By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Seventeen centuries after his death, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples has confirmed that the blood of martyred St. Januarius once again turned to liquid on his Sept. 19 feast day.
Thousands of Neapolitans crowded into the city’s cathedral last Friday to witness the famous miracle of St. Januarius whose blood is said to liquefy twice a year.
“It (the saint’s blood) is the seed of hope for all of us,” the Cardinal said shortly after the liquefaction occurred at 9:45 a.m. local time.
St. Januarius, bishop of Benevento, Italy, was beheaded at the hands of the Emperor Diocletianus in 305 A.D. Legend has it a woman soaked up his blood with a sponge and preserved it in a glass phial.
However, there is no record of this phial of blood appearing until nearly 1,000 years after the death of St. Januarius when it surfaced and miraculously liquefied on Aug.17, 1389. Thereafter, the miracle began to occur twice a year, on the saint’s Sept. 19 feast day and on the fist Saturday in May.
This twice yearly event is now marked with a ceremony during which time the reliquary containing the phial of blood is repeatedly picked up, moved around and upturned to check whether the liquefaction has taken place. The liquefaction sometimes takes place immediately, or it can take hours or even days.
Frequently, during the process of liquefaction, the blood is said to occasionally boil or froth, to change from a dark color to reddish brown, and for the volume to increase.
While the annual event is performed by the archbishop in the Naples cathedral, the Church has never officially declared it to be miraculous.
Scientists have repeatedly studied the liquid and some say the miracle is due to a change in the viscosity of the chemicals when the phial is stirred or moved.
However, others say that once clotted blood has broken down, it cannot reclot, thus making the resolidification of the blood after liquefaction to be even more miraculous than the initial liquefaction. The re-clotting of the relic generally occurs soon after the vials are returned to the locked vault where they are kept.
Other explanations have been put forward over the years such as a possible involvement of magnetic forces from Vesuvius, a nearby volcano, psychokineses from the crowd, as well as poltergeist or other spiritualistic effects.
It is interesting to note that the same phenomena occurs with other relics in the Naples vicinity, such as a relic containing what is believed to be the blood of St. John the Baptist, the blood of St. Stephen the first martyr, of St. Pantaleone, of St. Patricia, of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and several others.
The faithful, however, believe the liquefaction is a grace from God which is had through the intercession of St. Januarius.
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