A vial of his blood liquifies and becomes fresh
at frequent intervals
SS. JANUARIUS, Bishop of Benevento, and His Companions, Martyrs (c. A.D. 305 ?)
- SAINT JANUARIUS (Gennaro), a native some say of Naples, others of Benevento, was bishop of this latter city when the persecution of Diocletian broke out. Sossus, deacon of Miseno, Proculus, deacon of Pozzuoli, and Euticius and Acutius, laymen, were imprisoned at Pozzuoli by an order of the governor of Campania, before whom they had confessed their faith. Sossus by his wisdom and sanctity had earned the friendship of St Januarius, and upon the news that this servant of God and several others were fallen into the hands of the persecutors, the bishop determined to make them a visit to comfort and encourage them. He did not escape the notice of the keepers, who gave information that someone from Benevento had visited the Christian prisoners. The governor gave orders that Januarius, whom he found to be the person, should be arrested and brought before him at Nola, which was accordingly done. Festus, the bishop's deacon, and Desiderius, a lector of his church, were also taken, and had a share in the interrogatories and torments which the good bishop underwent at Nola. Some time after the governor went to Pozzuoli, and these three confessors, loaded with irons, were made to walk before his chariot to that town, where they were thrown into the same prison where the four martyrs already mentioned were detained. They had been condemned to be torn in pieces by wild beasts, and were then lying in expectation of the execution of their sentence. The day after the arrival of St Januarius and his two companions all these champions of Christ were exposed to the beasts in the amphitheatre, but none of the animals could be provoked to touch them. The people were amazed and imputed their preservation to magic, and the martyrs were condemned to be beheaded. This sentence was executed near Pozzuoli, and the martyrs were buried near that town.
- The city of Naples eventually got possession of the relics of St Januarius, which in the fifth century were brought from the little church of San Gennaro near the Solfatara. During the wars of the Normans they were removed, first to Benevento, and some time after to the abbey of Monte Vergine; but in 1497 they were brought back to Naples, where he has long been honoured as principal patron.
- No reliance can be placed upon the above particulars of the martyrdom of St Januarius ; all the recensions of his " acts " are late and untrustworthy ; nothing certain is known of him or of those who suffered with him. All the fame of Januarius rests upon that " standing miracle " (as Baronius called it), the liquefaction of the alleged relic of his blood which is preserved in the chapel of the treasury of the cathedral-church of Naples, a happening of which there are records for the past four hundred years. The relic consists of a dark, solid, opaque mass which half fills the small glass phial in which it is contained, the phial itself being fixed in a metal reliquary. Eighteen times a year, in connexion with the feast of the translation of the relics to Naples (Saturday before the first Sunday in May), the feast of the saint (September 19), and the anniversary of the averting of a threatened eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 (December 16), this relic is brought out and held by a priest in the presence of what is believed to be the martyr's head, exposed in a silver reliquary on the altar. Prayers are said by the people, especially as represented by a number of poor women who have a privileged position in the church and are known as the " aunts of St Januarius " (zie di San Gennaro). After a varying interval, from two minutes to an hour as a rule, the priest from time to time turning the reliquary upside down, the dark mass, hitherto solid and immovable, detaches itself from the sides of the glass, becomes liquid and reddish in colour, and sometimes froths, bubbles up, and increases in volume. This takes place not only in full view of the people but in close proximity to any accredited persons who may have been admitted to the sanctuary. The priest then announces, " The miracle has happened ", Te Deum is sung, and the relic venerated by the congregation and clergy. Few, if any, alleged miracles have been examined more carefully, more often, or by people of more divergent views than this of the blood of St Januarius, and it may be safely affirmed that no expert inquirer, however rationalist in temper he may be, now denies that what is said to take place does take place. There is no trick, and there is as yet no completely satisfactory explanation (though many have been advanced, both by Catholics and others), except the explanation of miracle. But before a miracle may be certainly recognized all natural explanations must have been examined and found wanting, and all objections answered. Among the undoubted facts concerning this relic are the following :
- The dark substance alleged to be the blood of St Januarius (which for more than 300 years has remained sealed up in a glass phial immovably set in a metal reliquary) does not always occupy the same volume. Sometimes the black and hard mass is seen almost completely to fill the phial, at other times there is a vacant space above it of more than a third of its bulk.
- Concurrently with this variation in volume there is a variation in weight, which of late years has been tested in an accurate chemical balance. Taking the extremes which have been recorded, this variation has amounted to as much as 27 grammes.
- The rapidity of the liquefaction seems to bear no ratio to the temperature of the atmosphere. Sometimes when the temperature has stood as high as 86° Fahrenheit, more than two hours have passed before any signs of liquefaction were observed. On the other hand, when the temperature has been 15° or even 20° lower than this, complete liquefaction has occurred in from 10 to 15 minutes.
- The liquefaction does not always take place in the same way. Instances are recorded in which the liquefied contents seem almost to boil and are of a vivid crimson colour, while in other cases the colour is dull and the movement sluggish.
- On the other hand, among the difficulties in the way of accepting the phenomenon as a miracle the following have been pointed out. The fact that a very large majority of all other blood-relics of which similar behaviour seems to be true are found in the neighbourhood of Naples; and some of the relics, e.g. those of St John Baptist, St Stephen, St Ursula, are almost certainly spurious. The relic has seven times been known to liquefy while a jeweller was repairing the reliquary, but often during the December exposition it has failed to liquefy at all. The authenticity of the relic itself is extremely problematical ; we have no record of the cultus of St Januarius before the fifth century. Moreover there is the consideration, of yet greater weight if the relic be not authentic, of the seeming purposelessness of the marvel. Such a criticism may be levelled at many other alleged miracles ; we cannot search the ways of God ; and it is true that for centuries the liquefaction has been a standing manifestation of His omnipotence for thousands of Neapolitans. But it must also be remembered that marvels of this kind, so far from being a help, are a definite hindrance to the faith of other people, of different temperament but of no less good will : and these also have souls to be saved.
- Miracles recorded in Holy Scripture are revealed facts and an object of faith. Other miracles are not considered in the same light, neither does our faith in part rest upon them as upon the former, though they illustrate and confirm it ; nor do they demand or admit any higher assent than that which prudence requires and which is due to the evidence of human authority, upon which they depend. When such miracles are propounded, they are not to be rashly admitted : the evidence of the fact and circumstances ought to be examined to the bottom, and duly weighed ; where that fails it is the part of prudence to suspend or refuse our assent. If human evidence set the certainty of a miracle above the reach of doubt, it must more powerfully excite us to raise our minds to God in humble worship, love and praise, and to honour Him in His saints, when by such wonderful means He gives us tangible proofs of the glory to which He exalts them.
The unsatisfactory " acts " of St Januarius and companions are preserved to us in varying forms. The texts printed in the Acta Sanctorum, September, vol. vi (but out of place, at the end of the volume), sufficiently illustrate this diversity. On the other hand there can be no serious doubt that a bishop named Januarius was really martyred somewhere near Naples, and that he was venerated at an early date. Not only does the priest Uranius, shortly after the year 431, allude to him in terms which imply that he was a saint in Heaven, on a footing with the famous St Martin of Tours, but a fifth-century representation of him in the so-called " catacomb of St Januarius " at Naples depicts him with a nimbus. His name also is entered on this day in the early calendars both of East and West. See the Acta Sanctorum, November, vol. ii, part 2, p. 517 ; and Pio Franchi de' Cavalieri, in Studi e Testi, vol. xxiv (1912), pp. 79-114. The question of the liquefaction of the blood has of course been discussed again and again. For a vindication of the supernatural character of the prodigy, consult especially Taglialatela, Memorie storico-critiche del culto e del sangue di S. Gennaro (1893) ; Cavène, Le célèbre miracle de S. Janvier à Naples et à Pouzzoles (1909) ; Alfano e Amitrano, Il miracolo di S. Gennaro (1924)-this last includes a bibliography of 1346 entries-and for English readers, Bishop E. P. Graham, The Mystery of Naples (1909) ; and Ian Grant, The Testimony of Blood (1929). The view of those who question the miraculous nature of the liquefaction is set out in Isenkrahe, Neapolitanische Blutwunder (1912), and in The Month, January, February and March 1927 and February 1930, by Fr Thurston, who also contributes the article in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. Viii, pp. 295-297. The Kirchliches Handlexikon states (vol. ii, col. 25), " a conclusive judgement in this matter can hardly be arrived at, but so far no natural explanation has been found ".
Butler's Lives of the Saints Christian Classics / P.O. Box 30 / Westminster, Maryland 21157
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BTTT on the Optional Memorial of St. Januarius, September 19, 2005!
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BTTT on the Optional Memorial of St. Januarius, September 19, 2006!
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