Everyone in Italy knows who San Gennaro is, especially us who live in Naples and in the Campania Region. The love for this Saint is so strong that his fame has reached the United States as well, where San Gennaro is celebrated to remember the bond between Italians and Americans.
Especially on September 19th, the day dedicated to the Saint, all of Naples gathers in front of the Duomo to witness the miracle that usually happens every year: the liquefaction of San Gennaro’s preserved blood.
Does it sound a bit odd? We can explain!
And maybe if you happen to be in town in September you’ll get to participate in this rather unique event.
The history of San Gennaro in Naples: how did San Gennaro become the Patron Saint of Naples?
San Gennaro was born around 272 AD in Naples. He became a martyr during the period of persecution of Christians imposed by Emperor Diocletian. When one of the deacons of the Region was arrested by the Emperor, Gennaro came to the rescue to relieve his pain. However, that wasn’t taken well by the judge Dragontius who decided to incarcerate him as well. He was sentenced to the capital sentence and was meant to be thrown into the Amphitheatre with bears.
When the day of the execution came, Dragontius couldn’t help but notice the people’s devotion to San Gennaro and decided to stop the awful games. Still, San Gennaro’s death was inevitable and he was decapitated on September 19th 305 AD.
A follower of San Gennaro, a woman called Eusebia, collected some of his blood shed by the decapitation and brought it to the Bishop. That’s how two ampoules of solid blood are still preserved to this day and are worshiped at least three times a year:
- On September 19th: the anniversary of his martyr and the main date of celebration;
- The Saturday that anticipates the first Sunday of May;
- On December 16th.
In these three dates the blood of the saint, kept in solid form, shall liquefy and bring fortune to the city and the faithful.
Many miracles have been credited to San Gennaro, especially the one of December 16th: on this day, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 1631 but, thanks to the prayers of the devoted, the blood liquefied and the magma from the eruption stopped miraculously before invading Naples.
What happens during the celebration of San Gennaro?
The procedure during these three days of celebration follows a strict schedule.
The Head Priest of the Duomo takes out the two ampoules containing the saint’s blood, so that the relationship between the martyr and the city of Naples can be renewed once again.
In the first seats of the Church there are the “parenti”, the relatives, Neapolitan women that represent Eusebia, who intonate chants and prayers to the ampoules to make the miracle happen.
Then, the Cardinal announces the beginning of the ritual with a specific handkerchief and starts shaking the ampoules to perform the liquefaction of the blood.
Mind you it’s very rare for the blood not to become liquid and, if it stays solid, that’s thought to be a misfortune.
To cite some occasions when the blood did not liquefy, it happened during 1939 and 1940, years when the second world war started and Italy entered the conflict.
That’s why all Neapolitans are very hopeful towards the miracle of liquefaction.
A very common expression here is “San Gennaro pensaci tu!” which can be translated as “Please Saint Gennaro, fix this situation for me”. A simple phrase that sums up how important is the Saint in the citizens’ life.
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