The Wheel and the Cloister in the Rule of Seclusion: Architectural Elements or Elements of a Communication System?

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When Walter Benjamin describes Naples, he defines its architecture ’porous like this stone’ assimilating the structural characteristic of the tuff to an architectural model, characterized by voids and openings that create an interpenetration between interior and exterior. These continuous breakthroughs also characterize the life of Neapolitans who are used to living the street as part of social life. Right in the historical centre, where these dynamics are deeply present, there are some cloistered convents that by definition are closed to the city. This paper investigates sacred architecture not as a celebrative space, but as a place of living for religious communities. The focus is on the monasteries: peculiar structures deeply marked in the architecture by the need for confidentiality and therefore to create filters, physical and visual, with the rest of the urban area. The convents of Naples, through the wheels (intended for the passage of offerings) and through the cloisters, establish a relationship with the city that over the centuries has changed with a progressive opening to the inhabitants who are now allowed to get closer to these realities. The research finally deepens the architecture of the convent of Santa Maria in Gerusalemme, commonly known as the monastery of ‘the Thirty-three’, adjacent to the historical hospital of the Incurabili with which it shares its origins since both were founded by the Venerable Maria Lorenza Longo. Despite the closure and the high fence wall, the presence of the monastery is very strong: it is a reference and a listening point, where the ancient wooden wheel still represents a way of communication between the residents of the district and the nuns. In the same way, the cloister and the refectory have transformed their function over the centuries, becoming spaces for public events, while remaining in line with the rules of the Order.

The study of the structure and dynamics of communication from/to the convent proposes a reflection on the transformations of religious architecture in the urban context and on the changes in language and meaning of the architectural elements characterizing the monastery.


De Seta, C. (1973). Storia della città di Napoli: Dalle origini al Settecento. Editore Laterza, Roma.

Margiotta, M.L. (2000). Il giardino sacro: Chiostri e giardini della Campania. Editore Electa, Napoli.

Valerio, A. (2007). I luoghi della memoria. Istituti religiosi femminili a Napoli dal IV al XVI secolo. Voyage pittoresque, Napoli.

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