When it comes to eccentric geniuses, the likes of Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla tend to receive far more recognition than another man just as noteworthy for his bizarre, even alchemical tendencies. Raimondo di Sangro, the seventh prince of the southeastern Italian city of San Severo, was a celebrated inventor, freemason, writer and scientist of the eighteenth century. Among his many accomplishments, his most objectively memorable one was overseeing the reconstruction of the Chapel of Sansevero in Naples. In addition to commissioning works from renowned Rococo sculptors Antonio Corradini and Francesco Queirolo, the most significant contribution to the chapel was the Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ), created by Giuseppe Sanmartino.
During Sanmartino’s process, di Sangro continued his scientific experiments, spurring the long-spread rumors that he ordered people to be killed for the sake of his higher learning–his innate understanding of the human body elevated by a limitless arsenal of subjects. One day, as Sanmartino was finishing up in the chapel for the day–he was about three-quarters of the way finished at the time–di Sangro meandered out of his basement laboratory to check on the progress of the sculpture.
With Sanmartino out of the way, di Sangro took the opportunity to size up the product of his patronage. In spite of being a generous man toward the arts (he even innovated a printing press that could churn out colored ink and published the works of controversial authors like Alexander Pope in the face of the great personal risk it was to him to upset the Catholic Church), di Sangro was still a very conceited man. His motives for contributing to the arts were grounded in vanity as much as wanting to nurture the talents of many a Neapolitan.
Even before its completion, di Sangro knew that the Cristo Velato would be the crowning achievement of the chapel, and perhaps the greatest asset to the city of Naples ever incepted. As he circled Jesus, smiling to himself and marveling at his princely prowess, he did a double take when he saw the veil slip off and the eyes of God’s son open in a rage.
“Why have you brought me here?” Jesus screamed with a start. Di Sangro, not one to be easily startled or put off thanks to his devotion to Rosicrucianism, blinked at the martyr.
“Because you have work to do here in Naples,” he assured.
“Naples? Why here? These people are beyond my help.”
“You cannot turn your back on a population more ardent than any other in Italy,” di Sangro insisted.
Jesus balked. “Can I at least get a zeppola or something? I’m starving, just lying here all day like a prisoner.”
Di Sangro took this request into consideration before responding, “I have a better idea. Come down to my lab.”
Jesus, at the mercy of di Sangro’s kindness–like so many others in the region–followed him down the stairs and past the many upright standing human bodies floating in seemingly water-filled tubes. Unfazed by the scene, Jesus tapped nonchalantly on the glass before di Sangro grabbed him by the arm and yanked him toward a pantry-esque room filled with assorted sundries and a wood-burning oven. Di Sangro proceeded to gather together select ingredients and place them on the countertop.
“Let me ask you something, Jesus. Do you want to stay here?”
Jesus folded his arms. “I would rather be anywhere else. I would sooner go to Milan than stay in this plebes’ paradise.”
“You’re supposed to be a champion of plebes.”
“Just because I champion them doesn’t mean I want to be around them.”
Di Sangro tossed a handful of flour onto the surface of his cooking station. “Fair point. Neither do I. But I’m the prince and I have a responsibility to make this city better. You’re part of my plan to make it so. With this in mind, let me propose you something.”
Jesus rolled his eyes. “Propose away.”
“If I make you the best meal you’ve ever had in your life, you must willingly stay here, lying down for all of eternity with a veil over your body for people from all over the world to come here and be moved by your presence.”
“And if I don’t think it’s the best meal?” Jesus proffered.
“You can go to Milan like a traitor.”
Jesus nodded with satisfaction. “Fine. Only because I know all, and I know your cooking skills do not match your alchemy ones.”
“Cooking is alchemy, Jesus. You’ll see.”
With that, di Sangro got to work. From that moment on, it was, to him, as though Jesus wasn’t even in the room. Adding a dash of spice here or a hint of olive oil there, di Sangro was improvising a dish that had never been seen or tasted before. Already, Jesus’ shoulders were beginning to tense at the sight of di Sangro’s confidence. And yet, just by looking at whatever the concoction could be wasn’t enough to convince Jesus that di Sangro would triumph.
After about thirty minutes of preparation, di Sangro put his culinary invention into the oven. Bearing a look of self-satisfaction, he glanced over at Jesus and said, “It will just be five minutes.”
Jesus sighed. “You got a bible I could read?”
“Fuck that, I have something far more interesting.” And, with that, di Sangro handed him a copy of his own work, Lettera Apologetica, which he had yet to release to the public during this particular period. Jesus eyed the only printed version of it with skepticism.
“What is this supposed to teach me?”
“The secrets of masonry, dear friend.”
“Why would I want to learn about those? I walk alone, you know that.”
Di Sangro had not a moment to convince Jesus of the book’s validity, as it was time to remove his compound from the oven. He placed each piece of steaming, homemade bread onto a plate and doused them with a recently introduced ingredient into Neapolitan cuisine that had yet to catch on: tomatoes. Another douse of oil, some basil and a sprinkling of parmigiano-reggiano cheese made the antipasto complete in di Sangro’s eyes. He presented it to Jesus with a glass of Greco di Tufo wine and placed a napkin on his lap for good measure.
“There, tell me it isn’t the sweetest, most delectable thing your lips have ever touched–apart from Maria Maddalena’s pussy.”
Jesus scoffed. “You just had to get that dig in, didn’t you?” But his mild irritation melted away upon tasting the bruschetta, di Sangro’s greatest and least known vicissitude. Based on Jesus’ face alone, di Sangro knew he had won–Jesus was left with no other choice but to uphold his end of the bargain, allowing Sanmartino to complete the delicate and meticulous folds of his veil for eternal wear in the Capella Sansevero.