Monday, September 19, 2016

Other Miracles of St Januarius

Today is the feast of St Januarius, who is also widely known by the Italian form of his name “San Gennaro”, as emigrants from Naples, of which he is the principle Patron, have brought devotion to him wherever they have settled; the feast held in his honor in New York City is particularly famous. September 19th is the day of his martyrdom, which took place at Pozzuoli during the persecution of Diocletian, alongside that of several other Christians from various parts of Campania; he was in point of fact bishop of Benevento, about 33 miles to the north-east of Naples. In the Middle Ages, his relics were transferred to the important monastery of Monte Vergine, and from there to the cathedral of Naples only at the beginning of the 16th century.

He is of course especially well-known for the famous miracle which takes place on his feast day in most years, when the relic of his blood is brought into the presence of the relic of his skull and liquifies. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that the miracle normally happens three times a year, since Naples celebrates two other feasts of him as well. On the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, the translation of his relics is commemorated; on December 16th, a third feast commemorates a rather spectacular miracle by which St Januarius demonstrated his care for and protection of the city. In 1631, an unusually powerful lava flow from Mt Vesuvius, the crater of which is only 9 miles from the city center, had come down towards the city and threatened to destroy the granaries which would provide bread for the populace through the upcoming winter. The bishop therefore brought the Saint’s relics to the lava flow, which turned aside at that point. I attended this December feast one year, when the relics of the blood are brought from the cathedral to the church of St Clare; I could see very clearly that the liquified blood was moving around inside the crystal vial which contains it, mounted in the reliquary, as it was carried back to the large chapel at the cathedral where it is housed.

Outside the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples is a monument which commemorates another occasion on which St Januarius saved the city and the region around it from the eruptions of Vesuvius, in 1707.

“To Saint Januarius, chief patron of the city of Naples, because, when (the relic of) his sacred head was shown on an altar set up in this place, he put down and completely pacified the destructive assaults of Mt Vesuvius in the year 1707, as, with a great eruption of fire, it raged with increasing force for a great many days, and thus threatened most certainly to burn the city and all of Campania; the Neapolitans, mindful of his divine favor, as also of the countless others by which he has liberated the city and its region from war, famine, plague and earthquake, set this monument.”
Behind the cathedral, in the Piazza Cardinale Sforza, stands a large baroque obelisk, also still called by the medieval Italian term “guglia”, which was erected in the Saint’s honor after the miracle of 1631. The inscription on the base says that “the grateful city of Naples raised (it) to Saint Januarius, most ready protector of the nation and kingdom, and her most-well deserving citizen.”

And here is really magnificent reliquary formerly used for the processions, now kept in the museum at the church of St Clare, where the December liquefaction happens.

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