29 Apr Devotion to the souls in Purgatory
Neapolitans are well known for their long held sacred beliefs and their many superstitions.
One of the more “bizarre” beliefs is in the devotion to the souls in Purgatory, also called the “Pezzentelle” (“Poor”) souls. The Pezzentelle are suffering souls waiting to pass over to paradise and are generally depicted as burning in flames. Neapolitans have always been so devoted to the souls that over time they have dedicated numerous public shrines along the streets of Naples to them and even entire churches – such as the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco. These places are where Neapolitans have always gone to pray for the Purgatory Souls. wishing them “Requie, repuoso, refisco e cunsolo” (meaning “Peace, Rest, Relief and Consolation”).
Particularly significant is the “Refrisco” (Relief). In order for the relief to be granted, the soul needs to be adopted by a living person. The adoption – which is generally a female practice that takes place in a crypt or in a cemetery – is a sort of a mutual relationship between the soul and the living person.
On one hand, the person promises to take care of the soul with prayers and by offering gifts. On the other hand, the soul – if it accepts the adoption – will appear in the living person’s dreams to introduce itself (e.g. revealing more about its previous life) and provide the person the help she requires (e.g. good luck, a new love, a new job) or even to reveal the winning lottery numbers! Even though the adoption of purgatory souls was banned in 1969, I have seen this bizarre practice still taking place. People still take care of the skulls in various underground sacred places such as the ancient quarry transformed into a cemetery: the Cemetery of Fontanelle.
If you are curious to know more, come and visit the Cemetery of Fontanelle. Perhaps the Pezzentelle themselves will tell you more about it!
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Archaeologist specialized and a licensed Tourist guide for the Campania Region.
Founder of Ludoviguida.