San Gennaro and his miracles


San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples, occupies a special alcove in the hearts of Neapolitans, celebrated for their fervent devotion and exuberant festivities. The veneration of San Gennaro in Naples traces its roots deep into antiquity, weaving an intricate tapestry of history and spirituality.

Among the most cherished and recognizable episodes linked with this revered martyr is the astonishing phenomenon of the liquefaction of his blood. This enigmatic occurrence holds profound religious and historical significance for both the city of Naples and the Catholic Church.

San Gennaro was born in Naples during the latter half of the 3rd century, swiftly ascending to the status of a beloved and esteemed figure within the Christian community. As the Bishop of Benevento, he embarked on an influential apostolic mission, earning the admiration of local Christians and even pagans.

The tale of his martyrdom unfolds in the early 4th century, when he received news of the apprehension of Deacon Sossio of Miseno by Dragonio, the proconsul of Campania. San Gennaro, accompanied by Deacon Festo and Reader Desiderio, embarked on a mission to intercede for his friend. Instead of securing clemency, they faced imprisonment and a gruesome sentence: to be devoured by bears.

Fearful of a potential uprising due to public sympathy for the condemned, Dragonio commuted the sentence to beheading, away from the prying eyes of the curious. On September 19, 305, the prisoners met their tragic fate, losing their heads at the Forum of Vulcan, near the famed Solfatara of Pozzuoli. In secret, the Christians of Pozzuoli laid the martyrs to rest in the Marcian field, close to the Solfatara.

Legend has it that a woman named Eusebia collected San Gennaro's blood in two vials, adhering to the customary practice for martyrs. Over a century later, in 431, the relics of San Gennaro journeyed from Pozzuoli to the Catacombs of Capodimonte in Naples, subsequently christened the "Catacombs of San Gennaro," upon the directive of the Bishop of Naples, San Giovanni I. These catacombs would also house the venerated Bishop San Agrippino.

As the cult of the martyr flourished, the catacombs expanded to accommodate the burgeoning devotion. Within this subterranean sanctum, frescoes, inscriptions, mosaics, and paintings emerged as testimonials to the presence of the San Gennaro cult as early as the 5th century, affirming his status as a Saint. Scores of individuals expressed their desire to rest in eternal proximity to him, adorning their tombs with his iconography.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V ratified the canonization of San Gennaro, and his tomb transformed into a place of pilgrimage, owing to the miracles attributed to the Saint. In 472, amidst a violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Neapolitans flocked to the catacomb, beseeching his intercession. This marked the genesis of the tradition of invoking San Gennaro's protection during earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In 512, during yet another volcanic outburst, Bishop Stefano I of Naples initiated prayers invoking San Gennaro's protection. In his honor, a church named Stefania was erected, which would later become the site of the 13th-century Duomo. Here, San Gennaro's skull and the vials containing his blood were solemnly enshrined.

In 831, during a siege, the remaining relics were pilfered by Sicone and transported to Benevento, where they languished until 1156, when they were miraculously unearthed beneath the central altar of the sanctuary. However, these relics vanished from sight until 1480 when they serendipitously resurfaced during random excavations.

In 1492, the bones of San Gennaro found their way back to Naples after arduous negotiations with the monks of the Montevergine Abbey. They reunited with the skull and the vials containing his precious blood. Meanwhile, the saint's skull was ensconced within a resplendent silver bust, a gift from Charles II of Anjou in 1305, adorning the Naples Cathedral in tribute to the Saint.

In 1646, the silver bust, enshrining the skull and the vials of blood, found its final abode in the Treasure Chapel of the Naples Cathedral. Other relics of San Gennaro remain safeguarded in the crypt beneath the apse and the high altar.


The Remarkable Liquefaction of San Gennaro's Blood

The extraordinary event of San Gennaro's blood liquefaction, where the blood appears to simmer and return to a liquid state, made its debut on August 17, 1389, during a time of dire famine. Subsequently, this miracle reenacts itself thrice annually:

  1. The Saturday preceding the first Sunday in May, commemorating the initial transfer of San Gennaro's relics.
  2. On September 19, coinciding with the liturgical commemoration of San Gennaro's martyrdom.
  3. On December 16, commemorating the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1631, quelled through the invocation of the Saint.

In a solemn ceremony, the Bishop of Naples presents the vials containing San Gennaro's blood to the assembled crowd. The populace congregates within the cathedral, fervently praying and bearing witness to this miracle. The liquefaction of the blood is seen as an auspicious sign for the city, while its solidification is interpreted as an unfavorable omen.

The liquefaction of San Gennaro's blood is an event of profound significance for the Neapolitan community, experienced with intense devotion and religious zeal. It symbolizes a moment of solidarity and optimism for Naples and its inhabitants.

Frequently, the ceremony takes on an almost surreal, folkloric quality. The ambiance teems with hundreds of Neapolitans and inquisitive tourists thronging the Cathedral, releasing exultant cries, applause, and fervent invocations: "San Gennaro, aid us!" In this spectacle that blurs the lines between the sacred and the profane, Naples turns to San Gennaro as a confidant and protector in times of crisis, seeking his assured assistance.


The Feast of San Gennaro in New York

The celebration of the Feast of San Gennaro in New York commenced in 1926 when a cohort of Neapolitan immigrants resolved to transplant this tradition to their newfound homeland. Originally a religious observance, it has since evolved into a celebration of the enduring connection between Italians and Americans, evolving into perhaps the most renowned Italian-American festival in the city.

The festivities predominantly unfurl in Manhattan's Little Italy district, spanning 11 vibrant days. During this span, Mulberry Street is cordoned off to vehicular traffic, yielding space for the traditional Italo-American fair, renowned for offering some of New York's most delectable Italian cuisine. Immersing oneself in Italian culture amid the festive ambiance characterized by music, gastronomy, and jubilation is an unparalleled experience.

A prominent feature of the New York festival is the procession of San Gennaro's statue. The Saint's effigy is paraded through the illuminated streets of Little Italy, trailed by an enthusiastic crowd of devotees. This gesture venerates the Italian heritage that thrives unabated in the heart of the Big Apple.


The Treasures of San Gennaro: A Legacy of Devotion and Gratitude

The Treasures of San Gennaro stands as perhaps the world's oldest and most impeccably preserved collection of its kind, domiciled within the San Gennaro Museum, nestled within the Naples Cathedral.

This unparalleled treasure trove is the culmination of centuries of offerings bestowed upon the Patron Saint by monarchs, nobility, and all who benefited from his intercession. It encompasses a vast repertoire of approximately twenty-two thousand art pieces, spanning goldsmithing, silverwork, textiles, woodcraft, and paintings. Within its confines reside devotional items crafted from precious materials such as gold, silver, bronze, and gemstones.

Access to this extraordinary collection is entrusted to the Deputation of the Treasure of San Gennaro, a body composed of distinguished and illustrious Neapolitan personalities. For over five centuries, this Deputation has undertaken the solemn duty of preserving and vigilantly safeguarding the Treasures of San Gennaro. The Mayor of Naples heads this Deputation, underscoring the central role this heritage plays in the city's culture, history, and devotion to San Gennaro.

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