H1N1 flu stops Italians kissing saint's blood

NAPLES, Italy Tue Sep 8, 2009 4:40pm IST

Pope Benedict XVI views what local Roman Catholics believe is the blood of Saint Gennaro, during a visit to the Duomo in Naples in this October 21, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Ciro Fusco/Pool/Files

Pope Benedict XVI views what local Roman Catholics believe is the blood of Saint Gennaro, during a visit to the Duomo in Naples in this October 21, 2007 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Ciro Fusco/Pool/Files

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, adjusts her flower garlands as she campaigns for her mother during an election meeting at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Election 2014

More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.  Full Coverage 

NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - Fear of H1N1 flu will stop devout Neapolitans from performing the time-honoured ritual of kissing the blood of their patron Saint Gennaro when the city's annual festival begins later this month.

The decision to forbid kissing of the glass phial containing the saint's blood was taken reluctantly by ecclesiastical and city authorities on Monday, and has brought protests from local politicians.

The phial will be put on display in the city's cathedral for a week from Sept. 19 and the faithful will be allowed to touch it only with their foreheads.

Marco Di Lello, national co-ordinator of the Socialist Party, said the ban would "fuel the psychosis (over flu) which risks becoming unstoppable", and appealed to the archbishop of Naples to try to have the ban revoked.

Last week, a 51-year-old man became Italy's first fatal victim of the H1N1 flu virus, popularly known as swine flu, when he died in a Naples hospital.

In one of Italy's best-known festivals, Saint Gennaro's dried blood is said to liquefy twice a year, 17 centuries after his death. Some Neapolitans fear disaster may strike the city if the "miracle" does not occur.

Legend has it that when Gennaro was beheaded by pagan Romans in 305 A.D., a Neapolitan woman soaked up his blood with a sponge and preserved it in a glass phial.

The substance usually turns to liquid on Sept. 19, the saint's feast day, and on the first Saturday in May. The "miracle" was first recorded in 1389, more than 1,000 years after Gennaro's martyrdom.

More scientifically minded sceptics say the phenomenon is due to chemicals present in the phial whose viscosity changes when it is stirred or moved.

Italy has not been among the nations hardest hit by the H1N1 flu virus, which has spread to at least 177 countries and caused at least 2,800 deaths, the World Health Organisation says.

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Time's List

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Foster Weds

Foster Weds

Jodie Foster marries girlfriend Alexandra Hedison.  Full Article 

New Film

New Film

'The Other Woman' serves up revenge in comic female fantasy.  Full Article 

Appeal Denied

Appeal Denied

Doctor convicted in Michael Jackson death denied latest appeal.  Full Article 

Chart Buster

Chart Buster

'Frozen' soundtrack notches biggest sales week, tops Billboard.  Full Article 

A Minute With

A Minute With

Sam Claflin on horror, heroes and 'Hunger Games'.  Full Article 

Online Streaming

Online Streaming

Amazon grabs rights to stream older HBO shows.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage