Votive Altars: Domestic Signals to Inhabit The Sacred

Claudio Gambardella (1), Valentina Sapio (2)
(1) Department of Architecture and Industrial Design, Universita` degli Studi della Campania, Italy, Italy,
(2) Department of Architecture and Industrial Design, Universita` degli Studi della Campania, Italy, Italy


“Sacred” is an Indo-European word meaning “separate”. The Sacred, therefore, [. . . is] a quality that is inherent in that which has relation and contact with powers that man, not being able to dominate, perceives as superior to himself, and as such attributable to a dimension [. . . ] thought however as ”separate” and ”other” with respect to the human world » Galimberti, (2000). The so-called votive altar, autonomous or attached to a major building often present in the Mediterranean countries, belong to the dimension of the Sacred.

Votive altars - present in an old neighborhood of peasant origin in the suburbs of Naples called Ponticelli - are almost always placed in the interstices between street and courtyard (a self-built residential typology modeled over time by the inhabitants and which often forms the matrix of many neighborhoods popular Neapolitan). They keep and exhibit little sculptures and drawings of Jesus, Madonnas, and Saints of the Catholic religion, mixed with ancestors portraits and photos of relatives dead of the inhabitants, drawing on the ancient domestic cult of the Romans of Lari and Penati; it is certainly not a consciously cultured reference, but a mysterious ”feeling” that is common among primitive and popular cultures and that unravels through the centuries unscathed. Placed at the entrance of the living space, the altar expresses the sign of a difference, of a territorial change, separates ”ours” from ”yours”, welcomes, does not reject, but marks an open and inclusive threshold.

With the paper, we want to study this phenomenon of ”primitive” culture and not regulated by laws, a mix of diffuse sacredness and popular magic, deepening the ”design” aspects of it, building an abacus in which to highlight potential and free references to the visual arts of these ”design works without designers”, and finding out new signs of the Sacred in the City in our time.

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Claudio Gambardella
claudio.gambarde[email protected] (Primary Contact)
Valentina Sapio
Gambardella, C., & Sapio, V. (2019). Votive Altars: Domestic Signals to Inhabit The Sacred. Resourceedings, 2(3), 31–38. https://doi.org/10.21625/resourceedings.v2i3.622

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