Church of the Purgatorio


Despite having been completed in 1747, the Chiesa del Purgatorio Nuovo has a late Baroque façade, by Giuseppe Fatone, from Andria.  It was built with funds from the Confraternity for the Poor Souls in Purgatory and donations from the citizens of Matera themselves, who also willingly played their part in the actual building of the church.  Its recurring and only theme is Death, which was very fashionable at the time and which was considered not as an end, but as the beginning of a better life.  The line of the elevation is original in that it curves, rather like a Bishop’s mitre, and is divided into two parts by a string course and articulated by four pilasters supporting acroteria and phytomorphic  volutes.  In the upper part, there is a Madonna and Child in the niche and carved decorations of angels, garlands of flowers and fruit and rather unusual flames enveloping repentant souls.  Meanwhile in the lower part, which is more detailed, the Archangel Michael is in the right niche and the Archangel Raphael in the left.  The most unusual and interesting feature is the large doorway carved with volutes, with damned soul flanked by two skeletons on the architrave.  The wooden door is divided into 36 panels, each devoted compulsively to the theme of death, with skulls and crossbones sometimes crowned with headgear belonging to rulers and prelates, intended to emphasise the fact that all men are equal after death.


The interior differs from that of the other city churches in that it is on a central plan and surmounted by a high cupola supported by four pillars with paired columns, divided into eight sections featuring the Evangelists: St. Mark, St. Luke, St. Matthew, St. John and the Fathers of the Church, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St Gregory the Great, whose liturgical teachings the church had to follow.  The eight canvasses painted by Francesco Oliva in 1765 that hang inside the church depict scenes from the Passion of Christ.  There are three altars.  On the main altar, which contains the reliquaries of SS. John of Matera, Prosper and Callisto, is a C18th painting of St. Gaetano Interceding with the Virgin Mary for the Souls in Purgatory by Vito Antonio Conversi.  In the apsidal vault are the inevitable patron saints of the city, Maria Santissima della Bruna and St. Eustachius.  There are more works by Conversi on the side altars: The Death of St. Joseph, St. Nicholas of Tolentino, The Virgin Mary and the Souls in Purgatory.  The Castelli organ, dated 1755, is worthy of note, as is the wooden pulpit that was in continuous use until the 1970s.