Italy: 'Bad omen' as blood of Naples saint fails to liquefy

The blood of Naples' patron saint has failed to liquefy, causing unease among some superstitious Neapolitans who see it as a bad omen.

The blood of S. Gennaro, the patron of Naples, failed to liquefy on 16 December in a recurring 'miracle' that occurs several times a year, in what is seen by more superstitious Neapolitans as an omen of bad things to come.

St Januarius was a bishop of Benevento in the third century, whose bones and blood are preserved in the cathedral as relics. He is believed to have been martyred during the Christian persecution, under Emperor Diocletian, circa 305.

The faithful gather three times a year at the cathedral in the southern Italian city to witness the liquefaction of what is claimed to be a sample of the saint's blood, kept in a sealed glass ampoule.

This vial of dried blood is exposed for public veneration on three dates: 19 September (the saint's feast day), 16 December and the first Saturday in May.

Yesterday, despite a long day of prayer by the "relatives" of S. Gennaro (a group of elderly faithful who chant litanies and prayers in a tradition dating back to the 19th century) the miracle did not happen, reports the Italian bishops' newspaper Avvenire.

The miracle occurred in May of this year, during Italy's covid-19 lockdown, and again in September.

However, while making some Neapolitans uneasy, the fact that the blood failed to melt yesterday was not as grave an omen as when the miracle does not occur on the saint's feast day.

Two months after the blood failed to liquefy on 19 September 1980, Irpinia - located about 50 km east of Naples - was hit with a devastating earthquake that killed almost 3,000 people.

On previous - but not all - occasions when the blood failed to liquefy, it signalled bad news for Naples.

In addition to 1980, the miracle did not occur in 1939 and 1940, coinciding with the beginning of world war two and Italy's entry into the conflict, and again in September 1943: the date of the Nazi occupation.

Yesterday the city’s cardinal, Crescenzio Sepe, moved to reassure the faithful, saying there is "no omen of disasters, nor epidemics, nor wars: we are men and women of faith," adding: “If something needs to melt, it is the hearts of people."

Neapolitans have always turned to their patron to protect them from natural disasters - writes Avvenire - with crowds of people in the early centuries seeking refuge in the catacombs of Capodimonte. So it happened in 472, 512 and 685, with the Neapolitan bishops of the time leading the prayers of the people.

Then it became customary to invoke S. Gennaro to ask for an end to volcanic eruptions: in 1631, on 16 December, it was decided to exhibit the relics and the eruption of Vesuvius stopped.

The Catholic Church has always supported the celebrations but has never formulated an official statement on the 'miracle'. However it does not permit the sealed vial to be opened which has hampered scientific research into the phenomenon.

The blood did not melt during the visits of Pope John Paul II in 1990 or Pope Benedict XVI in October 2007 - reports Avvenire - however it did liquefy when Pope Francis visited in March 2015.

Photo La Repubblica

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Italy: 'Bad omen' as blood of Naples saint fails to liquefy

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