Madonna delle Anime
The Madonna of Souls in the sacristy of the church of Santa Maria delle anime del Purgatorio (Our Lady of the souls in Purgatory) in Naples, Italy.
The church was built in the 17th century and consists of an upper and lower space. The latter is meant to create an impression of purgatory for those still alive. The space became the focal point of a popular local cult. Many Neapolitans would adopt one of the skulls kept in the lower church, which had previously been a burial ground. The adopter would pray for the release of the deceased person’s soul from purgatory. Then, once the soul arrived in heaven, they were expected to pray for the adopter’s soul in return.
The cult of the souls of purgatory, even though official forbidden by a Church decree in 1969, is still very much alive in Naples. Votive candles and offerings are still left by devotees in the underground purgatorial church.
A south German altar depicting two significant moments from Mary’s life: the annunciation and the crucifixion.
The altar reminds the onlooker of Mary’s role in the redemption story and the relief she brings to the souls in purgatory, as seen in the lower part of the central panel.