San Gennaro: A Traditional Catholic Neapolitan Feast
If you go to Naples on September 19th you will find a huge crowd of people celebrating the day of San Gennaro, a bishop and a martyr from Pozzuoli, canonized by the Catholic Church. This day is extremely important to Neapolitans, as San Gennaro is the patron saint of the city. The feast of San Gennaro involves prayer, processions and celebrations, and is usually based around a fixed program held in the Duomo of Naples. One of the most important events is linked to an emotional ritual, rich in hope and devotion: the liquefaction of the saint's dried blood.
The Miracle of San Gennaro Blood (In Italian)
The Dissolution of the Blood
On the feast day of San Gennaro, believers gather to pray and follow specific rituals, to bring about the miracle that is the liquefaction of the saint's blood. The "miracle" of liquefaction takes place inside the Duomo, when the substance (blood) in the cruets dissolves into a vivid red liquid. The event is celebrated on the first Sunday of May, then again on the 19th of September, and also in December.
According to the tradition, the blood of the martyr was collected after his decapitation by a woman, who stored it in two cruets. Neapolitans believe this annual liquefaction is essential to their city. If it does not occur it is an omen for natural catastrophes and negative events.
The first record of the liquefaction dates back to 1389; disasters linked to this event not occurring include the 1527 plague, which killed tens of thousands, and the earthquake in 1980. At the end of the 18th century, after a particularly bloody battle that saw the French take Naples, it is said that the Napoleonic general demanded the miracle to be celebrated to bless the victory. Neapolitans were none too happy about it, and were vindicated when, after the ceremony, the blood did not liquefy. Only minutes after General Championnet gave the archbishop two options--change the blood or die.
This year, soccer mad Naples had a little something extra to celebrate on the saint's feast day. On September 18th, Napoli soccer team beat reigning champions A.C. Milan, in a spectacular show of goals and passion. The following day 10,000 gathered in the rain at the Piazza Plebiscito to honor the city and also their soccer team. A week later Napoli would host their first Champions League game since 1990 at the San Paolo Stadium, beating Villarreal 2-0, and igniting the imagination of an entire city seemingly blessed by the good omen of San Gennaro's liquid blood.
A Mysterious Event
The blood miracle has drawn great attention, especially from scientists and researchers. While some claimed to have debunked the miracle, Catholic Neapolitans firmly believe the event they attend is an unexplainable miracle offered to the town by its patron.Some have tried to explain the occurrence as the process of thixotropy, which is when some materials become fluid when subjected to mechanical stress and then return to their solid state when left undisturbed.
Others have turned away from this theory as they believe these types of liquids do not last for centuries, as is the case with the substance within the cruets in Naples’ Cathedral. As for the Roman Catholic Church, they have clarified their own take on the matter. According to the Church the liquefaction of the blood isn't a miracle per se, but rather an amazing event considered prodigious by the religious local tradition as the event hasn't been fully explained yet by the scientific community.
There are theories,yes, but overall the event remains shrouded in mystery prompting several superstitions and legends to sprout up over the years. The most common is associated with the lottery, with many Neapolitans betting on San Gennaro's numbers (9-15-18-53-55).
San Gennaro's Feast in New York City
A lot of the Italian immigrants who moved to New York City were from Naples and have kept celebrations of the feast of San Gennaro alive and well in their new country. The feast day is also celebrated in many other parts of the world. Dedicated to keeping alive the spirit and faith of the early Italian immigrants, a famous San Gennaro Feast takes place every year in Little Italy in New York City. Originally a one-day religious commemoration, the event began in September 1926 and has now expanded into an 11-day celebration that begins on a Thursday in mid-September. The event includes religious processions, colorful parades, traditional Italian food and old style musical entertainment. A version of the San Gennaro feast held in New York was also featured in The Godfather II and III.
In a city like Naples, so full of life, passion, superstition, religion and at times the darker side of things, the ritual and festivities surrounding their patron saint is something not to be missed.