753). This sculpture shows Christ after he was taken off the cross, covered by a light veil, and the effect is striking, especially the ability of the sculptor to create the impression of a gauzy veil in the solidity of the marble.
The Prince was a keen alchemist and is thought to have experimented on his servants. In the crypt is a sight that is definitely not for the squeamish – two bodies, one male and one female, with blood, veins, arteries and some vital organs intact, and held together with a framework of wire. I’ve read that there was speculation as to whether these are just sculptures as well, but they seem too perfectly executed not to be real. It’s now generally accepted that they are indeed the remains of people, probably 2 of his servants, but no one has yet figured out how he managed to preserve this much of the human body.
Entry costs €5. All photography is forbidden, a rule strictly enforced by the security guards. My picture is therefore a scan of a postcard I bought in the gift-shop in the chapel – I would love to credit the photographer but he/she isn’t named.