Saint Patricia (1625) by Leonardo Carpentiero
Photo courtesy of Electra Napoli*
By Giovanni di Napoli
August 25th is the feast day of Santa Patrizia (Saint Patricia), patroness of Naples. Each year the faithful gather at the Chiesa di San Gregorio Armeno (Church of St. Gregory of Armenia) to venerate the saint and view the miraculous liquefaction of her coagulated blood. The church, believed to have been built by Saint Helena (c. 246-330 AD) on the site of the Roman Temple of Ceres, underwent several significant renovations and is the latest resting place of Santa Patrizia and her relics.
Interestingly, the legend of Santa Patrizia has become conflated with that of Parthenope (the mythical founder of Naples) in what has been described as a Christian "refounding" of the city. In Virgil's Golden Egg and other Neapolitan Miracles (Transaction Publishers, 2011) Michael A. Ledeen writes:
"The creative genius of Neapolitan chaos juxtaposes and merges the two female archetypes, and tosses in an element of ancient sorcery for piquancy. Both Parthenope and Saint Patrizia are virgins and have noble ancestry. Both have power to control natural elements. Both came from the East and died on the shores of the Gulf of Naples. Patrizia landed on the island of Megaride, where Virgil cast his saving spell on the Castel dell'Ovo, where the ancient Cumans built the first Neapolitan buildings, and where they believed Parthenope arrived, dead or dying. And in the seventeenth century, at the height of the Baroque, the body of Saint Patrizia was carried to a monastery atop the hill of Caponapoli, where, centuries earlier, the tomb of Parthenope was located. Patrizia was proclaimed a patron saint of Naples from Parthenope's old temple." (p. 38-39)
It should be noted Parthenope is a synthesis of the ancient Greek myth about the deadly enchantress who failed to seduce Odysseus (Ulysses) and the charming medieval love story between Cimone and the chaste princess from Greece, whose "finite brow of a goddess" and "huge black eyes" were said to resemble the vigorous beauty of Juno and Minerva. The tale is eloquently retold in Matilde Serao's Leggende napoletane (Neapolitan legends).
Fountain of the Siren (Fontana della Sirena),
Piazza Sannazaro, Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
According to tradition, Santa Patrizia was born in the mid-seventh century. She was the niece of Emperor Constans II (630-668 AD) and was educated at the Imperial Court of Constantinople. Extremely pious, the Byzantine princess dedicated her life to God, taking a vow of celibacy. Ordained a nun, Patrizia was invested with the veil of virginity. Her father had other ideas and arranged for her to marry a powerful nobleman. With the help of Aglaia, her loyal maidservant, the young maiden fled to Rome seeking refuge from the unwanted nuptials.
In 668 AD Mezezius the usurper assassinated Constans II in Syracuse for attempting to relocate the Empire’s capital to Sicily. Learning of her uncle's murder Patrizia returned to Constantinople to renounce her temporal titles and worldly possessions. She distributed her inheritance to the poor, inspiring other noblewomen to do the same. Before returning to Rome she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, visiting many sacred sites. It is said she possessed a fragment of the True Cross and wore on her right sleeve a nail from the Crucifixion, which reportedly turned blood red every Good Friday. The sacred relics were passed down from Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.
On her journey back to the Eternal City a violent storm shipwrecked her vessel off the coast of Megaride, an islet in the Bay of Naples. Patrizia and her retinue were given shelter by the island's monks, but after a brief stay in the Neapolitan Duchy the virgin grew ill and died. She was buried at Castrum Lucullanum, an old Roman villa converted into a Basilian monastery and site of the modern-day Castel dell'Ovo (Castle of the egg).
|Castel dell'Ovo, Megaride (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)|
During the ninth century, fear of Saracen raids forced the Neapolitans to move the treasures of Megaride inland to safer locations. The train of oxen pulling Patrizia's hearse through the city streets instinctively stopped outside the Chiesa dei Santi Nicandro e Marciano. It was decided she would be interred there. The monastery has since been commonly known as the Chiesa di Santa Patrizia (Church of Saint Patricia).
The miracle of the blood is said to be over twelve-hundred-years-old, but the oldest record of the phenomenon dates back 'only' to the sixteenth-century (1570). As the story goes, a sick nobleman was miraculously healed while praying at her shrine. Desiring a personal relic, the greedy pilgrim pulled a tooth from her skull causing blood to flow from the empty cavity. Collected in two ampullae the blood is said to liquefy on her feast day (August 25th) and every Tuesday morning. In 1626 she was declared a patron saint of Naples to help ward off calamities. In 1864, a few years after the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, her reliquary was translated to the Church of St. Gregory of Armenia after the convent church of Saint Patricia was closed down and confiscated by the new Italian government.
* Photo reprinted from The Treasure of San Gennaro: Baroque Silver from Naples, Electra Napoli, 1987, catalogue for the exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum of Art (Oct. 28, 1987 - Jan. 18, 1988).
• Naples From Roman Town To City-State by Paul Arthur, The British School at Rome, 2002
• Virgil's Golden Egg and other Neapolitan Miracles by Michael A. Ledeen, Transaction Publishers, 2011
• Leggende napoletane (Neapolitan legends) by Matilde Serao (translated by Jo Di Martino), Lettere Italiane Guida, 2003
• Becoming Neapolitan by John A. Marino, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011
• The Cronica di Partenope by Samantha Kelly, Brill, 2011