Naples, Saint Januarius and the Miracle of the Blood

Naples Duomo Cathedral

“In this city of Naples, they believe in one of the wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy –the miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid– and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition.”  Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

We were staying at a place in an untidy little square situated directly behind the Doumo of Naples so it was easy to squeeze in a visit in between an afternoon on the busy streets and preparing for pizza.

The Doumo is a fine building with a grand façade that gleams like polished stone in the sunlight and an impressive interior but it is known most of all for being the repository of the blood of Saint Janurius, the Patron Saint of Naples.

Januarius was Bishop of Benevento and is a martyr and Saint of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Whilst no contemporary sources on his life are available, later sources and legends claim that he died during the Great Persecution of the Emperor Diocletian during which he was beheaded after first being fed to wild bears that refused to eat him.  These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

And so we go on…

Januarius is the patron saint of Naples where the faithful gather three times a year in the Cathedral to witness the liquefaction of what is claimed to be a sample of his blood kept in a sealed glass ampoule.

These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

Saint Jenarius

According to legend the blood of the Saint was mopped up after his execution by a woman called Eusebia who put it into a couple of ampoule jars. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year.

Thousands of people assemble to witness this farce in Naples Cathedral, on September 19 (Saint Januarius’s Day, commemorating his martyrdom), on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics).

Pope and blood of Saint Jenarius

It can also spontaneously liquefy at other convenient moments as well such as a Papal visit for example.  It is said that if the blood fails to do its magic then Naples will suffer a disaster.  Maybe it can predict the next eruption of Mount Vesuvius?

It is a lot of holy nonsense of course and the Pope and the Catholic Church steadfastly refuse to permit any scientific analysis less the religious scam is revealed as just that.  Anyway, we visited the Cathedral and found the place where it is stored, safely of course under strong lock and key so that the genie can never be let out of the bottle.

My favourite nonsense bible story still remains the water into wine thing, I wish I could do that, it would save me a lot of money that’s for sure!

In the United States, the “Feast of San Gennaro” is a highlight of the year for New York’s Little Italy, with the saint’s polychrome statue carried through the middle of a street fair stretching for many streets.  The procession featured in a scene in the movie ‘Godfather Part II’.

It is a good story but possibly not my favourite.  That has to be the tale of Saint Spyridon on the Greek island of Corfu. Spyridon is a very important Saint in Corfu who at various times is said to have saved the island from foreign invaders and from outbreaks of deadly disease and because he does his best to try and deliver on the requests of the visitors to his tomb.

This is my favourite story – it is said that at night when everyone is gone and the town is empty he rises from the silver sarcophagus and walks the streets of Corfu granting people’s wishes.  Every year he wears out a perfectly good pair of shoes and every year he has to be fitted up for a new pair. Really.

These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

This is the statue and the view from our apartment balcony…

Guglia_di_San_Gennaro_-_Napoli_-_2013-05-16_10-29-52

Blogger Denzil also has a good post about Holy Blood

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

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21 responses to “Naples, Saint Januarius and the Miracle of the Blood

  1. Religion is a fantasy.

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  2. I have just written about the procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges Andrew. This is around the relic of a bit of blood-stained cloth that Joseph used to wipe the blood off the crucified Jesus. I trace its timeline, which has more holes in it than any bit of moth-bitten cloth. The idea that a piece of garment can last 2000 years has to be filed under your category of relgious fantasy stories. As you point out, money always has an influence somewhere along the line.

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  3. As a rather squeamish person, I skim read this, Andrew. 😦 😦 But I did like old Spiridon. What a good chap! Happy Saturday 🙂 🙂

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  4. This was so interesting! I love Naples and didn’t know anything about this so thank you very much… really insightful—-btw from the looks of your street view you are very near Di Matteo Pizzeria … check it out, amazing!

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  5. Always amusing, to me, and a wee bit scary, Andrew, that people can be so gullible, and that religions can support these myths, often at a profit. There are lots of bits and pieces of saints scattered all over Europe.
    I’ve been to the tomb of Saint Spyridon and took a photo, even though it wasn’t allowed.
    I remember as a kid having a St. Christopher medal that I thought would protect me… 🙂 –Curt

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    • So true Curt. Every Cathedral in Europe seems to have a lock of hair or a toe nail that was saved from one Saint or another. In Budapest they have the severed hand of Saint Stephen! The UK has very few relics, they were all denied and then disposed of during the Reformation. Rather a shame really because it means we get none of the theatre of the Catholic processions of southern Europe.

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  6. Love Twain’s quote! Then you had to mention pizza and set up a longing for the good pizzas in NYC and Boston. At least I wouldn’t have to fly to get there (in theory).

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  7. My son went to a Catholic elementary school, and I remember the first time he told me about something he’d learned that he didn’t believe.

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  8. What gets me is there are those who actually believe all that stuff; …I nearly added nonsense but didn’t want to appear rude and insensitive

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  9. Pingback: Travels in Spain, Eixample and the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona | Have Bag, Will Travel

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