Raimondo di Sangro Prince of Sansevero

He was a scientist and alchemist and was considered esoteric and magician, he made many inventions and anatomical studies.

Raimondo di Sangro Prince of Sansevero was born in Torremaggiore at 30th January 1710, he belonged to one of the noblest families of Europe, Grandee of Spain, with a dozen fiefdoms, directly he descended from Charlemagne from his father’s side.

His father was Antonio di Sangro Duke of Torremaggiore, his mother was Cecilia Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona died that Raimondo was still a child; the statue of Pudicizia, which is in the Sansevero Chapel, is dedicated to her.

His father Antonio, became a widower, loved a girl of Sansevero but as the father of this was opposed, the prince did kill him. He, pursued by justice, even for the charges against him the mayor of Sansevero presented, took refuge at the court of Vienna.

After many years he managed to exonerate himself of the crime and returned to Sansevero where he killed his accuser, the mayor of Sansevero, for revenge. His position was untenable after this second murder and therefore, to save himself, he entered the convent in Rome taking the vows. He had to give up his titles and his property that passed to the young son Raimondo.

Raimondo was entrusted to grandparents who did study him at Rome with the Jesuits. At age 20 years he, having made good profit of the studies, moved to Naples where his family had a palace overlooking the church of San Domenico Maggiore, the same palace where in 1590 the murder took place of two Young, the wife of Prince Carlo Gesualdo, Maria d’Avalos and her lover Fabrizio Carafa, surprised by the prince in his bed.

In 1730 he married a cousin by proxy, who lived in Flanders, Carlotta Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona of age 14 years. The girl came to Naples and joined with Raimondo only in 1736 because of the difficulty of traveling from Flanders ; Carlotta had five children from the marriage with Raimondo.

Multifaceted and multilingual, he did many things in his life, he was colonel of the regiment “Capitanata” and participated in the battle of Velletri, he enrolled at the Academy of “Crusca” after he was briefly a member of the academy of the “Rosa-Croce”.

The prince organized a workshop in the basement of his palace where he did his experiments and where invented many different things. Also he planted a printing house, always in the basement of the building, where was printing books of various topics.

He wrote and printed a lot of books dedicated to the art of war and fortifications, translated Masonic-esoteric books, for which he was accused by the Jesuits of disbelief, but he denied these books had come from his press. He boasted to be able to print pages in multiple colors in a single pass printing.

The prince also had a passion for beautiful singing, it was said that he was seeking children with the best voices in the choirs of the churches to make them castrated singers, some became famous performing in major opera houses.

The Sansevero building had a chapel, known as the Pietatella, which was detached from the building but united in this through one small footbridge. In 1744 Raimondo di Sangro began the renovation of the chapel. He settled same extraordinary statues in this place with the help of the best sculptors of the time.

The statue, stands at the center of the nave, by the sculptor Giuseppe Sammartino, is named “Cristo Velato”. The marble body of Christ laid is superimposed on a veil that reveals dramatically all its features, but also the veil is marble.

A statue representing the Pudicizia (Antonio Corradini made) is to the left of the altar, in fact it represented the mother of Prince partially covered by a veil, which is of marble like that of Christ, but it allows to see naked forms of the body.

To the right of the altar, The statue of his father Antonio is represented in the features of Disillusion (sculptor Francesco Queirolo) who tries to escape from a rope net that completely surrounds him, the net is made with marble. There is speculation that Raimondo di Sangro had invented a putty that smeared the tissues change in marble.

In a room to the right of the nave, where is accessed with a staircase, the aforementioned anatomical machines are situated. These are two skeletons, of a man and a woman pregnant with a visible fetus of the child, on which the vascular system is preserved intact, it also includes capillaries. The legend tells that they are two servants of the prince; they was injected a substance that changed their arteries and veins in metal killing them instantly.

Meanwhile the prince joined himself to the Masons who founded a lodge in Naples in 1750. In a short time he became Grand Master. The lodge counted more than a thousand members with its prestige and curiosity that Freemasonry aroused in nobles. All this alarmed the “Santo Uffizio” which was preparing to make outlaws Freemasonry.

Raimondo di Sangro, knew in advance what was going to happen, went to his protector King Carlo III confessing his membership of the lodge and providing the list of members to the same. When the “Santo Uffizio” issued the Bull of condemnation of Freemasonry, no action was taken against him, and the king was limited to a warning to other members, Carlo III can not punish all the noble class of Naples. This betrayal made him unpopular with the Masons around the world.

He devoted himself to his inventions and experiments for the rest of his life. The prince described in detail his inventions in his book. He invented the “folding stage”, through mechanisms that closed the stage like a book, a breech-loading rifle, an iron cannon, a maritime carriage able to navigate, the written embossed on the stone, which anticipated the lithographic process of  some centuries, and numerous other gadgets besides anatomical machines, marble alchemy and the multi-color printing.

Carlo III, became king of Spain, appointed his son Ferdinando IV to replace him as king of Naples; Prime Minister Tanucci who disliked Raimondo di Sangro for his activities and his ideas, failed protection of Carlo III, arrested him with an excuse, but the prince was released shortly after the intercession of his wife and other Neapolitan nobles.

He married his eldest son Vincenzo with the rich princess Gaetana Mirelli to repay his many debts, a group of his vassals in military clothes intervened to the bridal party. Tanucci accused the prince of armed invasion and arrested him for this reason, He was released shortly after for the inconsistency of the accusation.

The Prince continued his studies until his death, who turned 22nd March 1771 for poisoning, perhaps an involuntary inhalation of evil gases during his experiment. He was buried in the chapel of Sansevero. His family members burned all the documents of the prince to prevent his studies falling into the hands of the authorities, also they tore down the footbridge between the palace and the chapel, in which an altar Masonic was built. The remains of the prince, for reasons we do not know, are no longer present in the sarcophagus.

Years later Giuseppe Balsamo, known as Cagliostro, questioned by the Inquisition on his activities as a magician and alchemist, he said he had been taught all his knowledge of alchemy by his teacher, a prince of Naples, whose name was never made public by the Vatican authorities. But it is easy to realize that this was just the Prince of Sansevero, Cagliostro was sentenced to life imprisonment in the tower of San Leo.

Today the Sansevero chapel, located a few steps from Piazza San Domenico Maggiore (Naples), houses a museum which displays all the works gathered by Raimondo di Sangro, including the “Cristo Velato” and anatomical machines.