Every year on September 19th, a crazy and traditional miracle occurs in Naples: San Gennaro’s blood liquefies.
San Gennaro (Saint Januarius) was the bishop of Benevento and was beheaded during the persecution of the Christians by Diocletian in 305 A.D. According to legend, a woman collected and kept some of the martyr’s blood in an ampoule after he passed away. The Saint’s skeleton and ampoule of blood were brought back to Naples and kept in a bank vault and a crypt under the main alter of the Naples Cathedral.
On feast days the relics are taken trough a procession from the cathedral to the Monastery of Santa Chiara where the archbishop holds the ampoule in the air and tilts it to show that the contents are solid, then places it high on the alter. After extremely intense prayers by the faithful, the contents liquefy and the announcement of the liquidation is greeted with a 21-gun salute. The ampoule remains exposed on the altar for eight days, while the archbishop periodically tilts the reliquary to show the contents have remained liquid.
Many believe the miracle of the blood serves to protect the town from harm. But the blood doesn’t always liquefy immediately, it can take hours or days, and on occasion the blood doesn’t liquefy at all. It is believed that in the years the blood failed to liquefy, bad events happened like the plague of 1527, the earthquake in 1980 and any destruction from Mt. Vesuvius.
The liquidation of Saint Gennaro’s blood occurs three times a year
- September 19- to commemorate the martyrdom
- December 16- to celebrate San Gennaro’s patronage to Naples and the archdioceses
- The Saturday before the first Sunday in May- to commemorate the reunification of San Gennaro’s relics
Little Italy, NYC
In the United States the feast of San Gennaro is celebrated from September 12-22 and is a jovial event with colorful parades, religious processions, musical entertainment, and delectable delicacies. More than one million people flock to this feast each year, as it is New York’s biggest and most famous longest running religious festival, this year celebrating 87 years.
The feast of San Gennaro in NYC was founded in 1926 when immigrants from Naples arrived along Mulberry Street in what is now known as “Little Italy.” Mostly café owners, they erected a small chapel in honor of their beloved patron saint. They started asking their friends to pin an offering on the ribbon and streamers on the apron that was hung from the statue of San Gennaro. All the money that was collected was distributed to the poor and this remains a unique tradition still seen today at the feast in Little Italy.
In addition to religious festivities, more than 200 street vendors set up along the festival streets to sell international foods and Little Italy souvenirs while families play arcade games, and enjoy carnival rides. The feast was notoriously featured in The Godfather II and III, and in an episode of the Sopranos. A famous and widely recognized feast of the patron saint of Naples, this celebration holds a special place in the hearts of Italians worldwide.
Have you ever celebrated the feast of San Gennaro in either Naples or Little Italy? What was your favorite part?