Naples can surely be defined as one of the most intriguing cities in the world.
Over the centuries the fusion between the sphere of the sacred and the profane has led indeed to the stratification and consolidation of ancient religious and magical beliefs that still continue today.
The history of San Gennaro (Saint Januarius), the patron saint of the city, is undoubtedly the first of these ancient local beliefs. He was bishop of Benevento and a martyr of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches during the Roman Empire. Despite the lack of official documents and accounts, it is normally believed that he was brutally beheaded during the Great Persecution of Christians, which ended with Diocletian’s retirement in 305 AD.
But why this Saint is so special? According to popular tradition, after Gennaro’s beheading, his own blood was wisely collected and stored by a pious woman in two vials that soon became an unanimously iconographic symbol of San Gennaro.
But the story does not end here…
When the saint remains where moved from the Agro Marciano, where he had been buried, to Naples, it took place an extraordinary event known from that moment on as the miracle of the liquefaction of blood: in the presence of the saint’s head, the blood in the vials would have miraculously and inexplicably melted.
A prodigious miracle that still continues today…
Three time a year in the Cathedral of Naples where the vials are safely kept, a large number of faithful gather to witness the prodigious miracle invoking protection of the city itself from misfortunes and natural disasters including the eruption of our beloved Mt Vesuvius: on September 19 (Saint Januarius’ Day, commemorating his martyrdom), on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics). A quick liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood is considered a sign of fortune and good luck while its delay or failure is taken as negative omens.
If you plan to visit the city the next week, September 19th is definitely a date not to be missed and a unique opportunity to experience Naples as a local and to see with your own eyes such a great prodigious event. In the areas surrounding the Cathedral the streets will be will covered with street vendors selling sweets, nougat, and various local delicacies while the crowd eagerly awaits the long-awaited liquefaction.
But this year, September 19th, it won’t be only the day when the city celebrates its patron saint but a special occasion in which, locals and tourists will have the chance to visit some of the most important city museums for free. Here a list of all the places that you could visit on this unique day:
- the MANN (Archaeological Museum of Naples)
- the Royal Palace
- the Charterhouse and the Museum of Saint Martin
- the Castle of Sant’Elmo
- the Pignatelli Museum
- Palazzo Zevallos-Stigliano
In addition, just a few miles away from the city of Naples, there are other stunning places that you can visit for free on that day: the town of Cuma (the ancient Kyme), the first Greek colony in the Campania region, the wonderful Baths of Baia, its castle and the museum as well as the ancient Flavius Amphitheatre of Pozzuoli where it is believed San Gennaro was shackled and drawn for being eaten by the lions and yet he survived.
Whether you are planning to witness the miracle or not, September 19th is definitely a date to mark in the calendar to discover the beauties of our city!