Naples the capital of the South
Over the centuries, the capital of the South has become a city of mystical spirituality strongly rooted in blood. In fact, in Naples, land of saints and ancient cults, there is not only the blood of San Gennaro for which the miracle of liquefaction is performed, but there are many other relics of saints, martyrs and ascetics, still preserved in churches, convents and noble chapels of ancient and noble Neapolitan families, linked to blood, red, fluid, vital, sacred, a divine element and symbol of power and life.
The ampullae filled with the blood of the saints
Many ampoules filled with the precious liquid are kept at the foot of Vesuvius. Indeed, after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, religious images of all kinds and various relics, especially of Christian martyrs, flowed copiously into our city and have not moved since. Many of these lumps have the singular characteristic of liquefying with impeccable precision.
In Piazza del Gesù, and precisely in the famous monastery of the Poor Clares of St Clare, one witnesses the melting of the blood of the protomartyr Stephen on 3 August and 26 December. The relic was brought to Naples by Saint Gaudioso and was discovered by pure chance behind a secret crypt of an altar.
The blood of Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, also known for being the author of the cantata Quanno nascette ninno was melted every 2 August in the church of Santa Maria della Redenzione dei Captivi. The blood was lost in the post-earthquake period of 1980, but the reliquary containing the saint’s most precious relics, including the handkerchiefs and the blood-stained shirt, is still visible. Also, the relics of the blood of San Luigi Gonzaga and San Pantaleone, kept in the Gesù Vecchio church, both active on 21 June. The blood of St Laurence also melts, the miracle occurring on 10 August.
The Franciscan church of San Lorenzo Maggiore preserves the ampulla of the blood of San Lorenzo, which also contains fat, ashes and a piece of the saint’s skin. This blood, which throughout the year maintains a state of solidification, on the anniversary of his martyrdom, however, and sometimes even outside this date, becomes liquid and bright red. The martyrdom of St Laurence the Greater took place in Rome on 10 August 258 A.D., under the empire of Valerian, who was condemned to burn alive on a hot gridiron (some historians claim he was beheaded). This fluidisation also took place without anyone touching or shaking the ampulla, as happened with that of San Gennaro.
It seems, however, that the ampulla, with the true blood of St Laurence, is kept in the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria di Amaseno (FR), brought by a Roman soldier who had converted to Christianity, who collected the Saint’s blood with a cloth, taking away, from that body so atrociously martyred, also some fat, ashes and some flap of skin, preserving it in the ampulla that has come down to us. It seems, moreover, that other relics of the Saint are kept in Amalfi, Vallo della Lucania, Rome, Madrid and Naples in the churches of San Gregorio Armeno, San Severo and Santi Apostoli, and even in private Neapolitan homes.
In the historical centre of Naples, among the famous shepherds’ and sacred craft shops, is the church of San Gregorio Armeno, also known as San Biagio Maggiore, built on the ancient temple of Ceres, goddess of fertility, and the adjoining college of priestesses of the ancient cult, in which various liquefaction phenomena are concentrated, starting with the blood of St John the Baptist, which melts on 29 August and sometimes on 24 June. Surprising is the behaviour of the blood of the Baptist, which melted for the first time in 1554 during the celebration of mass in the convent of Sant’Arcangelo in Baiano, where it had been kept, coming from France, since the 13th century.
When the convent was suppressed, due to the nuns’ legendary licentious behaviour, the saint’s blood, divided into two ampoules, was entrusted to the nuns of San Gregorio Armeno and Donnaromita. The former continues to be regularly disbanded, while the latter has ceased all activity since the 17th century. When the monastery of Donnaromita was also suppressed, the ampulla returned next to its twin preserved in San Gregorio Armeno and strangely enough, it began to appear again, albeit in a reduced size, with a simple reddening, on the feast of the Saint.
The church also houses the blood of St Patrick, the co-patron saint of the city, who is also known for the mysterious miraculous liquid that has been dripping from her tomb for centuries. Legend has it that Patrizia was a descendant of Emperor Constantine. Born in Constantinople, at a young age she decided to take a vow of her virginity and to keep her faith she fled the city to avoid the marriage that Emperor Constantine II tried to force upon her. Arriving in Rome with her handmaids, she received the virginal veil from Pope Liberius.
After the death of her father, she returned to Constantinople where, setting aside all claims to the imperial crown, she distributed all her possessions to the poor and embarked on a journey to the Holy Land. It was a storm that caused her to be shipwrecked on the coast of Naples, on the small island of Megaride, where Castel dell’Ovo stands today, in whose caves she lived with her sisters and founded the order of patrician nuns. But, following an illness, she died shortly thereafter, in 685, and was buried in the monastery of Caponapoli, which she herself indicated as her burial place.
The Monastery of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples
In 1864, his remains were moved to the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno, covered in wax and preserved in a gold and silver urn decorated with gems and placed in the side chapel. The miracle linked to the melting of the blood has been perpetuated for almost 1200 years.
Saint Patrick is considered the patron saint of women in labour and immediately received special attention from the Neapolitans also because of the exudation of manna (Santa Manna is a liquid that can inexplicably ooze from relics or holy images of saints). Notoriety later increased for the liquefaction of blood. It is said, in fact, that her blood miraculously came out of a tooth pulled from the body of the saint, who had already been dead for a few centuries, by a Roman knight out of great devotion.
Tooth and blood, today, are preserved in a precious reliquary, which, for a long time, was the object of veneration, but has not been displayed in public for many years. On 25 August each year, on the feast day of the saint, many devotees flock to the church to venerate her and witness the miracle of the liquefaction of her blood.
The prodigy of San Gennaro
The prodigy has also been repeated every Tuesday morning since 1645. But the most famous prodigy is that of San Gennaro, the bishop of Benevento, beheaded in Pozzuoli in the early 4th century by the thugs of the governor Dragontius. The ampullae with his cloth, fixed inside a small round shrine, are kept in the cathedral, in two differently shaped glass balsam jars, datable to the 4th century, one almost completely filled, the other half-empty as part of its contents was taken away by Charles III of Bourbon.
According to tradition, the miracle has been taking place, constantly, since 1389, three times a year (on the Saturday preceding the first Sunday in May and on the eight days following, on 19 September, the feast day of San Gennaro and the anniversary of his martyrdom in the Solfatara on 305, and throughout the octave of celebrations in honour of the patron saint, on 16 December, the anniversary of the apocalyptic eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, when the lava reached Naples and was stopped on the Magdalene bridge by the prompt intervention of the Saint, and sometimes also on 14 January, in memory of the return to Naples of the martyr’s remains, which had been hidden in Montevergine until 1497).
The event occurs during a solemn ceremony led by the Archbishop of Naples inside the Cathedral, in front of thousands of faithful. Liquefaction is believed to herald good news for the city; on the contrary, failure to melt is believed to be an omen of bad events. A similar phenomenon occurs in Pozzuoli, where, in the church of San Gennaro, the marble slab on which the prelate was supposedly beheaded is preserved. The cippus is said to still be soaked in blood.
And even today, there are those who claim that those same red traces become more intensely coloured and ooze at the same time as the most important liquefaction of the cathedral. The Vatican has always maintained a detached attitude on such phenomena, calling them prodigies, not miracles. The distinction is subtle: while the miracle is defined as a fact that has a supernatural intervention as its cause, the prodigy, although it is outside the natural order of things, is interpreted as the divine announcement of events.