San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples and his figure is highly venerated by the local population. His importance in the city lies in the strong devotion the city's inhabitants have for the saint and his ability to unite the community in times of difficulty. His figure is linked to many historical events in the city, such as the plague of 1656 and the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, during which the saint is said to have stopped the lava at the city gates.
Devotion to St. Gennaro is manifested especially during the celebrations of the three miracles of the blood that occur at three different times each year. These three moments are the first Saturday in May, 19 September (the feast day of San Gennaro) and 16 December (the day of the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631). During these moments, the population gathers in the Cathedral of Naples to witness the liquefaction of the saint's blood. If the blood liquefies, the crowd believes that the saint has performed a miracle and that the city has been blessed. Otherwise, so many misfortunes are going to happen to the city.
What happens in the May miracle
The May miracle is the first of three events linked to San Gennaro. The designated day is the Saturday preceding the first Sunday in May. Therefore, this year it will be 6 May to be the day 'of the miracle'. The ceremony involves the solemn procession of the bust of San Gennaro and the ampullae containing the Martyr's blood from the Cathedral to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Piazza del Gesù. The procession is held to commemorate the transfer of the Saint's Relics from the Agro Marciano cemetery, in the Fuorigrotta area, to the Catacombs of San Gennaro, located in Capodimonte.
The May procession is also called the 'procession of the infrascati'. The reason lies in the custom of the participating clergy to protect themselves from the sun by covering their heads with wreaths of flowers. This is commemorated by the silver crown above the small trunk on which the reliquary with the Saint's blood is placed, which bears in the centre an enormous emerald, a gift from the city, which comes from Central America. In the May miracle, the Cardinal of Naples goes to the Treasury Chapel and proceeds to open the safe that holds the martyr's relics. Afterwards, the silver busts of the co-patron saints will be placed on the cathedral square. The start of the procession will be preceded by a brief moment of prayer led by the archbishop.
Curiosities about the miracle of St. Gennaro
The liquefaction is an auspicious sign for the whole year. It is an auspicious sign for the city, which every year awaits the ancient rite with respect and deference. One almost seems to live with the anticipation of the days of the miracle, as if it were an exam to be passed. Of course, not everyone believes this and it is obvious that this is the case. The process that takes place is nothing more than a chemical trick. In fact, it is possible to obtain the same substance seen in the ampoules by using molysite, table salt and calcium carbonate. The origin of the prodigy would therefore be due to the thixotropic properties of the recreated substance, i.e. its ability to liquefy from the solid state when shaken. In any case, these are still incomplete scientific explanations. The aura of mystery and doubt surrounding the miracle of San Gennaro is still strong. And perhaps it is more fascinating to let faith win out over science in this case.
Letting faith win, we want and must therefore believe in the benevolence of the miracle. In short, without the liquefaction there are misfortunes and catastrophic events. Indeed, this was the case in 1943, the year of the Nazi occupation of Naples. Twenty years later, in 1973, a great cholera epidemic struck the city. How can we forget the catastrophe of the 1980 Irpinia earthquake; the memory is still fresh in the minds and hearts of many Neapolitans. Another year in which liquefaction did not occur was 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also no miracle during the visit of St John Paul II, nor during that of Benedict XVI. In short, if you don't want to believe, don't, but we hope the miracle always happens just in case!