Catholicism, Catholic, Traditional Catholicism, Catholic Church


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Feast of St. Januarius
(San Gennaro)



  
San Gennaro, the Bishop of Benevento, was beheaded, with his Companions, at Pozzuoli in A.D. 305 by Diocletian for refusing to worship pagan idols. Ever since at least A.D. 1389, his dried blood, a solid mass inside a silver reliquary in the Cappella del Tesoro (Chapel of the Treasure) of the 13th c. Naples Cathedral (the "Duomo"), liquifies, and sometimes even "boils" or froths.

His blood is kept in two vials inside the reliquary which is topped by a crown and a cross. When the Bishop takes the vial to the Altar that holds the Saint's head, the people, who gather by the thousands, pray that the blood becomes liquid once again. If the miracle takes place, the officiant proclaims, "Il miracolo fatto!" and a man waves a white handkerchief to visually signal to the crowds. Then a Te Deum is sung and the reliquary is taken to the altar rail so the faithful can kiss the vial. If the miracle doesn't take place, disaster is imminent, it is believed. I can't come up with a complete record concerning the times the blood failed to liquefy, but have discovered that it failed to do so at these times in just the last century, and with the following alleged consequences:

  • September 1939: Italy enters WWII nine months later
  • September 1940: IItaly enters the war and suffers numerous military defeats
  • September 1943: the Nazi occupation of Italy
  • September 1973: the next year, Italian voters voted wrongly on their 1974 Italian divorce referendum, thereby affirming the "right" to divorce
  • September 1980: two months later the area around Irpinia, east of Naples, suffered a devastating earthquake that killed almost 3,000 people
  • December 2016: four months later, in January of 2017, four major earthquakes rocked central Italy
  • December 2020: Covid

Regarding the blood itself, the Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that

In 1902 Professor Sperindeo was allowed to pass a ray of light through the upper part of the phial during liquefaction and examine this beam spectroscopically. The experiment yielded the distinctive lines of the spectrum of blood...

...Most remarkable of all, the apparent variation in the volume of the relic led in 1902 and 1904 to a series of experiments in the course of which the whole reliquary was weighed in a very accurate balance. It was found that the weight was not constant any more than the volume, and that the weight of the reliquary when the blood filled the whole cavity of the phial exceeded, by 26 grammes, the weight when the phial seemed but half full.

This miracle takes place three times a year: on the first Saturday before the first Sunday of May when his relics were translated; on his Feast -- September 19 -- when he was martyred; and on December 16, the anniversary of the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius in 1631, when the lava stopped at the doors of Naples. But it's on his feast that the miracle is followed all over the world.



The vial of St. Gennaro's blood



The Bishop holds the vial of blood while a man waves a handkerchief


After the miracle -- or the failure thereof -- his relics are processed from the cathedral to the Basilica of Santa Chiara, about an hour's walk away, and if the miracle occurs, a cannon is fired twnety-one times to announce it to the city. Along the procession route, petals are rained down from balconies.

On the folk tradition level, "le Parenti di San Gennaro" ("the relatives of San Gennaro") -- a group of mostly older local women -- gather at the cathedral in Naples before the hoped-for miracle. They sit in the front row, and beg, plead, cajole, and otherwise pray to the Saint to make the miracle happen. "Oh, great and handsome Saint, don't sleep! Wake up and protect our city!" And they sing:

San Gennaro mio putente
prega a Dio pe’ tanta gente
San Gennaro mio protettore
prega a Dio nostro Signore
San Gennaro, my powerful one
pray to God for all the people
San Gennaro, my protector
pray to God our Lord

If the miracle is slow to take place (it can take hours or, sometimes, even days), or doesn't take place at all, they tease him like old cranky, loving aunts or grandmothers, even calling him "faccia ‘ngialluta" -- "yellow-face" -- because of the golden hue of his face on his reliquary.

Because San Gennaro is the Patron Saint of Napoli, he is dear to the Southern Italian people, and in New York City, where there's a large Italian American population, there's a huge celebration in his honor in Little Italy (the big Italian festival that was taking place in Godfather III was the Feast of San Gennaro. The big New York City feast in Godfather II was the Feast of San Rocco).

Finally, I leave you with this song -- Faccia Gialla (Yellow Face) -- which recalls the horrors that happened when the miracle of San Gennaro's blood failed to take place, and pleads with our Saint to save Naples from calamity. It is sung by Enzo Avitabile in a very southern Italian way, with the dropping of last syllables and such .

Mizo all’addore da solfatara
‘Ngopp ‘a na preta sotto a na spada
Duorme Pozzuoli, suonni arrubbati
Da coppo ‘a muntagna fino ‘o mare

sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua

Sotto a n’editto ‘e n’imperatore
Catacombe e persecuzioni
Tu nobile vescovo ‘e Benevento
Nu filo d’evera contro ‘o viento

sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua

Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
Fallo, fallo stu miracolo
Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
Fallo, fallo pe stu popolo

Chella vota c’a vedetteme nera
Sissantamila muorte ‘d culera
Bello e buono ‘e turchi n sera
P nata vota fuie famma e a sete

sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua

Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
Fallo, fallo stu miracolo
Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
Fallo, fallo pe stu popolo

sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
sango e nun acqua
Amidst the aches of Solfatara*
On top of a stone, under a sword
Pozzuoli sleeps, stolen dreams
From the top of the mountain up to the sea

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Under an emperor’s edict
Catacombs and persecutions
You, noble bishop of Benevento
Blade of grass against the wind

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Yellow Face, melt it!
Do it, do it this miracle
Yellow Face, melt it!
Do it, do it for this people

That time we saw black
60,000 dead from cholera
All of the sudden, the Turks one evening
Then another time there was hunger and thirst

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Yellow Face, melt it!
Do it, do it this miracle
Yellow Face, melt it!
Do it, do it for this people

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water 

* Solfatara is the volcanic crater in Pozzuoli where San Gennaro was martyred


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