Postcard from Monopoli, Italy: Church dedicated to liberating poor souls in purgatory

Travel is not simply assuming the role of boulevardiers. Journeys this past year lifted some of the weighty worries about religion haunting my childhood. A year ago in Malaga, Spain, I found out Limbo was gone. It was banished by the church and vanished. All those little babies stuck in Limbo have been liberated to flit upward to heaven.

There is still purgatory though, with bazillions of souls trapped in purgatory waiting to be freed by prayers. How could God keep them there, suffering, denied entrance into heaven for sometimes seemingly minor infractions? My memory of religious instruction is rather hazy, but it seems as though we only devoted one day a year, All Souls Day, to try to liberate them.

This past fall, I learned there are Italians looking after them, praying for their release. There is both a church and a cemetery dedicated to this effort year-round in Naples.

And in Monopoli we found Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio detta del Purgatorio. Tucked on a narrow street adjacent to the bell tower at the back of the Cathedral, the church dates from the late 1600s. Symbols of death are carved into stone on the facade, and a pair of skeletons dominate the carvings on the door.

Locals refer to it as “the church of the dead who walk.” But, alas, we found the church closed. We squinted through cloudy, very smudged glass trying to see the reason why. Mummies. With imagination, we kind of could make out maybe four of them.

There are a total of eight robed figures – skeletons really – poised erect in glass cases inside the church, founding members and administrators of the church who refuse to retire from their mission. And a young mummified girl somehow made the cut for permanent display as well. Know you are disappointed to have no shots of the mummies, but Atlas Obscura has taken care of that for you.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: Frisky gods frolicked in the buff

Artemis of Ephesus, Goddess of Fertility, 2nd Century

In the mid-1700s, Charles III of Bourbon (1716-1788), King of Naples, began exploring the towns buried by Vesuvius and combined some of those finds with works of art he moved from palaces in Rome and Parma he inherited from his mother, Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), Queen of Spain. His son, Ferdinando IV (1751-1825), moved the treasures into a building that originally was a 16th-century riding school and later the university. Today the structure serves as the National Archaeology Museum or Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN).

The mosaics from Pompeii were my favorite part of the museum, but, unfortunately the galleries containing the largest mosaics were closed temporarily for renovation. No photos appear here of the outside of MANN because it was completely covered by scaffolding, possibly removed by now.

While ancient Romans favored wearings togas, tunics, stolas and pallas, many of their gods tended to frolic shamelessly in a bacchanalian existence, cavorting and coupling in fashions far from puritanical.

This is evident throughout the impressive museum, but even more so in the Gabinetto Secreto, or Secret Cabinet. In this gallery clearly marked with a warning as to its mature content, one finds the more pornographic-seeming artifacts from Pompeii and erotic objects of the Borgia Collection. The only one of the above images shot in the Secret Cabinet is that of the enormously endowed god Priapus, kind of an X-rated scarecrow threatening evil-doers with rape.

Postcard from Salamanca, Spain: Cathedrals dominate the city

Construction on Salamanca’s “Old Cathedral,” which ended up combining Romanesque and Gothic styles, began in the 12th century in honor of Santa Maria de la Sed.

But several centuries later, Ferdinand (1452-1516) and Isabella (1451-1504) had much to celebrate – expelling the Moors and opening the doors to the riches of the Americas among them.

A few years after her death, Ferdinand commissioned an even larger “New Cathedral” adjacent to the old. So as not to clash with its older neighbor, Late Gothic style was employed originally; however, after a century or two of construction, it proved impossible to resist adding a Baroque copula or two to top things off.

The siblings stand majestically side by side; both seemingly serviceable for several more centuries ahead.

The sculptural reminder that we all have to die, Memento Mori, is one of the most frightening images I’ve ever seen in church. But, at least it was placed up high in a side chapel…. Maybe if we keep traveling, it will encounter difficulties locating us?