When Blood Boils: The Ongoing Tale of Saint Gennaro

San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, functions like an invisible character in The Miracle at Naples, haunting the play, as he does the city to this very day. His story has all the drama and mysticism of that make Christian saints’ lives read like comic books, but it is his afterlife that has ensured his enduring fame. Refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods by command of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the bishop Gennaro (also called Saint Januarius) was cast into a fiery furnace by Timothy, governor of Naples. When the bishop emerged from the fire unscathed, an irate Timothy threw Gennaro to the gladiatorial pit. But there the wild animals knelt in front of him “like sheep with heads down.” So Timothy had Gennaro beheaded, and that did the trick.

The legend holds that a woman mopped up the blood of the martyr with a sponge and placed it into a glass vial, which accompanied the body when it was carried to Naples eight years later, in 313 A.D. It would be nearly a millennium before Naples Cathedral, or the Duomo, would be built and dedicated to San Gennaro, but it was after its completion that the first “miracle of the blood” was recorded in 1389. A small vial said to contain the saint’s solidified blood was brought out in front of the congregation, shaken slightly, and seen to liquefy. Since then, the miracle of the liquefaction has been repeated in this manner eleven times every year, most famously on September 19, Gennaro’s feast day.

Many elaborate theories have been proposed to explain the miracle of the blood, none of them conclusively proven. In the meantime, the continued liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood at the Duomo promises continued protection and prosperity for Naples under its beloved, and admirably loyal, patron saint.

– Jason Fitzgerald

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