The legend of the Munaciello in Neapolitan culture

O 'Munaciello: an emblematic figure of Neapolitan tradition, reality or just fantasy? Young people may only have heard of it a few times, but older people or adults are certainly aware of the existence of this mythological being. There is no concrete proof of its existence, but Neapolitan tradition has it that the munaciello still lives in the Neapolitan city, distributing good fortune and bad luck to its inhabitants. The figure of the munaciello is described as that of a deformed being who wears the clothes of a classic monk, namely a monk's habit and sandals with a silver buckle. Some say they have seen him, others say they have dreamt of him. The munaciello gives good luck to those who need it most and bad luck to those who deserve it. 

Did the Munaciello really exist? The story told by Matilde Serao

There are several hypotheses regarding the theory of the Munaciello figure, one of the most credible being the one described by Matilde Serao in her Leggende Napoletane, according to which the munaciello really existed. It all stems from the love between Caterinella Frezza, the daughter of a rich cloth merchant, and Stefano Mariconda. A love that was not wanted, above all by her family, which prevented the two young people from meeting. The two lovers, defying fate, met at night when the whole world was asleep. The young apprentice crossed a dangerous path over the rooftops of Naples until he reached his lover's window. Unfortunately, one night the young apprentice did not reach her window, but was thrown down and fell from a roof, dying an unfortunate death. From that day on, young Catherine decided to abandon love forever and shut herself away in a convent, but it was at that very moment that she gave birth to a young son. As fate would have it, the child was born with an illness that caused a physical deformity: his head was disproportionate to his body. This meant that the child was regarded by the people as a monster and consequently as possessing supernatural powers. A child who roamed the streets of the Port as a monster capable of causing misfortune but also of giving fortunes. In order to protect him, Catherine decided to dress him in the classical clothes of a monk, i.e. black and white, hence the name o' munaciello.

According to Neapolitan tradition, the colour of the hood was of great importance: if the colour of the hood was red, those who crossed paths with the munaciello would have good luck and good fortune, whereas if the colour of the hood was black, only misfortune and bad luck would be at the door.

Who was the pozzaro in Naples

The second theory, on the other hand, recognises the figure of the munaciello as that of the ancient pozzari, who used to sneak into their employers' houses at night to steal valuables and silver, given that pozzari worked for free and were not paid. By means of the drainpipes into which the buckets of water were thrown, the pozzari were not only able to enter the homes of their employers, but at the same time they entered the homes of their mistresses, to whom they would then make a gift of everything they had previously stolen. For this reason, the munaciello, like the figure of the pozzaro, not only took away and brought misfortune but at the same time gave a gift of joy and fortune.

The Munaciello: a folkloric spirit

The third theory concerning the figure of the mullnaciello is purely folkloric and goes back to Neapolitan tradition. We are talking about a spirit with powers capable of giving fortunes and gifts but also of bringing misfortune. According to tradition, the munaciello appears to people who have had a lot of bad luck and need something positive. During the night, the munaciello would ask people to follow him and only those who had the courage to do so would be given treasure chests and fortunes, including money.
The munaciello either enriches or sends to misery.
Proverbio napoletano

Where does the Munaciello live?

No one knows if the munaciello still exists or is just a legendary figure, but tradition has it that he lives among the churches and abbeys that surround the hills of the city of Naples. According to popular belief, the Munaciello can still be found in some areas of the city of Naples and beyond. It could be found in Sant'Eframo Vecchio, in the heart of Naples' historic centre, near Piazza Carlo III. Here, a munaciello is said to have been spotted in a much-feared house. Testimony of his presence was given by the head of the Naples waterworks, who became famous after his revelations. He would be in the Secondigliano district, in the area of Piazza Garibaldi. However, the area of Naples that fully encapsulates the essence of the Munaciello is the city's historic centre, where the oldest and most numerous testimonies of its sighting can be found.

They make the ugly beautiful, the poor richer, the old younger. In the beautiful number is the Bella 'Mbriana, a true wish of the house. Some commoners, retiring, greet her: "Bona sera, bella 'Mbriana!".
Giuseppe Pitrè

The legend of the Bella 'mbriana

La bella 'mbriana, in Neapolitan popular belief, is the beneficent spirit of the house. The name comes from the more common sundial, an instrument used in ancient times to measure time. A sort of modern clock. The bella 'mbriana would coexist with the munaciello, or rather it would be its exact opposite: a sort of anti-munaciello. The bella 'mbriana, as the name suggests, would be of a pleasing appearance, able to control and advise the inhabitants of a house and is invoked in all difficult situations that could compromise the serenity of a household. The bella 'mbriana is a good and peaceful spirit, but she is in no way to be offended. Together with the munaciello, she was the main subject of many stories of the past, on those cold nights when families would gather around a hot brazier to warm themselves. According to Neapolitan popular tradition, the bella 'mbriana often appears in the form of a gecko or through the curtains moved by the wind on a sunny day. Legend has it that if the bella 'mbriana likes your house and you decide to renovate the flat, she may take offence. She is seen as the antagonist of the Munaciello, as she would mainly bring good luck but could also cause misfortune in case of serious offence or spite.