The Sacred Wheel of Foundlings in Naples

The Sacred Wheel of Foundlings in Naples

Naples is a city steeped in history, culture, and unique traditions, among which stands out the Sacred Wheel of Foundlings, a symbol that tells an important part of the city’s social history.

Origins and History The Sacred Wheel, or “Wheel of Foundlings,” was a device used in the past for the anonymous abandonment of infants at religious institutions. This practice was common throughout the Western world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and Naples was no exception.

In the fifteenth century, as the number of abandoned children increased due to various reasons such as poverty or social shame, religious institutions had to find a way to ensure them a dignified life. The Sacred Wheel thus became an option for leaving babies anonymously, without their parents being identified.

Functioning and Meaning The Sacred Wheel was usually placed at the entrance of religious institutions, such as convents or hospitals, so that anyone wishing to abandon a baby could do so discreetly. The operation was simple: a woman could place the baby inside the wheel and rotate it, then inside the convent or hospital, a bell would alert the monks or nuns of the presence of a new guest. This system ensured anonymity for the parents and offered abandoned children a chance at life.

The symbolism of the Sacred Wheel is deep and complex. On one hand, it represents the desperate search for a solution to save the lives of defenseless children, while on the other hand, it reflects the harshness of the social conditions of the time. It is also a symbol of compassion and care, as the religious institutions that accepted abandoned children committed to taking care of them and ensuring them a better future.

The Role of the Church and Social Evolution Although the practice of the Sacred Wheel has been criticized for the lack of a real solution to the social problems that led to the abandonment of babies, it is important to consider the historical and social context in which it developed. The Catholic Church, while being an integral part of this system, also played a crucial role in providing assistance and protection to abandoned children, influencing the evolution of social policies in the city of Naples and beyond.

Over the centuries, with the evolution of social institutions and the adoption of new laws to protect minors, the practice of the Sacred Wheel has gradually been abandoned. However, its memory remains alive in the collective memory of the city, testifying to an important chapter in its social history.

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