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)

In the 4th century, under the Emperor Diocletian, Christians were hunted and martyred for almost two years. San Gennaro was a priest, and then the Bishop of Benevento during this time. He hid his flock, but was arrested after visiting and trying to gain the freedom of Saint Sossius, a deacon, when Sossius was imprisoned.

Gennaro was sentenced to be thrown to wild bears at the Flavian Amphitheater, but the animals wouldn't touch him. Legend tells us that he was then thrown into a fiery furnace, but was unharmed by the flames. Finally, though, he was beheaded along with Sossius and other churchmen at Pozzuoli in A.D. 305. Ever since at least A.D. 1389, his dried blood, a solid mass kept 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: Italy 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 twenty-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. For nine days they pray a novena. Then they sit in the front row of the cathedral, 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 as depicted on his reliquary.

A prayer for the Feast of San Gennaro is this Latin sequence (translation mostly by Google) of the Mass of St. Gennaro (Ianuari) from the missal of 1962, from the proper of the Saints of the Archdiocese of Naples. It is recommended by traditionalist priests in Naples, and they further recommend that it be sung to the most common melody of the Stabat Mater (melody line below). They also recommend that this sequence be used as a novena in preparation for this feast, starting on September 10 and ending on September 18:

Salve potens urbis rector,
Salve pater et protector,
Ianuari, patriae.

Tu qui fidem Iesu Christi
Confitendo, suscepisti   
Lauream martyrii,

Ad agonem usque mortis
Triumphasti athleta fortis
De tormentis asperis.

Caput Christo iam sacratum,
Flore aeterno coronatum,
Praebuisti gladio.

Gloriosum tot portentis, 
Tot praeclarum monumentis
Nomen tuum canimus.

Celebremus exultantes, 
Collaudemus venerantes
Nostrae signum fidei.

Tu, nos inter, in ferventi,
Mirabiliter loquenti
Vivis adhuc sanguine.

Iure Custos qui vocaris,
Fauste tegis et tutaris  
Moenia Neapolis.

Christo phialam ostendis,
Quo placato, nos defendis
Tuo patrocinio.

Quotquot imminent flagella,
Motus terrae, pestem, bella,
Famem, citus comprime.

Tolle dexteram et saevi
Ignes, cineres Vesevi 
Arce, extingue, contere.

Dux ad astra nobis datus,
Apud Christum advocatus,
Ipse nos refrigeres.

Sancta Trinitas laudetur
Quae Neapolim tuetur 
Ianuarii sanguine. Amen.

Hail, our mighty city ruler
Hail, our father and protector
San Gennaro, countryman.

You who trust in our King Jesus
By confession, you've accepted
Laurel of your martyrdom

To the agony of dying
You triumphed as a strong athlete
Over cruel torments.

Consecrated to Lord Jesus
Crowned with eternal flowers,
Submitted to a sword.

Glorious with so many portents
And so many holy records
We invoke your blessed name.

Let us celebrate with joy
Let's applaud those who will come
Sign of our gift of faith.

You, between us, in the boiling
Wonderfully speaking
You still live in blood.

You are called the guardian of the law,
You cover and protect
The walls of Naples

Showing the cup to Christ
When you have appeased us, you defend us
Under your patronage.

As many whips loom,
Earthquakes, plagues, wars,
Suppress hunger quickly.

Take the right hand and go wild
Fires, ashes of Vesuvius
Fortify, extinguish, crush.

Given to us as a guide to the stars
Advocate with Christ
Cool us down.

Blessed be the Holy Trinity
Who protects Naples with
Gennaro's blood. Amen.

I also must present to you 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. And Pozzuoli, just so you know, is where the beautiful Sophia Loren grew up.

As for foods, well, when you're in Naples, you eat pizza! And this cookie recipe is a Neapolitan classic for the day: 

'O dolce 'e San Gennaro

2 eggs
60 grams caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
90 grams flour
2 pinches baking powder
cherry jam
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line 2 trays with parchment paper. Mix eggs and caster sugar. Add in vanilla and zest. Sift together the flour and baking powder, and add to the egg mixture.

Make circles of the batter (about 3" around) on top of the parchment (the batter will liquidy, not like a dough). Bake for about 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Spread half of the rounds with cherry jam, top with the other halves, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

As an aside, if you're ever in Naples, visit not just the cathedral, but the Museo del Tesoro di San Gennaro nearby: it contains spectacular treasures donated to San Gennaro over the centuries, including a bejewelled mitre and necklace.

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 been a huge celebration of his feast in Little Italy since 1926. The 11 days-long celebration -- "the feast of all feasts" -- is centered around the Most Precious Blood Church in Lower Manhattan, which is the national shrine church of San Gennaro, and takes up a stretch of Mulberry Street, bounded roughly North and South by Houston and Canal Streets. It spills over on to Hester Street and Grand Street, which cross Mulberry Street, as well.1


1 For information's sake, 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). But if you attend Little Italy's Feast of San Gennaro, don't bring that up; Italian-Americans can get annoyed by the mafioso stereotypes, especially given that fewer than .3% of Italian-Americans are "made";  Italian-Americans commit crime at rates no higher than those of other groups; Italian criminals like those of La Mano Nera preyed their fellow Italians most of all; and the relatively few Italian bad guys were brought down in large part by Italian-Americans like Joseph Pistone, Rudy Giuliani, etc.

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