Raimondo di Sangro, prince of Sansevero, was one of the most eclectic men of the XVIII century. Among his countless interests were alchemy and esotericism, which caused him to gain the nickname ‘diabolic’ during his lifetime. On 24 October 1750, during a ceremony organized in the Gennaro Carafa’s villa in Posillipo, Raimondo was proclaimed Grand Master of neapolitan masonry. In 1751, however, the prince was forced to give up his office due to severe pressures of the ecclesiastical and political world, which, among other things, leaded to the closure of his private printing press. So how could he have transfer his message to the adepts? The iconography of the family chapel, Sansevero Chapel, became an alternative to his writings. Therefore, he called the best artists of the time to accomplish what can be called a true masonic temple. An attentive visitor will notice that the statues that mark the perimeter represent some members of the Sangro family, but also particular virtues. Moral values depicted in sculptures such as Modesty, Disillusion, Religious Zeal are stages of an initiatory path through which the aspiring mason can lead himself in the search for true knowledge.
Let’s see now what the 5 most important masonic symbols of the Sansevero Chapel are.
Writing of the main portal: Long time ago the main entrance was the actual lateral entrance. The marble headstone over the portal gives information to the traveler about how to start the path. Latin writing encourages a traveler to read the message hidden behind the monuments inside the chapel.
Glory of Heaven: The fresco covering the ceiling of the Sansevero Chapel was made by the painter Francesco Maria Russo and dates back to 1749. Inside a baroque-style paradise, there is the figure of a dove with a golden triangle around the head . This triangle hides meanings that must be read in an alchemical-masonic way. The triangle signifies alchemically of sulfur and fire. The triangle is also the form of the Egyptian pyramids, and in Freemasonry refers to Venerable Master.
Monument to Cecco de Sangro: The monument is located above the main entrance of the Chapel and reminds the first Prince of Sansevero, Cecco de Sangro. The sculptor is Francesco Celebrano and the work was made in 1766. The monument has an important symbolic meaning. Cecco di Sangro remained locked in a sarcophagus, pretending to be dead for two days in order defeat enemies during the Eighty Years’ War. It is important to emphasize the precise moment in which the character is represented, which is the moment of rebirth. After his disguised death, Cecco jumped out of the darkness of his grave and lived again, stronger than before.
Disillusion’s Bas-relief: Disillusion, a work by Francesco Queirolo dating back to the mid-1700, is dedicated to Raimondo’s father, Antonio di Sangro. Like the veil of Christ, the fisherman’s net that wraps the figure seems to have undergone a petrification process by extravagant inventions. Antonio di Sangro was a man who lived a dissipated life until he found shelter in the faith. The net should be read as a reference to the earth’s lowers from which the character attempts to break free. Spiritual elevation is best described in the bas-relief of the sculpture in which is the scene of Christ giving the blind eye accompanied by the words “Qui non vident, videant”, “Those who do not see, will see.” The place in the background is the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a place of christian but also masonic importance because the initiating tradition of Hiram’s myth was born there.
The Veiled Christ: Giuseppe Sanmartino’s sculpture masterpiece dates back to 1753 and it is located in the center of the chapel. The sculpture of the dead Christ covered by a transparent shroud of the same marble, is a testimony of utmost precision and attention to detail achieved by Neapolitan sculpture in the eighteenth century. The subtlety of the veil is such that it has led to think for centuries that the prince invented an alchemical solution capable of marbling the tissues.The veiled Christ stands at the conclusion of the initiatory journey of the aspirant mason in his search. It can ultimately be said that Prince Raimondo has been using a christian iconography to describe an ideological concept of spiritual rebirth, where in this case, the veil is a wall that every man must cross to reach Truth, light beyond darkness .
Sansevero Chapel is open every day: 9.30 am – 6.30 pm
Ticket: € 7,00
Guys aged 10 to 25: € 5,00
Artecard: € 5,00
Schools: € 3,00
Children under age 9: free