Yearly on the first weekend of May (on Saturday) and on the 19th September amazement spreads through Naples Cathedral. There one can marvel at how the blood of the beheaded San Gennaro liquefies in its ampoule.Hat Tip: Da Mihi Animas
The day of the blood miracle is an important feast for Naples and the people celebrate it accordingly. The Cathedral is surrounded by stalls selling sweets, cobs and all kinds of curiosities and kitsch.
In advance a procession takes place, whereby holy figures are carried through Spaccanapoli. The silver bust of San Gennaro leads the procession, followed by holy Teresa, Lucia, Patricia and many more. The Neapolitans like to bet on the sequence of these holy statues, while applauding their favourite saint in the hope that these would get a place at front at the following procession.
At the subsequent service a centuries-old ritual takes place: the Saint’s silver bust is positioned next to the altar and the ampoule with blood is shown to the faithful by the "abate del tesoro“ and then slowly turned. Shortly after this, traditional prayers of the "parenti di San Gennaro“ (relatives of San Gennaro, a group of faithful women, sitting in the front row) are said.
These prayers heighten ecstatically until the blood liquifies. The wild rejoicing of the faithful is crowned by the sound of the cathedral’s bells ringing. The crowd starts pushing its way through to kiss the ampoule of blood. This overcrowded service is attended by spiritual authorities, political dignitaries and hundreds of anticipating believers.
According to the people this blood miracle takes place, when no disaster is expected in the near future. For most of the natives of Naples the service has an oracle character. The absence of the miracle augurs tragedy for Naples and its surroundings. For instance in 1980 before the harsh earthquake took its toll on 2000 lives, the blood didn’t liquify.
The people of Naples rather have a personal than religious relationship with San Gennaro. They present him their wishes with love and expect them to be fulfilled.
The story of the blood miracle.
Saint Gennaro was the bishop of Benevento and was beheaded during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian in 305. According to the legend a woman collected and kept some of the martyr’s blood in an ampoule, after he died. In 313 the miracle occurred for the first time, after the Saint’s skeleton and the ampoule with blood were brought to Naples. The skeleton was placed to rest in the catacomb together with the ampoule. In the 9th century the remains and blood of S. Gennaro were in a small chapel, next to the church, where in the 14th century the cathedral was built.
There are numerous records on the liquefaction of the blood, dating from times before 1649 when they officially started recording this miracle. One of the descriptions of the procession dates from the year 1389. According to writings in 1528 the blood miracle didn’t take place. This was the year the pest broke out and Naples didn’t receive its raise from France.
There are hundreds of records of the liquefaction dating from the 16th Century.
Memorial of St. Januarius, bishop & martyr:
Little is known about St. Januarius. He was Bishop of Benevento in Campania. He died near Naples, about the year 305, martyred under the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. Around the year 400 the relics of St. Januarius were moved to Naples, which honors Januarius as a patron saint. He supposedly protected Naples from a threatened eruption of the volcano Mt. Vesuvius.
The "miracle of Januarius" has world-wide fame. At least three times a year—on his feast day, December 16 and the first Sunday of May—the sealed vial with congealed blood of the saint liquifies, froths and bubbles up. This miraculous event has occurred every year, with rare exceptions. Popular tradition holds that the liquefaction is a sign that the year will be preserved from disasters. (In 1939, the beginning of World War II, the blood did not bubble up.)
Together with his deacons Socius and Festus, and his lector Desiderius, Januarius, bishop of Beneventum, was subjected to most atrocious torturing during the Diocletian persecution (about 304). Nevertheless, with God's aid they were preserved unmaimed. The wild animals let loose upon them would not attack. Beheaded at Puteoli, their bodies were reverently interred in the neighboring cities. Eventually the remains of St. Januarius became the prized possession of the city of Naples.
"Even to the present time the blood of the saint that is preserved in a glass vial will become fluid shortly after it is brought close to the head of the saint; then it bubbles up in a remarkable manner, as if it had just been shed" (Breviary).
Cardinal Schuster makes this statement in his Liber Sacramentorum (vol. 8, p. 233): "The author has seen the marvel of the blood liquefaction at closest range and can give witness to the fact. Taking into consideration all the scientific investigations that have been made, he would say that a natural explanation of the phenomena does not seem possible."