The worshipping of the souls of the Purgatory was one of the most important rituals of the counter-reformed church and the whole decorative apparatus of the Complex was conceived to remember, to visitors and faithfuls, that the souls of dead people were waiting for a prayer to be freed from the flames of the Purgatory and to be accepted in Heaven.
The façade, the decoration of the church and of the Sacristy, the liturgical paraments recall the theme of the Purgatory; the whole iconographic project was dedicated to the theme of death by 1600s works of art: the Saint Joseph Transit (1650-51) by Andrea Vaccaro, located in the third left chapel; the Death of Saint Alessio (1661), one of the first masterpieces by Luca Giordano, in the third right chapel.
Right above the main altar is located the beautiful painting by Massimo Stanzione The Madonna of the Purgatory Souls (1638-1642). Right below Stanzione’s painting there was the marble Winged Skull by Dioniso Lazzari, today located behind the altar.
Above the triumph arch there is the Sant’Anna offers the Virgin to the Lord (1670) by Giacomo Farelli and, in the first left chapel, San Michele who defeats the Devil (1650) by Girolamo De Magistro.
Since its foundation the Congregation of the Purgatorio Ad Arco was hosted by other institution of the city, since it did not have its own church.
The construction of the complex was due to a donation of 4000 ducats by Piero Antonio Mastilli, Neapolitan knight and lawyer for the Vice-kingdom administration, precisely with the purpose of building a headquarter for the Congregation.
In 1616 the architect Giovanni Cola di Franco was commissioned by the Congregation to build the church in the narrow Via dei Tribunali street, in a place where there was an arch that does not exist anymore.
Several workshops, with their underground deposits, were bought in order to build the upper church and the lower church, where it was also created a burial area for the tombs of the members of the Congregation.
Probably, Cola di Franco worked in the Church until 1619, when he was replaced by Giovan Giacomo di Conforto, one of the most famous architects of the vice-kingdom and a very influent personality for the development of the counter-reformed architecture.
In fact, the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio Ad Arco was build respecting the indications of the Trento Council.
The church has one aisle with side chapels and a dome located between the aisle and the altar area.
However, the great innovation was the lower space, conceived not simply as an underground space, but as a real church were celebrations could be organized.
Particularly, the lower church was conceived to represent, with its austerity and simplicity, the underground world that hosts the souls to be saved only through prayers and celebrations.
The church was consecrated on November 2nd 1638, but the works continued throughout the XVII century and, thanks to another donation by the Mastrilli family (particularly by Giulio Mastrilli, who died in 1652), it was possible to decorate the façade and the altar area.
At the beginning of the 1700s, the works on the façade continued and the side chapels were decorated by Nicola Tammaro and Pietro Ghetti.
In the 1800s, works were carried out only in the sacristy that was enriched by the nut wood wardrobes.
After the 1980 earthquake the church was highly restored and today it is kept in a very good state of preservation.