Litany to the Dead from Naples, Italy

In a previous post, we examined several accounts of the cult of the Holy Souls in Purgatory at Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples. Fontanelle Cemetery is an ossuary occupied Anime Pezzentelle, that is, “lost” souls, or souls without living descendents to perform official indulgences on their behalf. Many of them lost their lives during the great plagues of the 17th century, a time during which the city struggled to keep up with the task of burying large numbers of recently deceased citizens.

The Anime Pezzentelle are said to suffer from the heat and pains of Purgatory, where their only solace are the prayers and refreshment provided by the living. Refreshment or refrische can take many forms: cool water, sacramentals such as rosary beads or saint cards, and oil lamps or candles are all common forms of refreshment. The goal of these devotional practices is to establish a bond through which soul can establish contact through dreams. Once this intimate relationship is in place, the soul may reveal more details about who they were in life, divine the future (including lottery numbers), or be petitioned to perform miracles.

cimitero_delle_fontanelle_010
Skulls in Fontanelle Cemetery which have received devotions or refreshment. My gratitude to Wikipedia user
Mentnafunangann for contributing this image.

The prayer below, originally in Neapolitan and translated into English, may be said by groups or individuals who wish to gain the favor of Anime Pezzentelle, specifically the souls of plague victims. It is traditionally said while in the ossuary, although we might speculate that all cemeteries belongs to the same kingdom. The opening prayer is repeated for the names of all the deceased being invoked. (Anime Pezzentelle are usually said to reveal their names in dream early in the relationship, and often some details about who they were in life such as their gender and occupation.) The closing prayer is said before departing from the ossuary or cemetery.

There are a few traditional elements worth noting. For one, we see mentions of the beatings and nails of the Crucifixion which were also present in the Sicilian rosary for the dead we saw previously. Furthermore, in addition to invocations to Jesus and the Holy Trinity, we also see a powerful image of the female divine in this prayer: an entreaty to “come in the name of Jesus Christ, Saint Anne, and Maria”; a request vindicated “by the tears of the Sorrowful Mother”; and the line “pray to your divine redeemer (the Madonna)”, where the word “redeemer” is unmistakbly feminine in the original text. It is worth noting that in Naples, work with the lost souls is predominantly, perhaps exclusively, considered to be “women’s work”. The gendering is reinforced in the language of the work, which speaks of “adopting” skulls, as well as the objects commonly used in these devotions, which include handmade embroidery and rosary beads. The practitioner quite literally becomes the mother of a lost soul.

Napulitano

(opening prayer)

Guida: Guè, pè l’anema ‘e (name of deceased).
Coro: Requia materna.
(repeat as needed)

(prayer for the plague victims)
Io ve chiammo aneme tutte,
Aneme appestate cchiù de tutte;
Mò che nnante a Dio state
A me mischinu scunzulatu
E nun ve ne scurdate.
Pregate alla nostra divina clemenza,
Arapitece ‘e porte de la santa divina clemenza pruverenza:
Pregate alla vostra divina Redentora,
Ce favorite il nostro ‘ntenzione;
Mille e tanta vote
Reque, refrische, repuose, sullievo e pace
A chest’ aneme appestate mie rilette;
Venite a casa mia ca v’aspetto;
E paura nun me ne metto.
Venite co lu nomme ‘e Giesù Cristo, Sant’Anna e Maria;
‘E case noste cuntente e cunzulate sia.
Pe lu nomme de la Santissima Ternità
Tutt’e ppene, tutte ‘e turmiente
Tutt’e guaie nc’adda acquietà.
Pe li voste battitore
Fance grazia vosto Signore;
Pe tre chiove trapassate
Refrische e sullievo a chell’aneme sante appestate.

Gesù mio misericordia;
Gesù mio misericordia;
P’e lacreme ‘e Mamm’ Addulurata
Refrische all’aneme de l’appestate.

(closing prayer)

Requia materna, erona romine, sparpetua lucia ‘nterna schiatte in pace. Amen.

English

(opening prayer)

Guide: Hail to the soul of (name of deceased).
Chorus: Eternal peace.
(repeat as needed)

(prayer for the plague victims)

I call you, all souls,
Plague victims above all other souls,
I pray that near to God you be.
Do not forget me,
I, a disconsolate wretch.
Pray to our divine mercy,
Open the doors of holy, divine, merciful providence:
Pray to your divine redeemer (the Madonna),
That she favor our intentions;
Thousands of times
Calm, refreshment, rest, solace, and peace
To these plague victims’ souls, my beloveds;
Come to my home where I await you;
Because I have no fear.
Come in the name of Jesus Christ, Saint Anne, and Maria;
And let our homes be content and consoling.
By the name of the Divine Trinity
All troubles must be calmed.
By your beatings
Do us grace, oh Lord.
By the three nails,
Refreshment and solace to the holy souls of plague victims.

My Jesus, mercy;
My Jesus, mercy;
By the tears of the Sorrowful Mother,
Refreshment to the souls of the plague victims.  

(closing prayer)

Eternal peace give them O Lord, shine eternal light, may they rest in peace. Amen.

 

(Source: Luciano Sola – “Il Camposanto delle Fontanelle. Storia e costumi di Napoli”)

A Rosary for the Dead on All Souls’ Day (Nov 2)

This rosary is typically prayed every day during the octave of the festa dei morti (feast of the dead), known more officially in Italian as the Commemorazione di Tutti i Fideli Defunti (Commemoration of All Deceased Faithful), and among English-speaking countries as All Souls’ Day. In many Catholic countries, All Souls’ Day (November 2) is a time for remembering the dead. It can be celebrated by praying, visiting and cleaning up loved ones’ graves, making offerings of food or flowers, or paying for masses to be said in honor of the departed.

mangiare-sulle-tombe-san-demetrio-corone-in-calabria
A man eats at a tomb in San Demeterio Corone, Calabria on All Souls’ Day. Via Benedicaria.

The octave lasts from November 2 to November 10. If you wish to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory as is done in Sicilian folk tradition, you can use the words below. Sicilian rosaries can be prayed on standard rosary beads, reciting one posta for each of the large beads, and one grani for each of the small beads. (More official prayers for the dead can be found in the Raccolta, the pre-Vatican II guide to indulgences. A free PDF is available online here.)  I have included an English translation, but the Sicilian is pronounced very similar to Italian if you feel comfortable with that language.

This rosary from Sicilian oral tradition was originally transcribed and published by Sara Favarò in A Cruna: Antologia di Rosari Siciliani. I have chosen to translate “arrifriscati” (lit. “refresh yourselves”) as “be cooled”. “Refreshment” in Southern Italian and Sicilian magico-religious thought is relief from the heat and suffering of Purgatory. Souls grateful for refreshment are disposed to work miracles on behalf of those who pray for them. The concept is similar to the idea of cooling heated spirits in spiritism and African Diasporic Traditions.

Siciliano

(Posta)

Per li setti battitura
chi patì nostru Signuri
pi li chiova arribuccati
Armuzzi Santi, arrifriscati.
Armi Santi, Armi Santi
iò sugnu sula vui siti tanti
pi la nostra orazioni
livatimilla ‘sta cunfusioni.
Quannu vui ‘n celu acchianati
pi nui piccatura priati
arma ‘n celu e corpu ‘n terra
recam eterna.

(Grani)

Armi Santi e santi veri
Armuzzi Santi miserere
e Maria pi so buntati
Armuzzi Santi arrifriscati.

English

(Posta)

By the seven beatings
that our Lord suffered,
by the twisted nails,
Holy Souls: be cooled.
Holy Souls, Holy Souls,
I am one, you are many.
By our prayer,
take away from me this confusion.
When you ascend to heaven,
pray for us sinners.
Soul in heaven and body in earth,
eternal peace.

(Grani)  

Holy Souls and true saints,
merciful Holy Souls,
and Maria by her goodness,
Holy Souls: be cooled.

“Fimmene, Fimmene”: A song for the distaff line

I have a friend whose family tree has been traced back a thousand years, but no women exist on it. She just discovered that she herself did not exist, but here brothers did. Her mother did not exist, and nor did her father’s mother. Or her mother’s father. There were no grandmothers. Fathers have sons and grandsons and so the lineage goes, with the name passed on…

Eliminate your mother, then your two grandmothers, then your four great-grandmothers. Go back more generations and hundreds, then thousands disappear. Mothers vanish, and the fathers and mothers of those mothers. Ever more lives disappear as if unlived until you have narrowed a forest down to a tree, a web down to a line. This is what it takes to construct a linear narrative of blood or influence or meaning.

Rebecca Solnit, “Grandmother Spider”. From Men Explain Things to Me. 

I have long associated “Fimmene, Fimmene” with my ancestral practice, and with my female ancestors in particular. I remember the first time I heard it, at a ritual/play performed by Alessandra Belloni and I Giullari di Piazza on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul 2016. I remember hearing Emanuele Licci from CGS play it as a solo during a concert on the second anniversary of my grandmother’s death. My husband, who was not familiar with the song or its personal importance, turned to me with a tear in his eye and said, “That man is very connected to his female ancestors.”

“Fimmene, Fimmene” is a song for and about women. It is an unabashedly political critique of working conditions and sexual assault. When singing or listening to the song, the heart is moved, the eyes water, the connection to the womb and ancestral memory becomes activated in the body. Women are born with all the ova they will ever produce in their lifetimes, so the ova that became you was alive within your mother, when she was still in your grandmother’s womb! This is a special relationship that we all have with our female ancestors, regardless of our gender.  

It’s also an excellent song for people who are new to Southern Italian musical traditions, or who think they can’t incorporate music into their personal devotions because they don’t have formal training. The rhythm is simple and slow enough to tap out even if you’ve never held a tamburello before. The lyrics in the video below are slow and well-articulated, so you can pick them up easily with practice. And, with the invocation at the end to Saint Paul, patron of tarantella, you’ll be singing and dancing in no time!

Salentino

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati allu tabbaccu,
‘nde sciati ddoi e ne turnati quattru!

Ci bbu la dice cu chiantati lu tabbaccu?
Lu sule è forte e bbe lu sicca tuttu.

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati a vinnimiare
e sutta a lu ceppune bbu la faciti fare.

Ue santu Paulu miu de Galatina
famme ‘nde cuntentà ‘sta signurina

Ue santu Paulu miu de le tarante
pizzechi le caruse mmienzu’ll’anche!

Ue santu Paulu miu de li scurzuni
pizzeche li carusi alli cujuni.

English

Women, women who go to the tobacco,
They walk out at two and return at four.

Who told you to plant the tobacco?
The sun is strong and dries you all out!

Women, women who go to harvest
And under the vine you have it done to yourselves.

My Saint Paul of Galatina,
Work a miracle for this young woman.

My Saint Paul of the spiders,
Bite the girls between their thighs.

My Saint Paul of the snakes,
Bite the boys on their balls.

Solo Andata // One-Way Trip

This piece was originally written for and performed as an offering to the spirits at an event organized by the inimitable Dr. Vanessa Sinclair on Monday, October 24, 2016. 

* * *

I. 

Belief in the ponte di San Giacomo, or St. James’ Bridge, has been found historically throughout southern Italy and Sicily. In some places, it persists to this day.

The ponte di San Giacomo is a bridge between this world and the next. It is the barrier the dead must cross in order to reach their final destination in the afterlife. Traditionally, it is said to be sharp, perhaps forged from swords, knives, pins, thorns. And yet, it is believed to have appeared when three drops of the Madonna’s breastmilk fell to earth, a myth which echoes earlier stories about the Roman goddess Juno and the origin of the Milky Way.

The soul’s journey to the next world begins when the dying person loses consciousness. It is a gradual process, a long journey, and consequently must be attended to by the family and wider community. Rituals are performed by laypeople, priests, and folk healers to assure safe passage. These may include opening a window, removing metal chains from the neck, binding and unbinding the legs, washing the corpse, putting food and water nearby so the soul can maintain its strength, and talking to the corpse in a reassuring manner.  

But the most important preparations are psychological as much as they are magical. The dying person must prepare themselves spiritually and mentally for the journey. This means the acceptance of death and the relinquishing of attachments to the temporal realm. As a consequence, the people most likely to fail to make the journey successfully–that is, who remain in this world as ghosts either friendly or unfriendly–are those who either die suddenly and unexpectedly, or who have strong ties to the world of the living. Those with unfinished business, with untold stories, or with small children to care for are particularly prone to becoming ghosts.

II.

“Santa Lucia Luntana” was written in 1919 by Giovanni Gaeta, better known as E. A. Mario. It derives its name not from the popular saint, but rather, from the Borgo Santa Lucia, a neighborhood situated on the Port of Naples. After 1903, almost all of the millions of Italian emigrants embarked from either the Port of Naples or that of Palermo. For many emigrants, the last sight of their homeland was the same as the patron saint of eyesight: Santa Lucia.

The song, originally written in Neapolitan, gained immediate popularity and started a national dialog about the diaspora and the plight of impoverished migrants. I would like to share it with you, in English, with a reminder:

Death is a foreign country, and in time we will all be immigrants.

III.

The ships are leaving
for faraway lands…
They sing on board:
they are Neapolitan!
They sing while in the sunset
the bay disappears,
and the moon, above the sea,
lets them catch
a glimpse of Naples…

Santa Lucia! Far away from you,
what sorrow!
We travel around the world,
we go to seek our fortunes…
but, when the moon rises,
we cannot stay
away from Naples!

And they play music… but their hands
tremble on the strings.
How many memories,
how many memories.
And my heart cannot heal
not even with those songs;
hearing those voices and that music,
It begins to cry
because it wants to return!

Santa Lucia, you are only
a little bit of sea away…
But the further away you are,
the more beautiful you seem…
It is the song of the sirens
that is still casting its net!
This heart doesn’t want riches:
if it was born in Naples,
it wants to die there!

Cult of the Dead in Naples

a_capa_ca_suda_d_e_funtanelle_-_donna_concetta_-_napule
A skull in Fontanelle Cemetery, Naples. The “sweat” on the skull indicates its potency and suffering from the flames of Purgatory.

English

Cimitero delle Fontanelle and “The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead” or “The Neapolitan Skull Cult” of Naples, Italy by Morbid Anatomy

“Death in Naples” by Michael A. Ledeen

“Enigmatic Traditions: The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead” by Il Regno

“The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead: A Profile for Virginia Commonwealth University” by Elizabeth Harper

Italiano

“Le Anime del Purgatorio nella Tradizione Napoletana”

“Il Culto dei Morti a Napoli” di Andrea Romanazzi

“Il Presepe nella Cultura Napoletana”

Dancing as Life

“Life causes motion, and motion can give evidence of life. This becomes: ‘Life causes motion, hence motion is evidence of life.’ Humans can see that the motions of work have a direct purpose, but motion for motion’s sake is something else–‘dance’ broadly taken. (In the languages of eastern Europe, the same word often means both ‘dance’ and ‘play,’ and other nondirect motions like swinging, tickling, and laughing may fall in this basket. Medieval western Europeans, too, called the nocturnal dancing and feasting of the spirits the game, its goal being an abundance of crops called luck.) Supernatural powers, of course, need not work to survive; hence divine life simply ‘dances’ and in this very act of dancing is thought to create life. …

“The spirits that villagers sought to influence were the spirits of the dead. But different categories of dead existed, with different powers and different connections to the living.

“First, one’s dead ancestors. Since they had begotten the living, one could reasonably appeal to them to help their offspring survive. And because these ancestors had been buried in the ground (where their spirits were assumed to pass much of their time), presumably they could help the seeds down there–the newly sown crops–to germinate and grow. Basic to this belief is the notion of resurrection: the seed seems dead, it is buried, it rises to produce new seed. The eternal cycle of life.

“Second were the spirits of the dead of other villages. These were particularly dangerous because they would be busy sequestering all the existing abundance for their offspring. So ritual dancers, from the Balkans to Britain, marked out territories and fought intruding bands, to the death if necessary.

“Finally, there existed a very special group: young women born into the clan who had died before having any children–hence not ancestors of the living but still belonging to the community. Most important, they had not used their natural store of fertility. So, people reasoned, if we’re especially nice to them, they might bestow that unused fertility on us. Because unmarried girls in the living community spent much of their time singing and dancing together, people inferred by analogy that the spirits of dead girls would likewise band together and spend their time singing, dancing, swimming, laughing, and so on. These Dancing Goddesses inhabited the wilds, controlling the rain and other waters, creating fertility and healing powers people needed. The challenge was to lead, cajole, trap, or entice them into the cultivated areas to shed their fertility here, and one way to do this was to do what they did: dance.”

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance, pp. 3-4.

Christian novenas & pagan funerary rites

“The Jews had no nine days’ religious celebration or nine days’ mourning or feast on the ninth day after the death or burial of relatives and friends. They held the number seven more sacred than any other. On the contrary, we find among the ancient Romans an official nine days’ religious celebration whose origin is related in Livy (I, xxxi). After a shower of stones on the Alban Mount, an official sacrifice, whether because of a warning from above or of the augurs’ advice, was held on nine days to appease the gods and avert evil. From then on the same novena of sacrifices was made whenever the like wonder was announced (cf. Livy, XXI, lxii; XXV, vii; XXVI, xxiii etc.).

“Besides this custom, there also existed among the Greeks and Romans that of a nine days’ mourning, with a special feast on the ninth day after death or burial. This, however, was rather of a private or family character (cf. Homer, Iliad, XXIV, 664, 784; Virgil, Aeneid, V, 64; Tacitus, Annals, VI, v.). The Romans also celebrated their parentalia novendialia, a yearly novena (13 to 22 Feb.) of commemoration of all the departed members of their families (cf. Mommsen, “Corp. Inscript. Latin.”, I, 386 sq.). The celebration ended on the ninth day with a sacrifice and a joyful banquet. There is a reference to these customs in the laws of the Emperor Justinian (“Corp. Jur. Civil. Justinian.”, II, Turin, 1757, 696, tit. xix, “De sepulchro violato”), where creditors are forbidden to trouble the heirs of their debtor for nine days after his death. St. Augustine (P.L., XXXIV, 596) warns Christians not to imitate the pagan custom, as there is no example of it in Holy Writ. Later on, the same was done by the Pseudo-Alcuin (P.L., CI, 1278), invoking the authority of St. Augustine, and still more sharply by John Beleth (P.L., CCII, 160) in the twelfth century. Even Durandus in his “Rationale” (Naples, 1478), writing on the Office of the Dead, remarks that “some did not approve this, to avoid the appearance of aping pagan customs”.

“Nevertheless, in Christian mortuary celebrations, one finds that of the ninth day with those of the third and seventh. The “Constitutiones Apostolicae” (VIII, xlii; P.G., I, 1147) already speak of it. The custom existed specially in the East, but is found also among the Franks and Anglo-Saxons. Even if it was connected with an earlier practice of the pagans, it nevertheless had in itself no vestige of superstition. A nine days’ mourning with daily Mass was a distinction, naturally, which could be shared by none but the higher classes. Princes and the rich ordered such a celebration for themselves in their wills; even in the wills of popes and cardinals such orders are found. Already in the Middle Ages the novena of Masses for popes and cardinals was customary. Later on, the mortuary celebration for cardinals became constantly more simple, until finally it was regulated and fixed by the Constitution “Praecipuum” of Benedict XIV (23 Nov., 1741). For deceased sovereign pontiffs the nine days’ mourning was retained, and so came to be called simply the “Pope’s Novena” (cf. Mabillon, “Museum Italicum”, II, Paris, 1689, 530 sqq., “Ordo Roman. XV”; P.L., LXXVIII, 1353; Const. “In eligendis” of Pius IV, 9 Oct., 1562). The usage still continues and consists chiefly in a novena of Masses for the departed. A rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (22 Apr., 1633) informs us that such novenas of mourning, officia novendialia ex testamento, were generally known and allowed in the churches of religious (Decr. Auth. S.R.C., 604). They are no longer in common use, though they have never been forbidden, and indeed, on the contrary, novendiales precum et Missarum devotiones pro defunctis were approved by Gregory XVI (11 July, 1853 [sic]) and indulgenced for a confraternity agonizantium in France (Resc. Auth. S.C. Indulg., 382).”

Hilgers, Joseph. “Novena.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 20 Feb. 2016<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11141b.htm&gt;. Emphasis mine.