The love of a mother is infinite, just like the sea, as the poem “a mamma” by Salvatore Di Giacomo recites: “Pecché ll’ammore ‘e mamma è na ricchezza, è comme ‘o mare can nun fernesce maje”.
The figure of the mother is very dear not only to the city of Naples, but also to the whole Campania; the meaning of mother in this case, is celebrated not only as an “earthly” role, but also “divine”, as in the case of the mother of Jesus.
To define our moms, we can think of so many adjectives, but there is one that can best describe them: tireless and combative.
They take care of us, they worry about us, but above all they give us so much love. We’d like to remember a Neapolitan mother for everyone, Filomena Marturano By Vittorio De Sica.
On the occasion of Mother’s Day we decided to tell you how the theme of motherhood, is very dear to the Neapolitans, and we’ll retrace together all the symbolic places of motherhood.
The miracle chair: the intercession of Santa Maria Francesca
Another place symbolizing the importance of motherhood in Naples is the “chair of Santa Maria Francesca“.
The desire for motherhood is so strong that women with infertility issues rely on the patroness Saint of Naples.
Countless faithful are used to go to the Church of Santa Maria Francesca, in Vico Tre Re a Toledo, at the beginning of the Quartieri Spagnoli to sit on “the fertility chair“( or “miracle chair”), on which the Saint used to sit to rest from the pain of the Passion, that she felt especially on Fridays of Lent.
In the small side chapel, there are stairs leading to the room where “the fertility chair” is located.
The first thing one notices, upon entering, is the huge amount of blue and pink ribbons, often with attached photos of newborn babies. They are the sign of gratitude of many women who, after visiting the church, have received this “miracle“.
Many mothers even call their daughters “Maria Francesca“, or in case of sons “Francesco“, in honor of the Saint.
Once they sit on “the fertility chair”, after having confided to the nun their requests, they pray, thus trusting in the power of Santa Maria Francesca, making a huge act of faith.
Naples and the devotion to Saint Mary: the Marian cult
When talking about the theme of motherhood, it is impossible not to think about the several celebrations dedicated to the figure of Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, which take place in different places in Campania.
The Marian cult began to spread from the fifteenth century AD, but already since the development of Christianity the Mother of the Lord was venerated, especially for the need of the most humble part of the society to have a female figure to honor.
Thanks to the Marian cult, great Marian centers were founded, such as Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, so important for the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
In Campania the whole month of May is dedicated to the cult of Saint Mary. During this month rites, homilies, masses, rosaries, Marian litanies or even small sacrifices are celebrated.
Saint Mary is celebrated on September 12th, but in Campania there are other celebrations dedicated to the mother of Jesus.
For example, on July 16th is celebrated Santa Maria del Carmine,with fireworks, processions and floral decorations, and on September 8th Santa Maria di Piedigrotta.
From this recurrence, it is celebrated the renowned “Festa di Piedigrotta“.
In 1835, this festival was an occasion to let the world know the songs of Naples, in fact that year, the song “te voglio bene assaje” became the Neapolitan song par excellence.
Unfortunately, since about 1960, this festival began its decline, because of the authorities who neglected it, and only in 2007 it was hold a new edition of this festival, with dances, floats, fireworks and illuminations.
Moreover, towards the end of the month of May, the faithful, leaving from Naples, precisely from the Basilica Santa Maria del Carmine Maggiore, near Piazza Mercato, go on pilgrimage, to reach the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii.
Although it starts from Naples, there are intermediate stops in Portici, Ercolano, Torre del Greco and Torre Annunziata, to allow other faithful to join the journey.
During the pilgrimage, which is covered on foot, the faithful recite the Rosary, and often arouse the interest of the residents, who throw rose petals as they pass.
The mothers of the children of the Madonna
Mothers who couldn’t raise their children entrusted them to churches or complexes in order to allow them to live a better life.
In Naples, at the monumental complex of SS. Annunziata, children were entrusted anonymously to the “Wheel of the Exposed”(Ruota degli Esposti), also known as the “Wheel of the Annunziata”.
This complex was not an orphanage, but rather a foundling hospital, that is, an institution that took children in, with the purpose of finding them a decent accommodation.
The Wheel, placed on a pivot, allows the child to be left from the outside, with a guarantee of anonymity, although often the mothers left a medal, an object, a symbol that in some way could refer to them, with the hope of a future reunion, which unfortunately happened only in rare cases.
When the child was placed inside the Wheel, the system was made to ring a bell, in order to alert the “Rotara”, a figure ready to receive the arrival of a new child.
As soon as they entered the complex, the babies became “children of the Madonna”, precisely because, by passing through the Wheel and entering the complex, it was as if they had acquired the protection of the Virgin Mary, who accepted them without prejudice to their origins.
The surname they had was the same for everyone: Esposito. It was considered so discriminatory that it was banned, with the Royal Decree N.985 of June 3, 1811, by Joachim Murat, who proposed, as alternative, to give them a surname that described one of their characteristics, without emphasizing the infamous roots of those people who bore this surname.
Once the child was admitted, the next step was Marking: the presence of the child was noted on an admission card, on which were written time and day of the entry of the newborn, features, age, and also any special feature. In 1933, a medical record also began to be made to note health conditions as well.
From 1875, however, the Wheel was no longer used, due to the economic problems involved in managing such a large number of abandoned children, which resulted in poor living conditions in the foundling hospital.
When it was closed, the children were taken directly to the SS. Annunziata complex.
How the Sons of the Virgin were adopted
After the initial paperwork had been done, the next day the child was given in foster care, or, if he or she was sick, was treated in the hospital itself and then passed on to adoption.
Very young children were given to nannies to raise, who could feed them with their milk.
Nannies normally lived in the countryside or in a rural area, in the east of Naples, in order to raise children in a healthy way.
Being a nanny was a real job, and as a matter of fact, women were paid to do it. The nannies who took in foster children, either had lost one, or had a lot of milk and therefore took care of the child.
After weaning, the baby would be brought back to the SS. Annunziata complex, looking for a new family to foster, or often the family that had been taking care of him since he was a baby, would adopt him.
Many families also decided to take care of a child simply for the desire and joy of raising one. Moreover, if the adopted child was male, he could potentially become workforce. For girls, however, the situation was more difficult, because there was the need to make them a dowry and to be able to marry them.
For children who returned to the SS. Annunziata complex, a new foster family was immediately sought.
Often the adopting families did not change the surname of the child, since they did not formally adopt them.
In addition, many years ago there was a difference between fostering and adoption. The former, abolished in 1983, included a change of surname, but not inheritance, unless a will was made in which the family explicitly specified what the adoptee should inherit.
So what are you waiting for to visit all the places that tell stories and legends dedicated to mothers?