History of the foundation of the church of the Santi Apostoli
Along via Donnaregina, famous for the presence of the homonymous Diocesan Museum and the sumptuous Archiepiscopal Palace, there is a small road that opens onto an open space. The small square is dominated by the façade of an apparently austere, sober church: yet inside it hides a priceless treasure, one of the most prestigious of Neapolitan baroque art!
The construction of the sanctuary was begun in the fifth century by Bishop Sotero instead of an ancient classical temple, most probably dedicated to Mercury: the heading to the Holy Apostles is due precisely to this new anti-pagan function of the building. Who better, in fact, than the first martyrs and the first evangelizers, could cancel "the impure presence of the ancient pre-Christian divinities?
Then, as explained by the three tombstones encased on the façade, the church was managed by the Caracciolo di Vico until the 16th century, to be later entrusted to the Teatines who commissioned the architect Francesco Grimaldi to carry out the renovations: the definitive consecration of the temple was made in 1649 by the cardinal archbishop Ascanio Filomarino, authentic "monarch of Naples" from 1641 to 1666.
The main works of art of the church of the Santi Apostoli
And it is thanks to the powerful Ascanio that the church offers the visitor one of the most precious jewels of the Italian seventeenth century. In fact, one is truly enchanted in contemplating the splendid altar erected by the archbishop for his own burial and that of his family members in the left transept (the bones are kept in the crypt below). The mosaics with realistic portraits of the Filomarino and his brother Scipione were made by Giovan Battista Calandra, on the drawings of Pietro da Cortona and Valentin de Boulogne; the splendid marble lions were carved, instead, by Giuliano Finelli, author of the monument to the brother of Ascanio, Gennaro Filomarino, bishop of Calvi, work preserved in the sacristy; finally, the precious and moving frieze of putti is the work of the Flemish Francois Duquesnoy.
In front of the Filomarino altar stands its "twin", the Altar Pignatelli, which celebrates the splendor of Francesco Pignatelli, archbishop of Naples from 1703 to 1734. Designed by Ferdinando Sanfelice and embellished by the mosaics of Francesco Solimena and the decorations of Matteo Bottigliero and Bartolomeo Granucci, the large altar houses a sixteenth-century table with miraculous properties: is the Immaculate Conception of Francesco Olimpio venerated for his thaumaturgical abilities since the sixteenth century, and particularly loved by Pignatelli during his novitiate to the Apostles. The magniquent eighteenth-century machine thus launches its gauntlet to the most ancient rival. Who will win this centuries-old contest?
To frame the "two giants" the splendid decoration of the ceiling, the apse and the counter-façade made by Giovanni Lanfranco, author, among other things, of important artistic enterprises for the Certosa of San Martino and for the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro.
In the magniloquent pictorial cycle created from 1638 to 1646, the painter from Parma exalted the stories of the apostles and their martyrdom, leaving the witness of the faith to the Theatines, whose exploits are sung in the tarps of the tribune. The Emilian artist died in 1647, the realization of the fresco of the dome with the swirling Paradise was entrusted in 1680 to the northern Giovan Battista Beinaschi, indirect pupil of Lanfranco.
Still noteworthy is the splendid chapel of Saint Ivo, whose congregation met in the monastery of Santi Apostoli, now Artistic High School, to plead the causes of the less wealthy citizens who could not afford a lawyer: in fact, it is preserved in the chapel the monument sculpted in 1776 by Gi-useppe Sanmartino (the author of the Veiled Christ) in memory of Vincenzo Ippolito, head of the Sacred Royal Council, who had to settle more than one of those pitiful causes...
How and when to get to the church of the Santi Apostoli
The church of the Santi Apostoli is located in Largo Santi Apostoli and is easily accessible by line 1 (Museum stop) and line 2 (Piazza Cavour stop) of the metro. It is open Monday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Mass is celebrated on Sunday morning.