Friday, September 19, 2008

San Gennaro

Today is the feast of San Gennaro (or St. Januarius, as he is known outside of Naples!). This bishop and martyr is best known, I suspect, for the phenomenon of Italian festivals in his honor--um, no, I mean, for the phenomenon of the liquification of his blood.
It was a custom in the early church to preserve the spilled blood of the martyrs in a vial--St. Praxedes (see the Vermeer at left) met her death while carrying out this work of devotion. Well, from at least the 1300's, an ancient dried mass of dark brown preserved in a glass reliquary, turns rich red, bubbles and flows as the vial is tilted back and forth in a ceremony by the Archbishop of Naples. Sometimes this happens quickly; other times, it takes days. Since in the Neopolitan mind the failure of the blood to liquify hints at impending disaster (Mt. Vesuvius is visible from the city!), any delay in the annual miracle can inspire thousands of people to repentance. The confessionals of Naples suddenly become very popular...
The fact that the relic appeared only in the 14th century has, of course, raised questions in the past hundred years. The blood of San Gennaro has not been subjected to any high-tech testing (like electron spectroscopy) to verify that it actually is human blood. And researchers have managed to use local minerals, including one only found in volcanic soils, to develop a substance that has the same properties--solid when resting, liquifying after gentle motion. So, who knows what is really going on there in Naples? For centuries, though, people have had a graphic reminder that, long ago, a bishop did die for his faith, giving his life for his flock.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dark brown or rich red, solid or liquified,fake or genuine, whatever it takes to get thousands of frightened brethren flocking to confession has got to be miraculous.

Fred said...

Pity the poor priests of the area...although I would assume they must prepare well each year...who knows when there might truly be a remarkable conversion and re-charging of souls through this unique phenomenon...I have learned never to question God's creativity in drawing men and women unto God's self.
Father Fred, cmf