The Italian Almanac

St. Gennaro

Italian News - September 19

Thousands of people packed into Naples cathedral this morning to watch the blood of patron saint San Gennaro liquefy in the repetition of a centuries-old 'miracle.' The miracle officially took place at 09.56 and was announced by the archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Michele Giordano, who held up a phial containing the blood while a white handkerchief was waved from the altar to the applause of the crowd. This year the miracle took on special importance because it marked 1,700 years from the martyrdom of San Gennaro in 305 AD.

Aside from the faithful, leading local politicians attended the ceremony which was also broadcast live by a host of national and international TV networks. Naples Mayor Rosa Russo Jervolino said the liquefaction was "a sign that San Gennaro is still protecting our city. It was also a strong sign of hope and, I'd say, encouragement for everyone to work for the common good." Cardinal Giordano expressed a similar view in his sermon in which he said that "solidarity should be considered as a new civic virtue."

The dried blood of the saint is preserved in two glass phials and traditionally liquefies three times a year, allegedly thanks to the devotion and prayers of the faithful. Aside from the anniversary of the saint's beheading, the miracle also takes place on December 16, to commemorate the 1631 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius believed to have been halted by the saint's intervention, and again on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May. On this occasion, there is a procession through the city's streets to recall the many times the relics have been moved over the centuries.

The liquefaction process sometimes takes hours, even days, and on occasions fails to happen at all. For the faithful and superstitious, the ritual's success is a good omen for the city while its failure is a sign of impending disaster.