Drain Away

by Annie
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Puozza scula’… possibly, at the same time, one of the most colorful and most disturbing Neapolitan insults that one can wish upon another person. It literally means, “May you drain away.”

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The saying derives from the macabre burial practices of the seventeenth century Dominicans who painted brightly colored frescoes beside the crypts of wealthy patrons – and used their skulls for decoration.

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A tour of the San Gaudioso catacombs, located beneath the modern Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanita’, takes the visitor past these crypts and into rooms lined with tufo stone niches. Poorer people were laid to rest here in a fetal position, believed to help bring them back to the Father. The monks also punctured holes into the stomach of the deceased so the acids from the body ran down (or drained away) to the bottom of the niche, helping the corpse decompose more quickly. In this way, the same niche could be used for many family members.

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