When I found out that I was going to be going to Sorrento, Italy, I was thrilled. I was finally able to explore a region of the world that had interested me so much ever since I was a little kid. Now, I would be able to spend 4 months there.
Being an anthropology major, I have been fascinated with different cultures’ ways of doing certain rituals, but in particular I have been fascinated with mortuary practices of the various people in the world. I find it so fascinating how different cultures respect their dead. For my research, I wanted to study how different Italians from the Renaissance period treated their dead, specifically in the cities of Naples, Florence, and Venice.
In Naples, I was able to visit many catacombs used by the common people of the renaissance period. The dead were put into catacombs for a variety of reasons, some could be that it was because they were too poor to afford their own graves in the outer portions of the surrounding area, other reasons were because they wanted to be closer to the churches in the center of the city. I specifically visited the Catacombs of San Gennaro and the Fontanelle cemetery caves. These sites were fascinating as they provided insight into the preparation of buried individuals. San Gennaro was particularly eerie because of the skeletons painted on the walls with holes where their skulls would be.
The next stop on my journey was the city of Florence, a city known for its vast wealth during the renaissance and was thus an important religious center. Florence had many relics of saints and some scientists (including the pinky of Galileo!), specifically in the Church of San Marco, and in the Crypt of Santa Reparata. These were pieces of saints’ bodies chopped off and put into holy boxes to be revered by the masses. Specifically, in the Church of San Marco, there was the entire body of St. Antoninus. Florence proved to be much different than Naples because of its gorgeous architecture that had survived the second world war. It was also much wealthier than Naples was at the time, providing much more of an insight into the burials of the rich and of the clergy.
My final stop on my journey was in Venice. Venice was a wealthy trading city during the renaissance, oftentimes being the city linking the worlds of the East and West together. Venice was a difficult city to navigate with many of the roads leading directly into the water. What made Venice interesting was that because it was floating, you could not bury bodies in a traditional way or else it would infect the water supply. Thus, only the wealthiest could afford individual burials, and the rest were buried in an island called San Michele. I was not able to visit San Michele, but I saw the crypt of San Zaccaria, the Tomb of Antonio Canova, and the Crypt of San Marco, where only the wealthiest of all renaissance Italy could be buried.
This research provided me with context to what I had been learning in the classroom. It has furthered my interest in how cultures buried their dead, and is definitely something that I would love to continue in the future.