Showing posts with label skull. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skull. Show all posts

Friday, July 26, 2013

Macabre Canterbury Cathedral

On a recent and wonderful trip to Canterbury and Margate (thank you, Julie Anderson, Phoebe Harkins and Ross MacFarlane!), I spent a good hour wandering around legendary Canterbury Cathedral. It was certainly far more sedate than any church you'd find in Italy, but it did have its highlights.

My favorite piece was a skeleton bedecked tomb-like monument (top four images) located in side altar; the fact that a bat was flying around the otherwise solitary space at the time of my visit certainly contributed to the atmosphere. There as also a lovely death's head-embellished flat monument (fifth down) in the main nave and, in the crypt, a deeply arresting charred and gold-leaf embellished Pieta with an interesting back story; created in 1904 for a church in Munich, it was damaged by fire in 1986. Afterwards, as the Canterbury Cathedral website explains, it was:
‘discovered’ by Stefan Knor, a lighting artist. Inspired by the powerful charisma of this seriously damaged piece of art, Stefan did not try to restore the sculpture...
... He also gave the sculpture some artistic treatment by the partial application of 24 carat gold leaf, turning it into a new contemporary piece of art. The gold is now visible alongside the black charred wood and the grey ash. It is on display with orange lighting, an essential part of this installation, which accentuates the contrast between what is charred and what is gilded. The sculpture is accompanied by an old wooden box into which visitors place their written prayers.
The Pietà has had its own death and recreation. The whole surface suffered burns and was so charred that it was replaced by a copy. Yet, since the moment that the Pietà was placed in the Cathedral on 4th April, there has been excitement and delight from those who work and volunteer here, as well as from our many visitors. It speaks of hope and light in the darkness for those who are suffering or in pain.
All images my own, except the bottom, which was found, along with the quotation above,  on the Canterbury Cathedral website. Visit this website to find out more.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cimitero delle Fontanelle and "The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead" or "The Neapolitan Skull Cult" of Naples, Italy

Whilst in Naples recently, I spent many hours exploring and photographing the enigmatic and fascinating Cimitero delle Fontanelle, epicenter of what is known as "The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead," or "The Neapolitan Skull Cult." In this vast underground ossuary you will find, among the usual piles of bones, tiny stuctures--some with text engraved, others draped in rosaries and embellished with prayer cards--enshrining chosen skeletal bits. To the uninitiated, their meanings are unclear.

One invaluable source in trying to decipher the meaning here was the work of author/scholar/photographer Paul Koudounaris of Empire of Death fame; he explains the cult thusly in his Fortean Times article "Sisterhood of the Skulls" (excerpted below; click here to read article in its entirety):
...One of [Naples'] greatest enigmas was a strange cult, composed almost exclusively of elderly women who communed with the dead, lavishing their attention on, and even making offerings to, human skulls.

The cult was centred on a cemetery known as the Fontan­elle... A curious cult dedicated to the remains began to evolve around the site, especially after 1872. In that year, Father Gaetano Barbati had large deposits of bones exhumed, and the skulls were cleaned and placed on racks or in troughs, where they took on the role of devotional items for this death-obsessed group. There was no formal organisation to this cult, but it rapidly grew popular with older women, especially widows or those with little or no family. They claimed to receive messages from the deceased in their dreams, and would then “adopt” whichever skull they believed had belonged to the spirit that had contacted them, becoming in effect a kind of caretaker of not just the remains but also the soul of the dead person. They would clean and care for their skulls, even constructing engraved marble shrines for them. These boxes might enclose a single skull, or multiples if the same person adopted more than one.

Cult devotees would bring flowers and gifts as offerings for their chosen crania, and address them by name. The dead at the Fontanelle were of course anonymous, but this army of old ladies claimed the skulls would reveal their true names to their benefactors. In return for this doting care, the deceased would grant favours to their devotees, who would petition the skulls for assistance in a variety of forms – through dreams, direct conversation, various forms of telepathy, or by writing their requests on small slips of paper, which would be rolled up and inserted into the skulls’ eye sockets.

The shrines in which adherents housed their adopted charges were frequently inscribed with messages thanking the skulls for various favours or services; usually the inscriptions were simple, something along the lines of “Per Grazie Recev­uta” (thanks for what was given). But they could be more elaborate, even containing names. The inscribed names were not those of the deceased, however, but rather those of the skulls’ benefactors. The devotees were highly possessive of their skulls, and the shrines were not intended solely to show gratitude to the deceased, but also to mark a specimen as having been adopted, a sign to potential rivals that they should find their own skull and not commune with remains which were already spoken for. Some of the boxes even included doors with locks and chains, as some people didn’t want anyone else to be able even to look upon their skulls...
The members of the “necrophiliac” group based on the Fontanelle were not so interested in these more orthodox types of religious sentiment, however. Their devotions were primarily inspired by a different and surprising mechanism: lottery numbers. One might beseech the dead for any number of favours, but the typical requests made of the skulls at the Fontanelle, on which all this devotion was lavished, centred on an obsessive desire for precognition of winning lottery numbers...

The aid of the bones would also be beseeched when family and friends were ill, or to help with various dom­estic problems. One skull, considered to be “public property,” was understood to aid infertile women. Young women who could not bear children were encouraged to come to the cemetery and caress it – with the consequence that it became the most smoothly polished skull in the ossuary, as generat­ions of women rubbing it over in the hopes of getting pregnant left it, even today, with an almost supernatural sheen. Another skull is enshrined in a box inscribed with the owner’s thanks, and the date “6 September, 1943”. In fact, that was the date of the heaviest allied bombing of Naples in the war. During air raids, the Fontanelle became a makeshift bomb shelter, especially for devotees of the site who found strength and hope in the presence of their adopted skulls. As the bombs fell on 6 September, someone apparently begged a particular skull for protection, and attributed her own survival to its powers, rewarding it with a shrine.... 
As far as the Roman Catholic Church was concerned, the cult based on the Fontanelle was wholly unacceptable. If this was all just superstition, it had degenerated into a form of heathen fetishism, and if any of the stories about mysterious occult happenings were true then it was something even worse. The Church became convinced that the place would have to be shut down; the only surprise is that, perhaps fearing a local backlash, it took them until 1969 to actually do it, when Card­inal Corrado Ursi ordered the premises perm­anently closed. The Fontanelle languished after its closure, and by now most of the devotees of the site have passed on and become what they once adored. For brief periods, it has been open for tourism, but even that is no longer permitted, and it now receives few visitors – mostly just scholars and VIPs. “But we do get some Satanists who break in and hold Black Masses down here, and we have to chase them out,” Alamaro acknowledges...
Another source for getting deeper into this enigmatic practice--especially the pagan/Catholic aspects, which particularly intrigued me-- was the article "The Fontanelle Cemetery and the Skull Cult in Contemporary Naples," sent to me by Sicilian anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali, his co-contribution (with Albert Zink) to the exhibition catalog Schädelkult: Kopf und Schädel in der Kulturgeschichte des Menschen. Following is an excerpt from that article via Google Translate (from the German); I did my best to streamline the text into something readable; when I was not sure of the meaning, I kept the original Google Translated text in quotes.
In the Campania region of Italy, traces of a cult with roots in pre-Christian beliefs has been preserved. The so called Skull Cult is a merger of the ancient with the Catholic religion; it exists independently of the official faith, with its own principles and values. Every Monday--a day once dedicated to Hecate, goddess of the moon and mistress of the underworld--believers descend to the tombs and ossuaries of the city. The process is a vestige of pagan heritage.
The most obvious manifestation of this takes place at the Fontanelle Cemetery, located in an ancient tuff mine in the historic Sanità district, very close to a pagan and later Christian Cemetery...

Visitors to the Fontanelle Cemetery these days are touched by the immense quantity of bones and skulls, or capuzzelle in the Neapolitan dialect. There are the human remains, the cult of the skull, the culto delle capuzzelle, the Fontanelle Cemetery and at other Tombs of the city alive.

These anonymous skulls embody the idea of ​​the the souls in purgatory, whose worship is a Neapolitan folk rite is of great importance. Believers think of them as mediating between the world of the here and the hereafter. Prayers are dedicated to the abandoned souls, popularly called le Anime Pezzentelle, in order to alleviate their pain, in exchange for promises of a returned help to the prayer. The believer thus concludes with the anima pezzentella an agreement that compassion and obligations to the other presupposes and is based on a shared sense of still determines the actions of the Neapolitans.

Anonymous Souls to help make as if it is their own nationals would act, they are in fact the male morti, the poor Dead, where the faithful allow refrisco - a relief from their suffering through prayer. It is generally noted that the skull cult always begins the same way: a worshipper chooses her soul of a dead person "Intercessor on earth made by him in a dream and the will Situation of the skull inside the cemetery reveals " In this way will create a physical adoption of the capuzzella instead. The phenomenon of skull adoption occurs first between the two world wars; the skull is cleaned placed in display cases that range from boxes to fruit boxes or cookie jars from. The skull is treated as care and prayer objects, in turn, promised the believer grace, prayers or even luck.

In the showcases were also messages and "Votivbildchen", a process that very close to the veneration of saints occurs. Oral sources suggest that the skull cult began in 1709 after the body of the Holy Candida, an early Christian martyr from Naples, was buried together with the remains of another anonymous and forgotten "geratenen" found early Christians. While the souls of the heavenly spheres were traditionally considered unreachable, those in purgatory was perceived as relatively close, as purgatory represented the lowest level on the way to paradise and therefore nearer the earthly sphere. By worshiping the anonymous skull a direct contact with death was attempted. "Worship cult that was the foundation of a Community Ethics and solidarity with the most vulnerable in society." On Earth, the needy were the lively correspondence with the Le Anime Pezzentelle, as in the case of the so-called poor St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, who had the task of accompanying funeral processions. Thus, a connection between  the living and the dead were created, by their common traits "Ausgegrenztsein her and her neediness" - the disinherited of this world to which deputies are allowed to ask for help from those in the next life

"The skull, or capuzzelle, are symbolic of individuals who died a cruel death. It is therefore likely that men who dies in the plague most worshiped. In 1685 Father Domenico D'Alessandro writes from Dominican order, nothing more solvent from divine wrath as the failure to assistance to the souls in purgatory. It is therefore necessary, both to souls in purgatory to gain relief and the poor of the earth to give alms, for the the latter are, as already mentioned, the deputy for the dead."
If you want to know more, you can visit the Morbid Anatomy Library to spend some good time with the wonderful book/exhibition catalog Schädelkult: Kopf und Schädel in der Kulturgeschichte des Menschen, recently donated by longtime friend of the library Ryan Matthew Cohn. If you are in and around London, I also invite you to come out on June 10th to see filmmaker Chiara Ambrosio speak on the Neapolitan Cult of the Dead as part of the lecture series I am organizing at The Last Tuesday Society taking place this June and July; more her lecture here, and on the entire series here. You can also read Paul Koudounaris' entire article "Sisterhood of the Skulls" by clicking here, or check out his invaluable (and beautiful) book Empire of Death by clicking here.

All photos are my own; you can see many more images from the Cimitero delle Fontanelle by clicking here or here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Skull Fracture with Hematoma, ca 1700

Citation (unconfirmed) reads: skull fracture with hematoma, ca. 1700

Found here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Skull Mosaic from Pompeii, 30 B.C. — 14 A.D.

Skull Mosaic from Pompeii

Skull Mosaic from Pompeii[1] (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium).30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. 109982. Mosaic Collection Naples of the Naples, National Archaeological Museum (inv. nr. 109982).

The mosaic represents the Wheel of Fortune and reversal of fortune. When turned it can make the rich (symbolized by the purple cloth on the left) poor and the poor (symbolized by the goat right) rich. It also marks precariousness, death lurks in every age, and life is hanging by a thread: if it breaks, it flies from the soul (symbolized by the butterfly), making all equal.

Found on Jahsonic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Afternoon Skull Examination at the Swiss Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln

Afternoon skull examination at the Swiss Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln.

Via the always amazing Wurzletod Tumblr, who found it here. It appears to have originally derived from the Klosterarchiv Einsiedeln, though that's all the information find; caption from Wurzeltod's original post. Click on image to see one larger and lovelier.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Skulls in Design

Check out Forever Skull, an interesting article about the use of skulls in design from the AIGA website. Thanks to Susannah McDonald for passing it on. And my apologies for being a poor blogger of late. In Belgium for the Confronting Mortality conference, which has been absolutely amazing. More on that later when I have regained the energy necessary to say anything intelligent about it.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Damien Hirst In The News

From The Style Section of last Sunday's New York Times:

By William Shaw
Published: June 3, 2007

It’s particularly fitting that the title of Damien Hirst’s new headline-grabbing work came from an exasperated exclamation of his mother’s: “For the love of God, what are you going to do next?”

The answer, pictured here, is a life-size platinum skull set with 8,601 high-quality diamonds. If, as expected, it sells for around $100 million this month, it will become the single most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created. Or the most outrageous piece of bling.

At home in Devon, Hirst insists it’s absolutely the former. “I was very worried for a while, because if it looked like bling — tacky, garish and over the top — we would have failed. But I’m very pleased with the end result. I think it’s ethereal and timeless.”

For Hirst, famous pickler of sharks and bovine bisector, all his art is about death. This piece, which was cast from an 18th-century skull he bought in London, was influenced by Mexican skulls encrusted in turquoise. “I remember thinking it would be great to do a diamond one — but just prohibitively expensive,” he recalls. “Then I started to think — maybe that’s why it is a good thing to do. Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.”

The dazzle of the diamonds might outshine any meaning Hirst attaches to it, and that could be a problem. Its value as jewelry alone is preposterous. Hirst, who financed the piece himself, watched for months as the price of international diamonds rose while the Bond Street gem dealer Bentley & Skinner tried to corner the market for the artist’s benefit. Given the ongoing controversy over blood diamonds from Africa, “For the Love of God” now has the potential to be about death in a more literal way.

“That’s when you stop laughing,” Hirst says. “You might have created something that people might die because of. I guess I felt like Oppenheimer or something. What have I done? Because it’s going to need high security all its life.”

The piece is not exactly the stuff of public art, but Hirst says he hopes that an institution like the British Museum might put it on display for a while before it disappears into a vault, never to be seen again. Whether the piece is seen or not, Hirst will likely go down in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most extravagant artist.

“I hadn’t thought about that!” he suddenly snorts with laughter. “I deal with that with all my work. The markup on paint and canvas is a hell of a lot more than on this diamond piece.”