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St. Januarius is still making headlines. Even though his blood has been liquefying with baffling regularity—and even more baffling irregularity—for centuries, it’s still making a fuss.
On September 19, 2005, as the citizens of Naples gathered to honor their favorite saint by watching his blood bubble, the skeptical group CICAP held a press conference. A spokeswoman, Margherita Hack, declared that the miracle was a hoax: the famous relic was nothing but hydrated iron oxide. The response was uproarious. Neapolitan celebrities protested; and the mayor, Rosa Russo Jervolino, insisted that the traditional miracle was “a sign that San Gennaro still protects our city.”
The excitement was somewhat puzzling, since CICAP’s claim was nothing new. But then, Naples is an excitable place. After all, its legendary founder was Parthenope, a siren jilted by Odysseus. What can you expect from a town started by a lovelorn mermaid?
The miracle has a long history. San Gennaro (it seems more fitting to use his Neapolitan name) was a bishop tortured and executed in 305, as part of a Christian purge by the Emperor Diocletian. According to tradition, a woman—often identified as his nurse, Eusebia—caught his blood in two small vials. He was buried near the site of his martyrdom, a sulfur spring just west of Naples. About a century later, the body was disinterred and taken to Naples. His blood then supposedly rejoined his bones—and, for the first time, liquefied.
The remains were carried off to Benevento in the ninth century, and Montevergine in the 12th, but returned to Naples in 1497, where they’re now the prize of the cathedral. In 1389, we find the first record of the liquefaction: “On the following day, August 17 (1389) a very great procession was made for the miracle that Our Lord Jesus Christ showed in the blood of blessed Januarius, which was in an ampoule, and which was seen liquefied as if it had that day left the body of blessed Januarius.” (This anonymous chronicle, the Chronicon Siculum, is now in the Vatican; it was published in 1887. The translation is mine.)
After that, the records are fairly continuous; San Gennaro’s blood would not settle down.
Read the rest of this article in the July 2006 issue of FATE
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