Local Legends of Naples: The Blood Miracle of San Gerrano

Italians are a superstitious lot… and the Neapolitans are certainly no exception! A perfect example is the Blood Miracle of San Gennaro.

Januarius I of Benevento was the bishop of Benevento who had travelled to Pozzuoli during a period when Christians were being persecuted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 305AD. While initially sentenced to being eaten by animals in a public Amphitheatre (the ancient romans did like to put on a show!), he ended up being sentenced to public beheading.

It was common during that period for Christians to preserve blood, bones and relics from martyrs who were persecuted. Gennaro was no different, some of his blood was collected and preserved in an ampoule, and his body eventually laid to rest in the Catacombs of Capodimonte.

The ‘miracle’ came about when it was noticed that the blood in the ampoule liquified briefly before solidifying again and was quickly linked to the good (and bad) fortunes of the City of Naples. The first official recording of this taking place was in 1389.

The Blood Miracle of San Gerrano
The ampoule being checked to see if the blood has liquefied - The Blood Miracle of San Gerrano

Over time, the blood miracle was noted to occur on three dates every year: the Saturday before the first week of May (celebrating the reunification of San Gennaro’s relics), the 19th September (Saint Januarius’ Day) and 16th December (celebrating San Gennaro’s patronage of Naples).

Like anything in Naples, the celebration and waiting are not quiet affairs! There is a procession of the holy bust of San Gennaro and the ampoule through the streets of the historic city centre through the crowded throng of hundreds of devotees and onlookers. You do not need to be a believer to appreciate that this miracle is considered a serious occasion, and that the occurrence or not, of the blood in the ampoule liquifying is indelibly tied to the fortunes of this incredible city.

There have only been rare occasions when the blood has not liquified, and when that has been the case, there have been terrible events that have befallen the city which the citizens link to the blood miracle not occurring. Events like the devastating plague of 1528 and the earthquake in 1980 where nearly 3,000 people died.

There have also been other times where the blood has spontaneously liquefied in the presence of Popes (though not with every Pope!). Science has not been able to come up with a plausible reason for the happening… and maybe there doesn’t need to be a logical reason.

Whether you are a believer or not, the atmosphere of anticipation and celebration is something incredible to witness.

Jusepe de Ribera - San Gennaro esce dalla fornace (1646, cappella del tesoro di San Gennaro - Napoli)
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The Blood Miracle of San Gerrano, Naples, Italy
Local Legends of Naples - The Blood Miracle of St Januarius
The Blood miracle of St Januarius

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