Chiesa del Purgatorio – Matera, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Chiesa del Purgatorio

Skulls and skeletons are omnipresent in this church dedicated to souls trapped in purgatory. 


Located just outside the iconic Sassi di Matera, this 18th-century baroque church is curiously adorned with numerous skulls, skeletons, and other death-related decor.

The Chiesa del Purgatorio (Church of Purgatory) was built between 1725 and 1747. It, like other “purgatory churches,” was constructed as a place for people to pray for the souls trapped in limbo between heaven and hell.

The upper part of the facade shows angels, fruit baskets, and penitents wrapped in flames. On the lower part, the wooden door is divided into 36 squares. It’s decorated with four skulls of nobles and clergymen and just under these, four skulls representing common people, with four more on the side of the entrance.

Some bones also adorn the other squares of the door. Above the wooden door, on the tympanum, two skeletons, one with a scythe and one with an hourglass, stand next to an emblem showing a skull and a person between flames. The side doors also feature skulls above them.

Inside the church, there are paintings representing the souls stuck in purgatory and various saints. Many other small decorations with skulls and skeletons can also be found in various places. A pipe organ dating back to 1755 is above the entrance on the inside.

Know Before You Go

Entrance to the church is free.

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