Saturday, May 04, 2024

Reliquary Busts of the Chapel of St Januarius in Naples

The Italian city of Naples keeps three feasts in honor of its Patron St Januarius, the relics of whose blood famously liquify on all three occasions. His principal feast, the anniversary of his martyrdom, is on September 19, but today, the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, there is a commemoration of the translation of his relics (one of several) from Pozzuoli, about 9 miles to the west, the place where he died during the persecution of Diocletian, ca. 305 AD. The third feast, on December 16th, commemorates a miracle which took place in 1631, when he stopped an especially powerful lava flow from Mt Vesuvius that threatened to destroy the city’s winter grain supply.

The Martyrdom of St Januarius in the Amphiteater at Pozzuoli, 1636, by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Januarius was in point of fact bishop of neither Naples nor Pozzuoli, but of Benevento, about 33 miles to the north-east of Naples. In the Middle Ages, a large part of his relics were transferred to the important monastery of Monte Vergine, and from there to the cathedral of Naples only at the very end of the 15th century. In the wake of a horrific plague that devastated the city between 1526 and 1529 (worsened by the events of a series of major military conflicts), the Neapolitans made a vow to build a new chapel to house them; in classic southern Italian fashion, the project was not even begun until 80 years later, and not completed until 1646. The result, however, is one of the most splendid Baroque chapels in all of Europe.

The chapel also boasts a collection of 54 extremely fine silver reliquary busts of the city’s various patrons and other popular Saints, all made by artisans from the city and environs in an era when the art of silversmithing was at its height. At the December feast, the blood relic and several of these busts are carried in procession from the cathedral down to the nearby church of St Clare. The streets of central Naples are very narrow; I once went there for this feast (generally the least crowded of the three), and got to see the liquified blood moving around in its reliquary only a few feet away from me as it passed by on the way back to the cathedral.

Our friend Mr John Ryan Debil of The Home Oratory just visited Naples, and kindly agreed to share with us these pictures which he took of the busts (not all of them) – gratias tibi quam maximas, optime! (I don’t know who the last two Saints are; if you can identify them, please be so good as to leave a note in the combox. UPDATE: thanks to reader SMJ for identifying one of them, and correcting my mistake on another Saint.) 
St Joachim holding the Virgin Mary
St Anne
St Augustine
St Joseph
St Philip Neri
St Francis Caracciolo, a Neapolitan nobleman and one of the founders of the Congregation of Clerks Regular Minor (nicknamed in Italian “Caracciolini”). Originally called Ascanio, he had just been ordained a priest when a letter addressed to a kinsman of the same name was mistakenly delivered to him, in which Fr Giovanni Adorno, a priest of Genova, asked him to join a new congregation of Clerks Regular that would unite both the active and contemplative lives. Caracciolo joined the congregation, taking Francis as his name in religion in honor of St Francis of Assisi; when Adorno died in 1593, he succeeded him as superior for seven years. One of the pillars of the Congregation’s life since its inception has been perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which is kept up by all the members of their houses in rotation. They also have a fourth vow never to seek out any kind of office within the Order or the Church, and the words “Votum non ambiendi dignitates – a vow of not seeking out dignities” are written on the book in his hand. His feast is kept on June 4th.
The Immaculate Conception
St Alphonsus Liguori, counted as a native son of Naples, since the town where he was born in 1697, Marianella, was later absorbed into the city.
St Dominic; the tiny church in his hand gives no idea of the enormous Dominican church and house in Naples, the place where St Thomas Aquinas (born to a noble family in the kingdom of Naples) heard the crucifix speak to him and say, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward would thou have?”, to which he replied, “Nothing but Thyself, Lord.”
St Gertrude (“Geltrude” in Italian.) 
St Francis, holding the Franciscan Rule.
St Michael
St John the Baptist
St Roch
St Paschal Baylon, a Spanish Franciscan lay brother famous for his devotion to the Eucharist, and patron of Eucharistic Congresses (feast on May 17.)
The Archangel Raphael and Tobias
St Mary Magdalene
St Emygdius, bishop of Ascoli Piceno in the Marches, who is popular throughout Italy as a patron to invoke against earthquakes, which, as one might imagine, are common in the region which also has the only active volcano on mainland Europe.
St Irene of Thessalonica, Patroness of Naples against lightning.

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