“Il miracolo é fatto!” “The miracle has happened!”
These words are traditionally proclaimed in the Cathedral of Naples when the preserved blood of the city’s beloved martyr-bishop, St. Januarius, miraculously liquefies each year.
We do not know much about this saint’s life. He was the Bishop of nearby Benevento, and was martyred for the Faith in the 4th century under Diocletian. Some sources say that he and his companions were thrown to the wild beasts, but were not harmed by them and had to eventually be beheaded.
Januarius’ blood—contained in glass phials in a silver reliquary—is normally coagulated and solid. But for hundreds of years it has, on regular occasions, become liquid again.
The miraculous liquefaction occurs three times a year: the commemoration of the transfer of his relics to Naples on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May; his feast day, September 19th (that’s today!); and December 16th, the anniversary of the occasion when his intercession saved Naples from an impending implosion of Mount Vesuvius in 1631.
On each of these occasions, a silver bust housing fragments of the saint’s skull is placed near the reliquary containing the phials of blood. Throngs of people pray for the miracle and watch in anticipation. Then, the hardened blood (usually) becomes liquid, often bubbling and foaming. The Archbishop of Naples or another officiant holds up the reliquary and turns it sideways to demonstrate the liquefaction. The people come to kiss the relic and sing the “Te Deum,” the Church’s traditional hymn of thanksgiving.
The miracle usually happens, but not always. Sometimes it stays solid, and this is often taken as a foreshadowing of calamity by the observers. But whether it happens or not, the blood of Januarius remains a stunning modern-day, ongoing miracle that bears a beautiful testament to our Faith. (Editor’s note: the blood did indeed liquefy today!)
The relics of the saints are among the greatest treasures of the Church and she has revered them since time immemorial. Read more in Relics: What They Are and Why They Matter. In these pages, author Joan Carroll Cruz examines some of the Church’s most treasured relics, such as the Holy Grail and Our Lady’s Veil, as well as relics of seventy-five saints. An eye-opening exploration of the world of relics—and why they are so cherished by the Church. Available today at The Catholic Company!