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Skull Cult of Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory

The Fontanelle cemetery caves may be the more famous, and larger, burial place of Naples’ unnamed and unfortunate dead, but Santa Maria della Anime ad Arco (Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory) is more intimate and atmospheric. And despite the increasing tourists, the Neapolitan Cult of the Dead still has adherents in this tiny church.

The church dates back to 1638, around the time that the Congrega di Purgatorio ad Arco was formed, a group dedicated to burying the poor and unfortunate for whom there was no room in the city’s overcrowded churches—a situation that worsened incredibly after the Black Death hit Naples in 1656, killing half the city’s population, some 150,000 people.


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