Court houses, nineteenth-century buildings, square with Archpriest church. And it is the latter to hide inside a small masterpiece of mosaic art and early Christian symbolism of the fifth / sixth century AD.
A wonderful discovery given by the beauty of its mosaics but not only. The site we are talking about is currently located in what was the immediate outskirts of Capua Antica (today’s S. Maria C. V.) one of the most important centers of the Roman Empire, between the road axis that led to the Temple of Jupiter Tifatino and the Appia Antica (the Regina Viarum, a consular road built by Appius Claudius in 312 BC and connecting Rome to Brindisi).
This place was destined since ancient times to a cemetery area and this is demonstrated by the numerous archaeological evidences: even today it is possible to admire modern palaces funerary monuments of the imperial age, such as the so-called “Conocchia” and the “Carceri Vecchie”, (so called because once it was mistakenly believed to be the prisons of gladiators).
Chapel of Santa Matrona
The jewel we are talking about is the Chapel of Santa Matrona, kept inside the Archpriestal Basilica of Santa Croce. Its dating is still discussed by experts, but its erection is between the end of the fifth and the first half of the sixth century judging also by its decorative apparatus. It is precisely these mosaics that represent unicum in Campania, an early Christian mosaic tradition influenced by Byzantine culture that find a valid comparison only with those of Ravenna and Rome.
The small Chapel of Santa Matrona is a funerary sacellum attached to the primitive early Christian basilica dedicated to San Prisco.
It has a square plan with columns with ancient capitals at the corners, while in the apse there is a marble basin, coming from one of the imperial villas of Capua, which today serves as an altar and which tradition has it contained the remains of the Saint.
On the vault and on the lunettes extends a sparkling and rich mosaic decoration in which the colors of cold tones and the abundant gold highlights stand out on the intense blue background. In the lunette above the entrance there is a bust of Christ blessing, with an orientalizing face, with apocalyptic letters: alpha and omega (the beginning and the end).
Who was Santa Matrona
But who was Matron? According to tradition, St. Priscus was the proto-bishop of the city of Capua and a follower of St. Peter, martyred in the city of gladiators. With the passage of time the cult towards this martyr became bigger and bigger and according to legend, will lead a Christian named Matrona, daughter of a nobleman of Lusitania (current Portugal), suffering from chronic pain in the abdomen, in search of the tomb of the saint appeared in a dream. The woman decided to build a basilica on it, for the use of martyrion (church built on the tomb of a martyr or on the place of his martyrdom). Matrona remained there for the rest of her life, honored after death by the Sanprischesi as a Saint and invoked against intestinal epidemics and cholera.
Santa Matrona is the patron saint of St. Prisco and is celebrated in a historic festival that has its roots in pagan tradition. Typical winter agricultural festival, it falls exactly one month after Christmas, when the day is extended by an hour (“A Santa Matrona ‘a jurnata s’allonga ‘e n’ora”). The faithful come on foot even from distant municipalities on pilgrimage to implore the protection of the Saint, especially against abdominal pain and birth pangs.
An endless line from the first light of dawn to enter the sacellum to make a prayer to Santa Matrona and rub a handkerchief on one of the parts of her statue, and then pass it on her abdomen, as tradition dictates, in order to obtain relief from any pain or discomfort.
But the religious festival, which takes place every year on January 25, finds its origins in a rural festival during which everyday handicrafts were produced and sold: ladles (the “cucchiarelle”), stools, sieves, baskets (the “canestrelle”), all handmade and still available today in the stands placed in front of the church.
It is the period destined to the slaughter of the pig, to the transformation of its meat into sausages and so in the square it is possible to buy many typical products and caramelized apples and braided sugar. The so-called “apples of Santa Matrona” and “‘O zuccariello”, a colorful sugar paste woven and closed in the shape of an “O” to the delight of young and old. But why the apple? It is a symbol of rebirth, fertility, abundance, attribute of the goddess Demeter, from which Santa Matrona most likely originates.
– Michele Monaco, Sanctuarium Capuanum, Napoli, 1630, p. 140,
-Luchino Franciosa ed Edgardo Grazia, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in Enciclopedia Italiana, Roma, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1936,
-Francesco Antonio Natale, Considerazioni sopra gli atti di Santa Matrona, Napoli, Mazzola-Vocola, 1775,
-Mario Rotili –L’arte a Napoli dal VI al XIII secolo –S.E.N. 1978