NAPLES, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Roman Catholics in Naples crowded the city’s cathedral on Wednesday to witness the annual miracle of Saint Gennaro, who died in the 4th century but whose dried blood is said to turn liquid on his feast day.
In a ritual first recorded in 1389 — more than 1,000 years after the martyrdom of Gennaro, also known in English as Saint Januarius — a church official waved a white handkerchief to the crowds to signal that the dried blood had liquefied on schedule when brought close to relics which are said to be his body.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, then showed the glass phial of blood to the congregation and paraded it to the crowds outside, where fireworks were lit in celebration.
“It is a prodigious sign that shows the Lord’s closeness and predilection for our beloved and long-suffering city,” he said.
The “miracle of the blood” is also celebrated in May to mark the relocation of the saint’s mortal remains to Naples.
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.
Sometimes it liquefies immediately, other times it takes hours. Locals pray to the saint to protect them from earthquakes or the volcano Vesuvius and believe that if the blood should fail to liquefy, something terrible will happen to Naples.
More scientifically minded sceptics say the “miracle” is due to chemicals present in the phial whose viscosity changes when it is stirred or moved.