The hooded people used to take care of the condemned to death. The baroque temple of Santa Maria Succurre Miseris, which was never opened before to the great audience, is adorned by splendid artworks by Giovanni Battista Benaschi and Paolo De Matteis. A ceroplastic which reproduces the horror effects of syphilis is on display.
The Chapel of the Whites of Justice is finally accessible only for a few months, two Saturdays per month, by the Museum of Health Arts. The temple is located in the complex of Santa Maria del Popolo degli Incurabili, home of the Historic Pharmacy and the Museum of Health Arts. The site tells the story of the White Company of Justice whose hooded members used to accompany and console thousands of condemned to death.
Founded in 1430 by Giacomo della Marca, the brotherhood was concerned with comforting and assisting the condemned to death and their families, as well as the sick in the Incurable Hospital.
The Society settled in the Hospital of the Incurables of Naples in 1534. There the confreres built the chapel entitled Santa Maria Succurre Miseris. The little temple contains splendid artworks by Giovanni Battista Benaschi, Paolo De Matteis, Giovanni Balducci, Dioniso Lazzari, Andrea Merliano and others.
Beyond the charitable and social aspect of the company, the Neapolitan people dedicated a great deal of attention to the scenes of torture, during which the White were involved because they were present at the side of the executioner. Often, the ropes used for the hanging were collected by the confreres, so that they would not be traded by the people, who used to buy macabre human finds and torture tools, deemed precious against the evil eye or cures.
The little church of Santa Maria Succurre Miseri was opened only for a few fortunate people twice a year, at Easter and at the Assumption. Sometimes, on November 2nd, when the so-called “procession of the bones” took place, this was a sort of collective funeral dedicated to those who had been executed and to whom comfort had not been granted in the months preceding the execution. The procession gathered on wagons or floats, decorated with gigantic candles together with the bones of the condemned. It used to depart from the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto and ended in the courtyard of the Real House of Santa Maria del Popolo dei Incurabili.
The secrecy of the Congregation scared both the governors and the Church so, King Philip II ordered its dissolution. After a few years, the activity was resumed but finally ceased in 1862.
One of the major attractions in the temple is a small ceroplastic sculpture called “the scandalous”, possibly a model from the Hospital’s pathological collection. It represents a young woman with beautiful facial features with ulcers, worms and parasites eating her flesh. This effigy of syphilis crudely shows the effects of the disease and it is a warning to anyone who has embarked on the path of dissolute life.
The Museum, together with the Cloisters and the Historical Pharmacy, and now with the White Chapel of Justice, is an extraordinary place of science, alchemical research, history of charity and charity itself. It is a real break in the life of the hospital between the ‘500 and the’ 700. The Historical Pharmacy in the Incurables is the place of encounter between science and art and it is certainly the most admired and best preserved part of the ancient Royal Hospital. It is an unprecedented baroque-roccocò masterpiece, an efficient drug lab, and an intriguing place of representation for the scientific elite of Neapolitan Enlightenment.
Museum Complex “Hospital of the Incurables”
Via Maria Longo 50, Naples
Courtyard of the Hospital of the Incurables
Visits to the White Chapel of Justice by the Museum of Health Arts: two Saturdays per month with advance booking.
Visits to the Museum and Pharmacy: Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays upon reservation.
Contacts and reservations: tel. 081.44.06.47 email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contribution to the visit of the White Chapel of Justice: € 8.00
Contribution for the full visit (Chapel, Museum of the Arts, Historical Pharmacy): € 15.00 (all proceeds are for restoration and maintenance)
by Gennaro Rispoli, Director of the Museum of Health Arts of the Incurables