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Mysterious Skull With Ears in The Church of Santa Luciella ai Librai

The Church of Santa Luciella ai Librai is one of the historic churches of Naples; it is located near the church of Santi Filippo and Giacomo and behind the church of San Gregorio Armeno. Beneath the Church the famous mysterious Skull with Ears / the Eared Skull is enshrined; since the 17th century Neapolitans came to pray to it hoping that the skull, listening, would take their prayers to the afterworld; as if it were a messenger between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

The Eared Skull (Image credit: Tripadvisor)

The Church of Santa Luciella ai Librai was founded in 1327 by will of Bartholomew of Capua, an advisor to Charles II of Naples, it was identified as the Millers’ Chapel (Cappella dell’Arte dei Molinari) in Alessandro Baratta’s 1628 “Veduta”, which depicted the city.

Interior of The Church of Santa Luciella ai Librai (Image credit: Wikipedia)

It became later a place of worship for the Corporation of Stone Masons, Rock Cutters and Construction Workers, who asked Santa Luciella's (the protector of sight) protection since they often risked their eyesight because of their job, because rock and stone chips would fly into them as they worked. 

The earthquake that devastated Naples heavily damaged the church and it was closed for safety reasons since the 1980s. The church was abandoned and the Skull with Ears became relegated to the ranks of legend, it was reopened to the public on 5 April 2019 thanks to the cultural association Respiriamo Arte.

Underground cemetery where the Eared Skull kept. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

For centuries the Eared Skull in the basement was venerated, a unique example of Naples’ cult of souls of in Purgatory. People would sort of adopt the disarticulated skull of an unknown and pray for its abandoned soul. That soul, once lifted out of Purgatory into Paradise, would then return the favor by extending grace to the person who had helped them get there. The skull with ears held special attraction because its auricular appendages, believed to be ear cartilage that was naturally mummified, could “hear” the prayers and petitions for grace.

According to the History Blog, analysis found that the skull consists of the braincase and nasal bones. It belonged to an adult male who suffered from Porotic hyperostosis, a condition that causes spongy or porous tissue on the cranium, likely the result of chronic malnutrition. He is also missing a sagittal suture. Radiocarbon testing dates the remains to between 1631 and 1668. Naples was struck by a terrible outbreak of plague in 1656, so it’s possible he was one its many thousands of victims.

Surprisingly, the "ears" were not the product of ossified or mummified ear cartilage. Instead they were formed by the squamous portion of the temporal bone at the side of the head were rotated so the curved edges pointed outwards.

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