The Royal Chapel of San Gennaro’s Treasure is a place of active cult that guards the strong and present memory of the Saint. Every day of the year is celebrated the Mass, offered for the City, for its inhabitants, for all the Saint’s devotees and worshippers spread in every corner of the world.
The Chapel of Treasure, situated inside the Cathedral of Naples, which is not only the custody of the gilded silver bust of the Saint and the cruet containing his blood which liquefies periodically and coagulates again, but is also one of the universal jewels of art. Rich of precious marbles, paintings, frescos, sculptures, works of the biggest artists of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, truly it is one of the most representative monuments of the Neapolitan Baroque.
Both in 1526 and 1527 the city of Naples contemporarily suffered two plagues: the war between Spain and France, which was principally fought at the Naples Kingdom and the pestilence that found fertile soil on shortage and hunger consequence of the same war.
Because of these tragic events, the people of Naples on 13th January 1527, in occasion of the anniversary of the translation of S. Gennaro’s bones from Montevergine Abbey to Naples, implored their Patron’s protection making a solemn vow to erect in his honour a new and wider Chapel in the Cathedral. The former one, known as “the Chapel of the old Treasure”, situated in the tower on the left of the Cathedral facade, it was too tight and you could enter only through an uncomfortable and narrow staircase consisting of forty steps.
The people’s promise was undersigned and bound by the “chosen” of the city, that is to say by those representatives of the so-called “Seats”, five belonging to the Nobles and one to the population, which only in 1601, however, designated a Deputation, comparable to a today councillorship made up of twelve members, two for each Seat, whose task was to provide for the construction of the new Chapel.
The construction began only in 1608 and finished in 1646. The Chapel of Treasure, therefore, was consecrated on 16th December 1646 and on the same day the Saint’s silver bust was transferred, along with the cruets containing the blood and the silver statues of the first co-patron Saints of the city.
The work of those artists, who are among the most famous of that time made it an authentic jewel in the history of art of all times: the architect Francesco Grimaldi elaborated the project, with a harmonious central plant dominated by a Michelangelesque Cupola and directed the works. The painter Domenico Zampieri, called Domenichino, painted the frescos of lunettes, under-arches, four plumes of the Cupola and copper paintings on the low altars: 25 episodes finished in 1641, all inspired to the Saint’s life and his patronage on the city. The painting on the altar of the big Chapel on the right, S. Gennaro unharmed from the burning furnace, is by Joseph de Ribera. Between 1641 and 1643 Lanfranco, who was already very famous in Naples for the frescos he painted in the Cathedral of Gesù Nuovo and those in the church of San Martino Chartreuse, painted the Cupola representing the Heaven and populating it with an infinitive number of characters. In the middle of the Empyrean the Eternal is represented while, in the first circle below, there is Christ blessing, and S. Gennaro kneeling while pleading for Naples.
Giuliano Finelli carried out most of the 19 bronze statues of the co-patron Saints: Cosimo Fanzago designed the big gate, completed in 1646 and moulded the clay to make the two-faced S. Gennaro which rose over it, the same that later, in 1665, was made with brass by Gennaro Monte.
Giandomenico Vinaccia, between 1692 and 1695, made the precious silver antependium (front) on the high altar, a unique and extraordinary work that is also a sort of fantastic anticipation in Naples of the Rococo style; it is completely embossed in silver, depicting the episode of S. Gennaro’s bones transferred in Naples on 13th January 1497. First you can admire Cardinal Alessandro Carafa riding while holding up the urn with the relics, followed by a procession of prelates and knights riding horses. The city of Naples welcoming the sacred relics is represented by the Neapolitan mermaid Partenope who lifts a crown made of laurel and from the Sebeto river, an old man lying who holds a jug with water. The horse tramples Heresy represented by a person with books on the ground. Once facing the Saint who is entering Naples, Hunger and Plague run away (a dying woman lying on her back) the War (a soldier with the mouth like a cannon). In the arch, on the background, the volcano Vesuvius shows its spirals of fire. The whole scene is dominated by the Saint blessing the city. The author, Giandomenico Vinaccia, signed this masterpiece with his self-portrait: the knight wearing glasses behind cardinal Carafa is really him!
In order to magnify its beauty, Francesco Solimena made the new high altar, using porphyry, which is very elegant, and that was completed in 1667. Behind the altar, a niche with two silver doors, donated by Charles II of Spain in 1667, guards both the bust and the ampullas. The Patron's bust, also in silver, was created by three Provençal goldsmiths and donated by Charles II Angiovin in 1305. Inside the bust’s head are preserved the bones of S.Gennaro’s skull.