Il Duomo is one of the primary destinations for any Naples visitor. The patron saint of the city, San Gennaro, is buried here and his blood is kept in an ampoule in a side niche. But, if you are in search of an odious woman, Il Duomo also pays tribute to Saint Restituta.
Not much is known about her life, except that she was born in North Africa near Carthage and was killed during Emperor Diocletian‘s Christian persecutions. Although some believe that San Gaudioso brought her remains to Naples, the colorful legends surrounding Restituta put her in the odious category.
In 304, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a large number of Christians continued to gather in the city of Abitina to celebrate the Eucharist. Fifty of them, including Restituta, were caught, arrested, and dragged in chains to Carthage. There, they were sentenced to death due to her rebellion against paganism.
Legend has it that Saint Restituta was tortured and then placed in a blazing boat, but her body was left unharmed by the fire. Her boat landed on the shores of Ischia where a Christian woman named Lucina walked along the beach and found the incorrupt body of Restituta, who was now dead. Still today the Festival of Restituta is celebrated on the island of Ischia every May 16th to 18th and a church in her name also exists there.
At the Duomo an opulent nave is dedicated to the saint. Tucked away beyond it, the Duomo itself was built above the remnants of a paleo-Christian basilica from the 500’s A.D. This older basilica was dedicated to Santa Restituta. Today, you pay an extra fee to get into this one-room vestige where a bulbous dome sparkles with Byzantine tiles and a fresco of Saint Restituta remains intact against the wall.
A stereotype of women in Naples seems to be that they are expected to be mothers who raise children, remain mostly inside the home, and stay obedient to their husbands. But the large number of female images within the Catholic Churches throughout the city point to another aspect of women’s roles in Neapolitan history. In fact, Naples has over fifty official patron saints, at least twelve of whom are women. Saint Restituta presents a marvelous example of an African woman who stood up for her beliefs and made a strong political statement for her time. Consequently, she was brutally killed, only to be admired centuries later for her courage.
Places To See: Visit the Duomo in downtown Naples. You also can take a ferry from either Pozzuoli, the downtown Naples port of Molo Beverello or the Calata Porta di Massa port to the island of Ischia.