Friday, October 22

The blood of San Genaro does not liquefy and in Naples fears are unleashed

Correspondent in Rome



“We only needed San Genaro to fail,” say the Neapolitans, an expression that the local national newspaper “Il Mattino” collects in the first three-column pages. In a black year that everyone wants to forget, the Neapolitans, who have also seen their myth Maradona die, hoped at least for the miracle of their patron Saint Genaro. But this time his blood was not liquefied preserved in a glass reliquary in the Cathedral of Naples. Not only a disappointment for the Neapolitans, but for their faithful and curious around the world. With the «no» of San Genaro, now «Naples is afraid», affirms «Il Mattino», which dedicates two pages to the «failed miracle». When this “secular miracle” does not take place, the Neapolitans fear that it is the sign of a bad luck or a bad omen for the coming year, although it will be difficult for it to be more unfortunate than 2020. For the phenomenon of liquefaction, the Church speaks of “prodigy”, as it is not considered a miracle.

The tradition is secular. The reliquary with the supposed blood of the saint, in solid state, is shaken by the archbishop or a monsignor before the faithful and turns into liquid. This has almost always happened in the three times in which it is removed from its usual place, in a cathedral chapel: The Saturday before the first Sunday in May, on September 19, which is its patronal feast, and every 16 December. Yesterday, it was tried twice, in the morning and at 7:40 pm. Faced with disappointment, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who was presiding over the liturgical celebration, warned that a drama had not occurred: “Pray to the patron, he will not abandon us,” Cardinal Sepe said.

It is precisely this last date that takes us back to a prodigious event, which, according to tradition, saved Naples from a tragedy by the violent eruption of Vesuvius. It was in 1631, when on December 16, the lava from the volcano threatened to destroy the Neapolitan capital. In the mind was the memory of neighboring Pompeii, the Roman city buried by an eruption of Vesuvius in the other of AD 79. The panicked Neapolitans entrusted themselves to Saint Genaro. They took in procession through the streets the bust of the Saint containing his skull and the reliquary with his blood. They implored a miracle for San Genaro to stop the lava. So it happened. The fiery streams that descended the slope of the volcano, in a march that seemed unstoppable, stopped at the edge of the city. Naples was saved. For its inhabitants there was no doubt: San Genaro did the miracle. This is how it has been remembered since 1631.

The incredible coincidence with 1835

Only on rare occasions has the “Lay miracle” of liquefaction. But it so happens that in this leap year that we are about to close, December 16, 1835 is remembered when the miracle did not take place either. Then future misfortunes were feared. And they happened. In 1836 the cholera epidemic arrived in Naples, which for at least four years had raged in Europe. It caused more than 5,000 deaths in a first phase, and after a pause, in a second phase, in 1837, more than 13,000 people died. According to popular tradition, the cholera epidemic was the consequence of the wrath of San Genaro. The curse was fulfilled: “leap year, sinister year.”

The news has had a great national and international echo, being the main trend on Twitter. Some have taken it seriously and with concern, others jokingly, which has been reflected in comments of all kinds, without lacking irony or even sarcasm. It is not a joke, but something very serious for the anthropologist and scientific popularizer Marino Niola (Naples, 1943): “San Genaro, Maradona de los santos has missed a penalty”, it states. Speaking to “Il Mattino”, the anthropologist believes that the failed prodigy is causing concern throughout the city. And he emphasizes that faith is a symbol also for atheists, who feel the weight of this signal.

«I know perfectly – explains Marino Niola – that it can appear difficult, to external observers, to understand such unconditional devotion: here (the miracle of San Genaro) is a symbol, a point of reference, a safe harbor for each inhabitant of the city ”, emphasizes the Neapolitan anthropologist. There is no doubt that in the year of the pandemic, a time that is becoming eternal, superstition is increasing. This horrible year only lacked that the prodigy of San Genaro did not occur for more irrational expressions or ideas to emerge.

Science explanation

Science has explained the “miracle” of San Genaro, healthy born in Naples in the third century, beheaded by order of Diocletian, on September 19, 305. That date of his martyrdom coincides with the liquefaction of the saint’s blood, which is repeated two more times a year. Several scientific experiments have been carried out on this phenomenon, one in particular. In 1991, Franco Ramaccini, Sergio Della Sala and Luigi Garlaschelli, three researchers from the University of Pavia, carried out an experiment published in the prestigious journal Nature. At the base of his hypothesis was the concept in chemistry of “thixotropy”, that is, “the property of certain fluids, such as gelatin or honey, which tend to liquefy when stirred and solidify in a state of rest”, as defined in the dictionary of the RAE The “prodigy” was repeated in the laboratory using substances already known in centuries past, which could also have been used in the past to recreate the phenomenon of liquefaction. However, the investigators had not revealed in particular the real origin of the liquid present in the vials of the Naples Cathedral. And this is the central point of the phenomenon: there is no certainty that this liquid is actually the blood of the patron saint of the city of Naples.

According to tradition, during the execution of the saint, a lady of the nobility, named Eusebia, managed to collect the bishop’s blood in two vials, keeping it safe. It is believed that Eusebia gave the bishop of Naples the two vials with the martyr’s blood. The first documentation of the phenomenon of liquefaction dates back to August 17, 1389, when a Sicilian author wrote: «A solemn procession was made for the miracle that our Lord Jesus Christ showed us in the blood of Blessed Genaro, which was in an ampoule and liquefied as if the same day it had left the body of the Blessed ». It is the first text of the phenomenon, but it does not mean that the “prodigy” had not occurred before.

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