After a complete makeover in 2008, this church is eminently visitable, the full explanations of its paintings and sculptures on display worthy of a good museum. The Formiello in the name refers to the formali, the nearby underground aqueduct, which, history relates, the Aragonese also used to capture the town from beneath. The church facade in dark piperno stone was designed for the Dominicans by the Tuscan architect Romolo Balsimelli, a student of Brunelleschi.
The side chapels are as interesting for their relics as for their art. In the Orsini Chapel, on the left, are the elaborately framed remains of St. Helodorus and other Dominican saints, while the fourth chapel displays some 20 skulls of the martyrs of Otranto, brought to Naples by King Alfonso in 1490. The event referred to is the Ottoman sack of Otranto in 1480, when 813 Christians were executed for refusing to renounce their faith. (More martyrs' skulls occupy a much larger cabinet in Otranto's cathedral.)
Depicted in the rather surrealistic altar painting is the headless Antonio Primaldo, whose body, through the strength of faith, stands upright to confound his Ottoman executioner.
In the fifth chapel a cycle of paintings by Giacomo del Po depicts the life and afterlife of St. Catherine, while in the vault Luigi Garzi depicts the same saint in glory. Up in the faded dome painted by Paolo di Mattei, Catherine, together with the Madonna, implores the Trinity to watch over the city. Below are the tombs of the Spinelli family, feudal loyalty to the Aragonese cause being rewarded by something of a family Pantheon. The sumptuous altar is by Lorenzo Fontana.
Via Carbonara, Naples, Campania, 80139, Italy