The great chapel of the right transept, commonly called the Chapel of Souls, offers ideas for a rich consideration on the theme of death and, above all, on the triumph of life over death.
First, the large crucifix appears, above which there is a scroll with the following inscription: “Salus populi ego sum” (I am the salvation of the people). This is the key to understanding all the elements present in the chapel: Jesus died on the cross for us, He is the salvation, the life for humanity.
Standing out on the side walls two large frescoes by L. Quarenghi: on the left, the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain (cf. Lk. 7: 11-17) and to the right the burial of Moses. The latter, in fact, describes the sad gesture of the burial of a body, but points out that Moses, as if he were asleep, is brought into Heaven by a rich group of angels. A glorious theme and much more serene, even joyful than the issue of the death and burial of the dead. This is the Christian perspective towards the death.
Observing the monumental seventeenth-century marble altar, said altar of the dead, by A. Luciani, it is possible to see, at the base, some human skeletons (allegory of death), made with extreme care and anatomical detail.
It is ‘amazing how they are arranged in plastic and very dynamic positions (some have their hands clasped in prayer, two others, on either side of the title block, are almost dance), almost a choreography intended to mean that the reality of bodily death (skeletons) does not take away the spiritual life of man, who continues to live, to pray and, one might say, to “dance” in view of the joyful encounter with Christ. There is dynamism in this scene, which is about death but mainly life.
In support of this view of life after bodily death, it is precisely the biblical quotation placed at the centre of the frontal, in a medallion with alongside two plastically posed skeletons. Is the quote of a passage from the second book of Maccabees which is the biblical foundation of the prayers for the dead. So reads the text: Sancta et salutaris cogitatio est pro defunti exorare ut a peccatis salvantur (It is a holy thing and the source of salvation to pray for the dead that their sins may be forgiven. 2 Macc. 12, 45).
This biblical and theological theme finds its doctrinal development in the subject of Purgatory, according to the doctrine of the Church, it is the temporary status in which the souls of those who need of a period purification to enter definitively into the fullness of the glory of heaven, lived.
Theme which is taken also from the marble relief of “souls in Purgatory” placed in the altar-piece curved tympanum; the tympanum is interrupt by a broad halo with a crown of angels around, the centre of which is the symbol of the Holy Trinity.
On the top of tympanum stand two large statues: on the left the Faith (with the cup), and on the right Hope (with anchor): the two theological virtues that sustain the journey of the believer. Faith in Christ, who gave his blood for us (the cup) and hope, the expectation of the fulfilment of the saving promises of God.
Even in this wonderful chapel of souls, as throughout the Cathedral, the architectural structures invite the faithful to look upwards: starting from the bottom, that is, the experience of bodily death, to rise, through Jesus Christ, to the glory of Trinity in Heaven in which all the sons of God are expected.
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