A Nook of Naples Announcement: Today, September 19, 2009, San Gennaro's blood liquified -- ushering in a year of good fortune for Neapolitans.
According to legend, San Gennaro was born sometime in the third century to a rich patrician family. At fifteen years of age, he became a priest. During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, San Gennaro was sentence to death for his beliefs and beheaded in Pozzuoli. His bones and blood were then saved by a woman named Eusebia just after his death.
Today, his tomb is located underneath the altar of Il Duomo, the city's cathedral located downtown. In a side niche of the church, San Gennaro's dried blood is stored in two hermetically sealed ampoules (vials) and adorned in a silver reliquary.
Every year on the 19th of September, Naples celebrates the Feast of San Gennaro (the date of his sainthood). At that time, the solid reddish-brown contents of the ampoule liquify. The blood doesn't always liquify on command, sometimes taking several hours, or liquifying several days before the celebration, or -- most ominously -- not liquifying at all.
Scientists have tried to study the phenomena, but are not allowed to open the ampoule as Church leaders fear they will damage or ruin the blood. Hence, scientists have used alternative methods, but have been unable to come up with an adequate explanation for the phenomenon. Many people note that during the years when San Gennaro's blood has not liquified, bad things have happened to the city and the world. Others maintain that when they came to mass and witnessed the liquefaction, kissing the reliquary, they were healed of all sorts of ails.
I myself went to see the miracle today and found an aisle seat toward the back just before 9:00 a.m. The Cardinal held mass, giving a sermon in which, toward the end, he reminded parishoners about the importance of helping the poor of Naples. Thereafter, he processed to the side altar and took out the reliquary.
Today, the blood liquified immediately. Thereafter, the Cardinal processed to the front of the church while the congregation applauded and waved white hankerchiefs. He processed with the liquefied blood down the middle aisle so that all could see. He processed outside and announced to the city that the liquefaction had occurred. Then he returned the blood to the altar. The reliquary will be left there for the next eight days to show the people of Naples that San Gennaro has yet again blessed the city.
Thereafter, the streets of Naples were closed off for religious processions. Candies and children's toys were sold on the streets. Decorations were everywhere and a festive ambience filled the city.
I'd like to thank my host city -- and especially the wonderful old lady who sat next to me and explained much of the celebration -- for letting me take part in this special event. It was, admittedly, the first time I'd ever witnessed a miracle.
Happy San Gennaro Feast Day!