One of the most beautiful churches in Naples, Italy, conceals a musical score within its unusual stone-clad facade, a new study has concluded.
Famous for its triumphant Neapolitan Baroque interior and lavishly decorated with colored marble and frescoes, the fortress-like church of Gesù Nuovo has long puzzled historians for the mysterious symbols engraved on the diamond-shaped stones protruding from its facade.
"It was believed that these symbols represented the names of caves of a volcanic rock called piperno from which the stones were made," art historian Vincenzo De Pasquale told Naples daily "Il Mattino."
"Instead they are Aramaic letters [ an alphabet adapted from Phoenician]. We have seven letters, and each of them corresponds to a musical note," De Pasquale said.
Read from right to left and bottom to top, the coded engraved notes form a 45-minute concert for stringed instruments.
"It's a Renaissance music score which follows a Gregorian canon," said De Pasquale, who conducted the study with Csar Dors, a Jesuit expert on Aramaic, and Hungarian musicologist Lòrànt Réz.
Rising on the northern side of the beautiful Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, the church was originally a sumptuous palace. It was built in 1470 for Roberto Sanseverino, prince of Salerno.
Confiscated in 1547, it was eventually sold in the 1580s to the Jesuits who turned it into a basilica, retaining the stonework of the original palace facade.
Legend has it that the symbols engraved on the facade's diamond-shaped stones were supposed to herald good luck, channelling positive energy to the interior of the building. But for some reason, the symbols were engraved inversely on the stones, turning good luck to bad.
Indeed, a number of disasters struck the building, including fires, earthquakes and two major collapses of the church's immense dome.
According to De Pasquale, the use of some sort of coded signs to compose a musical score wasn't unusual for that time.
"Another palace of the Sanseverino princes features musical notes engraved in its stones," De Pasquale said.
Named "Enigma," the newly discovered music has been transcribed for organ rather than for plectrum (stringed) instruments and it might be played soon in the Gesu Nuovo church.
Listen to the music
Photos: The Church of Gesù Nuovo in Naples (courtesy of Baku/Wikimedia Commons); The diamond shaped piperno stones on the facade (courtesy of Denghiù/Wikimedia Commons)