Gesù Nuovo Church
Short artistic guide

Domenico Parrella s.j.

The Gesù Nuovo church is the most important church ever built by Jesuits in Naples. It is called "Gesù Nuovo" (New Jesus), because the Jesuits had already built another Jesus Church in 1568, which therefore is now called "Gesù Vecchio" (Old Jesus). This former church belongs now to the Diocese and the building, where the Jesuits used to live, is now seat of the University of Naples.

Internal arcade, towards the apse.
[Photo by Cav. Vittorio di Cesare]

The new church, whose construction started in 1584 under the direction of the Jesuit architect Giuseppe Valeriano (1542-1596), was completed in 1601 and dedicated to Jesusí name and Maryís Immaculate Conception, as it is written in the parchment put together with the first stone under the first central pillar. From that moment, the church has generally been called "Gesù Nuovo."

THE FA«ADE

The church façade, in bugnato style, is modelled on Sanseverinoís palace, princes of Salerno, and was built in 1470 by Novello from San Lucano. This palace was bought by the Jesuits for an amount of 45.000 ducats and converted in church.

THE INTERIOR

The church has a greek cross plant, with three aisles corresponding to the three entrance doors. The architectural style is renaissance, while the fittings are in baroque style. From the marmoreal floor, large pillars, covered with polychromatic marbles, rise up to the cornice. The altars and the balusters are made of inlaid marble. There are 11 Chapels.

MAIN NAVE

In the inner part of the church, behind the façade, it is possible to admire a big fresco, representing "The Expulsion of Eliodoro from Jerusalem temple", a masterpiece by Francesco Solimena (1657-1747), inspired to the bible episode described in II Maccabei Book, chapter 3.

The vault frescos, placed between the door and the dome in the first part of the nave, were carried out by Belisario Corenzio (1560-1630) and Paolo De Matteis (1622-1630). They represent bible scenes and stories of Saints, who have exalted Jesusí Name.

On the four pillars which bear the dome are frescoed the four Evangelists, a work by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). The present dome is not the original one, designed with great solemnity by Paolo Valeriano, since it crashed during 1688 earthquake.

The author of the frescos, placed on the second part of the vault up to the apse, is Massimo Stanzione (1585-1656). They represent scenes from Virgin Maryís life.

THE APSE

The Apse and the High Altar were conceived as praise hymn to Eucharistic Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Cosimo Fanzago (1591-1678) carried out the apse drawing, whereas Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) revised it. According to the project, the apse has six large monolithic columns and in their middle, there is the big statue of the Immaculate, placed on a big marble block taken by a group of angels. The statue was carried out by Antonio Busciolano (1823-1871), who also sculptured the two side statues representing the Apostles Peter and Paul.

The High Altar, created on F. Giuseppe Grossiís inspiration, is fruit of different Neapolitan artistsí work, and was erected in 1857. It cost a very high sum for that time, since it was made of rare marbles, golden bronze and precious stones.

Three bronze bas-relieves arise on a black marble base: on the left, Supper of Emmaus (made by Salvatore Irdi), on the right, The Promise of Eucharist to Cafarnao, and in the middle the reproduction of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. These last two bas-relieves are works by Gennaro Calì.

Above it, together with didactic and historical symbols concerning the Eucharistic mystery, eight busts of Saints, who have particularly distinguished for their glorification of Eucharist, overhang from shell-shaped medallions. From the left to the right side, they are St. Juliana of Liege, St. Stanislaus Kostka, the blessed Lanfranc of Canterbury, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis Borgia and St. Gaetano Thiene. Gennaro Calì carried out these medallions, apart from the third and the fourth bust, whose author is Costantino Labarbera.

On the Tabernacle, principally made of malachite, there is an inscription, which expresses the concept implied in the altar: "Deus absconditus heic": "Here is the Hidden God".

In the walls at the two sides of the high altar, there are two elegant small choirs in red marble, placed on marmoreal portal as well, and the two Chancels with big seventeenth century organs. The right Organ was built in 1650 by Pompeo di Franco and it was restored in 1986 by Gustavo Zanin. It has 52 registers and 2,523 pipes. The left organ, whose author is Vincenzo Miraglia, was built prior to 1646 and is no more in use.

RIGHT AISLE

It includes five chapels. First of all, there is the Chapel of St. Charles Borromeo (1598-1584). Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino (1560-1610) is the author of the altar-piece representing the Saint.

CHAPEL OF VISITATION AND ST. JOSEPH MOSCATI

Then, it is possible to see the chapel of Visitation. The altar-piece is the last work carried out by Massimo Stanzione (1585-1656), unfinished and completed by a disciple of his.

Under the altar, there is the bronze urn containing the mortal remains of St. Joseph Moscati (1880-1927), who was canonized on 25th October 1897 by Pope John Paul II.

The right Organ, by Pompeo di Franco.

He was Biochemistry teacher at the University of Naples and head physician at the Incurables Hospital, untiring friend of sufferers he considered as Christ's image. His triple activity is shown in the triptych sculptured on the urn by Amedeo Garufi, born in Palermo in 1918.

The left panel represents the Professor with his students, the one in the middle the Saint enlightened by the Eucharist, the right one the Doctor, giving comfort to suffering and sick people at the Incurables Hospital. In 1990, a bronze statue of the Saint, whose author is Pier Luigi Sopelsa, was placed on the left.

In Moscati Rooms, whose entrance is on the left of the chapel of St. Francis Xavier, it is possible to visit some mementos of the Saint and a row of photo showcases, which show the different steps of his life and then the highpoints of his Beatification and following Canonization.

Then, in the middle of the aisle, there is the chapel of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He is considered to be the greatest missionary in the modern age and was proclaimed Mission Patron, together with St. Therese of Lisieux. Francis Xavier preached the Christianity in India, in Malaysian Archipelago, and in Japan.

The altar-piece, which represents the Saint while he is receiving a vision of the Virgin Mary, is attributed to Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino (1560-1610). On the upper part, there are three paintings by Luca Giordano (1632-1705), which represent some episodes from the Saintís life, while the vault frescos, representing other episodes from St. Francis Xavierís life, were executed by Belisario Corenzio (1560-1630) and Paolo De Matteis (1662-1728).

The picture placed in the chapel of St. Francis Borgia (1510-1572), the third superior general of the Society of Jesus, represents the Saint collected in prayer before the Holy Sacrament and is attributed to Sebastiano Conca (1679-1764).

At the end of the right aisle, there is the Sacred Heart chapel, once dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The frescos on the side walls were carried out by Belisario Corenzio (1560-1630). The picture representing the holy Trinity with Groups of Saints, whose author is Guercino (1591-1666), is now placed on one side of the chapel of St. Ignatius.

LEFT AISLE

In this aisle, there are five chapels as well. The first one is the Holy Martyrs chapel. The altar-piece represents the Blessed Virgin with Child Jesus and Three Saint Martyrs. It is attributed to Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino (1560-1610).

The second one is the Nativity chapel, where the big picture by Girolamo Imparato (1550-1621) dominates the altar.

Then, in the middle of the aisle, there is the chapel dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuit Order. Among the columns and the marmoreal sculptures, it is possible to notice the statues representing David and Jeremy, both by Cosimo Fanzago (1593-1678). On the upper part, two paintings by Jusepe de Ribera (1588-1652) portray the story of the Saint. The vault frescos, with some episodes from St. Ignatiusís life, were executed Paolo De Matteis (1662-1728).

Letís see then the Crucifix Chapel. The Christ Crucified, with the Blessed Virgin and St. John, was sculptured on wood by Francesco Mollica, XVII century Neapolitan woodcarver.

Under the altar there is the urn containing relics of St. Ciro, doctor, hermit and martyr, who lived in the III cent., at the time of the persecution by Diocletian. On the right side, it is kept a roman cinerary urn, containing the relics of St. John soldier, St. Ciroís fellow.

At the end of the left aisle, there is the chapel of St. Francis De Geronimo (1642-1716). The statue of the jesuit saint, apostle from Naples during the second half of the XVII century, was sculptured by Francesco Jerace in 1934.

According to recent researches, the two imposing side Reliquaries, with 70 busts of saint martyrs in golden wood, were made in the most part in 1617 by the Neapolitan woodcarver Giovan Battista Gallone.

The Sacristy contains frescos by Aniello Falcone (1600-1665). The Lavabo, at the back, is a work in polychrome marbles made by Dionisio Lazzari.

THE OBELISK IN PIAZZA DEL GESU'

In the middle of the square, it rises the marmoreal spire in honour of the Immaculate Virgin, erected in 1747 thanks to the offerings given by Neapolitan people, on Jesuit Francesco Pepeís initiative. The obelisk is 34 metres high and was designed by Giuseppe Genoino. On its top, it is placed the bronze statue of the Immaculate, which rises on a big sphere surrounded by small angels.

On the corner of the balustrade are placed four statues representing some jesuit Saints: St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Borgia, St. Francis Xavier and St. Francis Regis.

On the cusp there are two medallions imaging the busts of St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Stanislaus Kostka, carried out by Francesco Pagano and Matteo Bottiglieri.


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