"Il sangue si è sciolto, Il miracolo è fatto" ("The blood has liquefied. The miracle has happened.") announced Crescenzio Cardinal Sepe at 10:38 this morning in the crowded cathedral of Naples to the great joy of all.
Today is the feast of San Gennaro (Saint Januarius, 272-305. Patron of Naples), devotion to whom traveled to the New World with the multitude of immigrants from southern Italy and is now institutionalized in popular Italian street feste such as the one in New York's "Little Italy" neighborhood (where my mother was born almost a century ago).
Gennaro himself was bishop of Benevento, some 33 miles north-east of Naples, and was martyred at Pozzuoli during the "Great Persecution" under the Emperor Diocletian, the last serious Roman persecution prior to the conversion of Constantine. His relics eventually made their way to Naples, including the most famous of his relics, a vial of his dried blood, which is believed to liquefy miraculously three times each year - on this his feast day, on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the transfer of his relics to Naples), and on December 16 (the anniversary of the day in 1631 when a flow of lava from Mount Vesuvius miraculously bypassed the city, thanks, it was believed, to his intercession).
The presence of Mount Vesuvius - a mere 9 miles from the center of Naples, highlights the paradox of Naples, a vibrant, exciting city, on a beautiful bay, in a setting of of incomparable natural beauty, blessed with fertile soil, but forever threatened by one of nature's most dangerous and unpredictable destructive forces. In a sense, Naples is like a parable of life itself - the blessings and dangers of ordinary human life on earth as well as of the spiritual journey through life on earth to the kingdom of God. How fitting then that the Neapolitans turn so regularly to a saint who has already passed through the blessings and dangers of this life to assist them as they struggle to do the same!
One can watch past years' celebrations of the miracle on YouTube. See, for example,