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Saint Januarius

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Title: Saint Januarius  
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Saint Januarius

"San Gennaro" redirects here. For the Italian wine grape also known as San Gennaro, see San Gennaro (grape).
For the first month of the ancient Roman calendar, see Ianuarius.
Saint Januarius
Traditional portrait of Saint Januarius
Bishop and Martyr
Born c. 3rd century
Benevento or Naples, Campania, Roman Empire
Died c. 305
Pozzuoli, Campania
Honored in Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church
Major shrine Naples Cathedral, Italy and the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Little Italy, Manhattan, New York City.
Feast September 19 (Western Christianity)
April 21 (Eastern Christianity)
Attributes vials of blood, palms, Mt. Vesuvius
Patronage blood banks; Naples; volcanic eruptions[1]

Januarius, Bishop of Naples, is a martyr saint of the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. While no contemporary sources on his life are preserved, later sources and legends claim that he died during the Diocletianic Persecution,[2] which ended with Diocletian's retirement in 305.

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


Little is known of the life of Januarius,[2] and what follows is mostly derived from later Christian sources, such as the Acta Bononensia (BHL 4132, not earlier than 6th century) and the Acta Vaticana (BHL 4115, 9th century), and from later-developing folk tradition. Now we know that he was born in Benevento. The earliest extant mention of him is contained in a 432 letter by Uranius, bishop of Nola, on the death of his mentor Saint Paulinus of Nola,[3] where it is stated that the ghosts of Januarius and Saint Martin appeared to Paulinus three days before the latter's death in 431. About Januarius, the account says only that he was "bishop as well as martyr, an illustrious member of the Neapolitan church" [4] The Acta Bononensia says that "At Pozzuoli in Campania [is honored the memory] of the holy martyrs Januarius, Bishop of Beneventum, Festus his deacon, and Desiderius lector, together with Sossius deacon of the church of Misenum, Proculus, deacon of Pozzuoli, Eutyches and Acutius, who after chains and imprisonment were beheaded under the Emperor Diocletian".

Legends about his life and death

According to various Christian legends, Januarius was allegedly born in Benevento to a rich patrician family that traced its descent to the Caudini tribe of the Samnites. At a young age of 15, he became local priest of his parish in Benevento, which at the time was relatively pagan. When Januarius was 20, he became Bishop of Naples and befriended Juliana of Nicomedia and Saint Sossius whom he met during his priestly studies. During the 1 12-year-long persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, he hid his fellow Christians and prevented them from being caught. Unfortunately, while visiting Sossius in jail, he too was arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be thrown to wild bears in the Flavian Amphitheater at Pozzuoli, but the sentence was changed due to fear of public disturbances, and they were instead beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli.[5] Other legends state either that the wild beasts refused to eat them, or that he was thrown into a furnace but came out unscathed.


According to an early hagiography,[6] his relics were transferred by order of Saint Severus, Bishop of Naples, to the Neapolitan catacombs "extra moenia," "outside the walls".[7] In the early ninth century the body was moved to Beneventum by Sico, prince of Benevento, with the head remaining in Naples. Subsequently, during the turmoil at the time of Frederick Barbarossa, his body was moved again, this time to the Territorial Abbey of Montevergine where it was rediscovered in 1480.

At the instigation of Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, his body was finally transferred in 1497 to Naples, where he is the city's patron saint. Carafa commissioned a richly decorated crypt, the Succorpo, beneath the cathedral to house the reunited body and head properly. The "Succorpo" was finished in 1506 and is considered one of the prominent monuments of the High Renaissance in the city.[8]


Saint Januarius' feast day is celebrated on September 19,[9] in the calendar of the Catholic Church. In the Eastern Church it is celebrated on April 21.[10] The city of Naples has more than fifty official patron saints, although its principal patron is Saint Januarius.[11]

For the Italian population of Little Italy, Manhattan, and other New Yorkers, the Feast of San Gennaro is a highlight of the year, when the saint's polychrome statue is carried through the streets and a blocks-long street fair ensues.

The Blood Miracle

Saint Januarius is famous for the miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood, which, according to legend, was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint's death. Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19 (Saint Januarius day, to commemorate his martyrdom), on December 16 (to celebrate his patronage of both Naples and of the archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the reunification of his relics).[12]

Although the city of Naples became known as urbs sanguinum, the miracle is not a unique phenomenon. Other examples include Saint Patricia, blood said to belong to Saint John the Baptist in the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno, and that of Saint Pantaleon which liquifies in nearby Ravello. The liquefication of coagulated blood is therefore peculiar to the region of Campania and virtually unheard of elsewhere. The veneration of many of the blood cults have died out since the sixteenth century, but it may have been the Christian development of an earlier, local pagan ritual to protect the population from unexpected lava bursts flowing from Vesuvius. Disbelievers credit its invention to a medieval Neapolitan alchemist.[13]

Description of the ritual

The dried blood is stored in two hermetically sealed small ampoules, held since the 17th century in a silver reliquary between two round glass plates about 12 cm wide. The smaller ampoule, of cylindrical shape, contains only a few reddish spots on its walls (the bulk having allegedly been removed and taken to Spain by Charles III). The larger ampoule, with capacity of about 60 ml and almond-shaped, is about 60% filled with a dark reddish substance.[11][14] Separate reliquaries hold bone fragments believed to be of Saint Januarius.

For most of the time, the ampoules are kept in a bank vault, whose keys are held by a commission of local notables, including the Mayor of Naples; while the bones are kept in a crypt under the main altar of Naples Cathedral. On feast days, all these relics are taken in procession from the cathedral to the Monastery of Santa Chiara, where the archbishop holds the reliquary up and tilts it to show that the contents are solid, and places it on the high altar next to the saint's other relics. After intense prayers by the faithful, including the so-called "relatives of Saint Januarius" (parenti di San Gennaro), the content of the larger vial typically liquefies. The archbishop then holds up the vial and tilts it again to demonstrate that liquefaction has taken place. The announcement of the liquefaction is greeted with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. The ampoules remain exposed on the altar for eight days, while the priests move or turn them periodically to show that the contents remain liquid.[11]

The liquefaction sometimes takes place almost immediately, but can take hours or even days. Records kept at the Duomo tell that on rare occasions the blood fails to liquefy, or is found already liquefied when the ampoules are taken from the safe,[15] or that the miracle occurred outside the usual dates.[11]

A chronicle of Naples written in 1382 describes the cult of Saint Januarius in detail, but mentions neither the relic nor the miracle.[14][16] The first recorded reference to the 'miracle of the blood' was in 1389.[17][18]

Catholic Church's position

While the Catholic Church has always supported the celebrations, it has never formulated an official statement on the phenomenon, and maintains a neutral stance about scientific investigations.[11]

Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote regarding Saint Januarius:

"The Neapolitans honor this saint as the principal patron of their city and nation, and the Lord himself has continued to honor him, by allowing many miracles to be wrought through his intercession, particularly when the frightful eruptions of Mount Vesuvius have threatened the city of Naples with utter destruction. While the relics of St. Januarius were being brought in procession towards this terrific volcano, the torrents of lava and liquid fire which it emitted have ceased, or turned their course from the city. But the most stupendous miracle, and that which is greatly celebrated in the church, is the liquefying and boiling up of this blessed martyr's blood whenever the vials are brought in sight of his head. This miracle is renewed many times in the year, in presence of all who desire to witness it; yet some heretics have endeavored to throw a doubt upon its genuineness, by frivolous and incoherent explanations; but no one can deny the effect to be miraculous, unless he be prepared to question the evidence of his senses."[19]

John Henry Cardinal Newman also attested to the veracity of the miracle of liquefaction:

"I think it impossible to withstand the evidence which is brought for the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples and for the motion of the eyes in the pictures of the Madonna in the Papal States."[20]

Scientific studies and other theories

Believers continue to insist on the reality of the phenomenon based on their faith, insisting that the annual event is a miraculous one. Scientists however have proposed hypotheses to explain the liquification using contemporary scientific knowledge.

The Catholic Church does not permit the vials to be opened, for fear that doing so may cause irreparable damage. This makes close analysis impossible, obviously. Nevertheless, a spectroscopic analysis performed in 1902 by Gennaro Sperindeo and Raffaele Januario[21] claimed that the spectrum was consistent with hemoglobin. A later analysis, with similar conclusions, was carried out in 1989.[22] However, the reliability of these observations has been questioned.[14] While clotted blood can be liquefied by mechanical stirring, the resulting suspension cannot solidify again.[14]

Measurements made in 1900 and 1904 claimed that the ampoules' weight increased by up to 28 grams during liquefaction. However, later measurements with a precision balance, performed over five years, failed to detect any variation.[14]

Various suggestions for the content's composition have been advanced, such as a material that is photosensitive, hygroscopic, or has a low melting point.[23] However, these explanations run into technical difficulties, such as the variability of the phenomenon and its being unrelated to ambient temperature.[14]

A recent hypothesis by Garlaschelli, Ramaccini, and Della Sala is that the vial contains a thixotropic gel,[14][24] he also explained on the Blood Miracle of Riddles of the Dead series on National Geographic Channel.[25] In such a substance viscosity increases if left unstirred and decreases if stirred or moved. Researchers have proposed specifically a suspension of hydrated iron oxide, FeO(OH), which reproduces the color and behavior of the 'blood' in the ampoule.[26] The suspension can be prepared from simple chemicals that would have been easily available locally since antiquity.[27][28]

In 2010, an experiment was conducted by Giuseppe Geraci (Professor of the Department of Molecular Biology of the Università Federico II di Napoli) on a phial containing old blood (a relic dating back to the 18th century from the Eremo di Camaldoli, near Arezzo, in Tuscany) having the same characteristics of the blood of St. Januarius.[29] Geraci has shown that the Camaldoli's relic actually contains blood that can change its solid-liquid phase by shaking.[30] He has also reproduced the phenomenon with his own blood stored in the same conditions of the Camaldoli's relic.[31] Geraci finally argues that "there's blood, no miracle".[30]

Another possibility is that the liquid was manufactured by a medieval artisan. A team of three Italian chemists managed to create a liquid that reproduces all the characteristics and behaviour of the liquid in the vial, and they used only local materials and techniques that were known to medieval workers.[32][33] In the past, in the Naples area, the Church recognized claims of miraculous liquefying blood for other seven saints, but the Church since dropped those claims except the one for Saint Januarius; this suggest that there was a local secret recipe for manufacturing this type of relic.[32][33] In total, about 20 saints had relics of liquefying blood, and they were almost all in the Naples area.[34]

Museum of the Treasure of St. Januarius

The Treasure of San Gennaro is composed of magnificent works and donations collected in seven centuries of Popes, Kings, Emperors, famous and ordinary people. According to studies done by a pool of experts who have analyzed all the pieces of the collection, the Treasure of St. Gennaro would be even richer than the crown of England's Queen Elizabeth II and the Czars of Russia. The Treasure is a unique collection of art masterpieces, kept untouched thanks to the Deputation of the Chapel of San Gennaro, an ancient secular institution founded in 1527 by a vote of the city of Naples, still existing. Today, the Treasure is exhibited in the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro, whose entrance is located on the right side of the Dome of Naples, under the arcades. By visiting the Museum, you can access the Chapel of St. Gennaro even during the closing hours of the Cathedral. Official Website of the Museum.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Written in Genoa in the month of January 1882, Book Four of The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche opens with a poem entitled 'Sanctus Januarius', meaning both Holy January and Saint Januarius. The dedication can be read in various ways, both as a reference to the symbolic importance of the saint as well as the particular month of January in Nietzsche's biography. Walter Kaufmann's footnote to the English translation of the passage underscores that the use of Sanctus Januarius is as a symbol for Nietzsche's restored intellectual and literary output after years of wandering across Europe. Thus, 'Sanctus Januarius' honors the miracular transformation of deadened life into liquid blood again, which is the leitmotif of the contents of the fourth book of the Gay Science that values becoming a 'Yes-sayer' to everything one is fated to.

See also

Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro


External links

  • CICAP: "The Blood of St. Januarius"
  • San Gennaro
  • New York's Feast of San Gennaro
  • Fate, July 2006
  • The Skeptic's Dictionary entry on Januarius
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