If you think Catholicism is a little weird, then you’re in for a real treat. The Church celebrates St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples and of blood banks. His strange story is one of the best!
Januarius, affectionately known as San Gennaro, was the bishop of
Benevento. Along with his six companions – Festus, Desiderius,
Sossus, Proculus, Euticius, and Acutius – Januarius was arrested
during the Christian persecution of Diocletian in 305. The young
bishop and his faithful friends were thrown to the lions, but the
beasts weren’t hungry. The felines wouldn’t touch the seven men. (I
often wonder how the soldiers and the crowds responded when this
sort of thing happened. Did they yell at the lions? “Eat! Eat those
awful Christians! Come on, they taste so good!” Or did some of them
get scared and sense that these Christians might really be onto
something?) Eventually, the soldiers decided to simply kill the men
themselves. They chopped off their heads.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Christians, because of
their belief in the resurrection of the body, go to great lengths to
assure the proper burial of a body. Just as Joseph of Arimathea
asked for Jesus’ body after his death on the cross, some of the
faithful would have requested the bodies (and heads) of Januarius
and his six companions. Someone who was part of that group decided
to collect some of Januarius’ blood. The martyr’s blood was
transferred into an ampoule – a small glass vial used to preserve a
liquid – which made its way to Naples. The bishop’s bones are buried
in the crypt of the cathedral. The ampoule still contains some of
his dried blood.
A few times a year, the ampoule of dried blood is shown to the
public – today, the feast of St. Januarius, is one of those days.
The Archbishop of Naples processes with the relic around the
cathedral, the faithful pray intensely, and then it happens.
Januarius’ dried blood begins to liquefy and bubble as the ancient
relic is shown to the people of God.
I know, I know – it’s weird. Indeed it is. And it’s been happening
for over 400 years. I’ve never been to Naples to see it, but
thousands of other people have. Experiments have been conducted, yet
there has been no medical or scientific explanation for this strange
phenomenon. The brilliant Cardinal Newman said, “I think it
impossible to withstand the evidence which is brought for the
liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples.”
What do we make of this strange happening? Do we dismiss it as a
magic trick? Do we book a ticket to Naples? Do we simply roll our
eyes and say, “There’s another reason that I no longer go to
church.” Or do we go to church this Sunday, for the first time in a
long time, because of this miraculous story?