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.

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.


(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.


(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.

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.



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.


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



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.


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!


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.


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.

Vesuvio by Spaccanapoli


Si mont’ o si ‘ma mont’ ‘e na jastemm’
Si ‘a morte si ‘na mort’ ca’ po’ tremm’ Montagna fatta ‘e lava ‘e cient’ len’ (gue) Tu tien’ ‘mman a te’ sta vita meja

So pizz’ ‘e case o so pizz’ ‘e galera addò staje chiuse d’a matina a sera
si’ o purgatorio ‘e tutt’ chesta ‘ggente ca vive dint’ e barrache e vive ‘e stient’

si fumm’ o si nun fumm’ ‘o faje rumore ‘o fuoco che te puort’ dint’ o core quann’ fa notte ‘e o ciel’ se fa scur’ sul’ o ricordo ‘e te ce fa paura

chi campa ‘nsiene ‘a te, te para’ nient’ si jesce pazz è pazz overamente l’unica verità pe’ tutt’ quante
sarria chell’ ‘e fui’

ma po’ addo’ jamm’ , primma ca tocca juorno dopp’ tant’ stu’ ffuoco e lava ce port’ tutt’ quant’ a ‘mmiez’ a via


chi campa ‘nsiene ‘a te, te para’ nient’ si jesce pazz è pazz overamente l’unica verità pe’ tutt’ quante
sarria chell’ ‘e fui’

Si mont’ o si ‘ma mont’ ‘e na jastemm’
Si ‘a morte si ‘na mort’ ca’ po’ tremm’ Montagna fatta ‘e lava ‘e cient’ len’ (gue) Tu tien’ ‘mman a te’ sta vita meja


You’re a mountain, but a swearing mountain. You’re death, but death that sends tremors. Mountain of lava, of hundreds of paths,
you hold in your hands this life of mine.

Is this a place for homes or a place for jail

Where you’re locked from morning till night? You’re purgatory for all these people
who live in slums and who live in need.

Whether you smoke or not you still make noise its the fire you bear in your heart.
When the night falls and the sky gets dark
the mere thought of you makes us tremble.

Those who live with you, don’t be surprised if they go out mad they really are mad.
The only (truth?) safety for us
would be to run away from you…

and yet, where shall we go? before the day breaks this river of lava will drag us along and
leave us homeless.


Those who live with you, don’t be surprised if they go out mad they really are mad.
The only (truth?) safety for us
would be to run away from you…

You’re a mountain, but what a mountain. You’re a mountain, but a swearing mountain. You’re death, but death that sends tremors. Mountain of lava, of hundreds of paths,
you hold in your hands this life of mine.

Sicilian rosaries to Santa Lucia

Rosary to Santa Lucia

In Sicilian:

“Santa Lucia amabile e castusa
partistivu di la vostra Siracusa
tutta amabili e amurusa
china di peni e di fracelli
vi livaru poi li dui belli ucchicelli.
Vui sula ca siti accussì miraculusa
sarvatini di l’occhi miccilusa.
Comu sarvastivu fortimenti l’avanzata greca
a la vostra amata Catana
tinitini forti l’occhi finu all’urtimu jornu
di la nostra esistenza
ca a vui facemu pinitenza.
Senza pani e senza carni si ciberà lu corpu miu
chinu di piccati
e daranno luci a li occhi finu all’urtimu jornu
di la nostra cruci.”

In Italian:

Santa Lucia amabile e casta
partiste dalla vostra Siracusa
tutta amabile e amorosa
colma di pene e flagelli
vi levarono poi i due occhietti belli.
Voi soltanto che siete così miracolosa
salvateci dalle cecità.
Come salvaste con vigore dall’avanzata greca
la vostra amata Catania
preservateci con vigore gli occhi fino all’ultimo giorno
della nostra esistenza
che a voi facciamo penitenza.
Senza pane e senza carne si ciberà il corpo mio
pieno di peccati
e daranno luce agli occhi fino all’ultimo giorno
della nostra croce.

In English:

Saint Lucy lovely and chaste
you left your Syracuse
all lovely and amorous
filled with pains and floggings
there arose then two beautiful eyes
You who are only so miraculous
save us from blindness.
As you with vigor saved from the Greek advance
your beloved Catania
preserve with vigor our eyes until the last day
of our existence
that to you we do penitence.
Without bread and without meat you will eat my body
full of sins
and you will give light to the eyes until the last day
of our cross.”

Recite one Pater Noster, then: 

In Sicilian:

“Santa Cruci biniditta
santa Lucia sempri a la dditta
cu lu calici e la parma duna focu a la nostra arma.
Cu lu mantu russu sia duna luci a li occhi mia.”

In Italian:

“Santa Croce benedetta
santa Lucia sempre all’impiedi
con il calice e la palma incendia la nostra anima.
Con il manto rosso dà luce ai miei occhi.”

In English:
“Blessed holy cross
holy Lucy always at the foot
with the chalice and lit palm of our soul.
With the red cloak give light to my eyes.”

At the end of the rosary, look up into the sky and kiss the earth, and make the sign of the cross.

Another Rosary to Santa Lucia


In Sicilian:

“Santa Lucia ‘n mezzu a lu mari chi ciancia.
A ‘ncontra Santu ‘Lia, chi ha’ Lucia?”

In Italian:

“Santa Lucia in mezzo al mare che piangeva
L’incontra Santo Elia, cosa hai Lucia?”

In English:

“Saint Lucy in the middle of the sea crying
Encounter Saint Elias, what is wrong with Lucy?”


In Sicilian:

“Haiu un duluri nna st’occhiu.
S’è di sangu fallu squagghiari
s’è di purpu jettalu a mari.”

In Italian:

“Ho un dolore in quest’occhio.
Se è di sangue fallo sciogliere
se è di polipo buttalo a mare.”

In English:

“I have a pain in this eye.
If it is from foul blood dissolve
If it is from from octopus throw it in the sea.”

Sara Favarò, A Cruna. Antologia di Rosari Siciliani.

Prayer to Santa Rosalia for Liberation from Corrupt Governments

O Santa Rosalia, our patron and liberator,
To you, with great trust, do we direct our prayer.
You, who withdrew yourself to the solitude of Monte Pellegrino, to keep vigil over us with prayer and penitence, deliver us from the new plagues as in the past you have been able to.
Help us against the sin of greed, eradicate social evils from all. Deliver us from corrupt governments and from those that rig elections. Deliver us from administrations insensitive to the homeless and the unemployed.
Deliver us from those that do not respect the law, that speculate, corrupt, and manipulate information and create evil.
Give shelter, food, and work for all.
Out of respect for the laws of nature and that which God has created, we put in your hands, o Santa Rosalia, the future of this City.

O Santa Rosalia, nostra patrona e liberatrice,
a te con fiducia rivolgiamo la nostra preghiera.
Tu, che ti ritirasti nella solitudine di Monte Pellegrino, per vegliare su di noi con la preghiera e con la penitenza, liberaci dalle nuove pesti come in passato hai saputo fare.
Aiutaci contro il peccato di avidità, radice di tutti i mali sociali. Liberaci dai governanti corrotti e da quelli che fanno brogli elettorali. Liberaci dagli amministratori insensibili alla gente senza casa e senza lavoro.
Liberaci da coloro che non rispettano le leggi, che speculano, corrompono e manipolano le informazioni e aumentano il male.
Dacci la casa, il pane e il lavoro per tutti.
Per il rispetto delle leggi della natura e di ciò che Dio ha creato, mettiamo nelle tue mani, o santa Rosalia, il futuro di questa Città.

The original Italian prayer was written by the administrators of the Santa Rosalia di Palermo Facebook group. Translation by Paese Ombra.