Feast Day: September 19
Januarius was the bishop of Benevento, Italy, and was beheaded during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian (245-313). Those that perished with Januarius were Festus, his deacon; Desiderius, a lector; Sosius and Proculus, both deacons; and two laymen, Eutyches and Acutius. They were arrested while visiting Sossus, a Christian deacon and prisoner at Pozzuoli. Thrown to wild beasts who would not harm them, their captors then beheaded them.
Tradition says that after Januarius’s decapitation, his followers removed the remains and Christian women collected two vials of his blood and placed it in his tomb, as was the custom regarding martyrs. Today the vials of blood and the bones of the saint are enshrined in the Cathedral of Saint Januarius in Naples.
The miracle of liquefaction first took place in 1389 while a priest was holding the flasks during a procession, whereby the coagulated blood began to liquefy and bubble. In more recent years the liquefactions and viewings have taken place three times every year: September 19, believed to be the day Januarius was martyred; December 16, the anniversary of the day the intercession of the saint saved Naples from an eruption of Mount Vesuvius; and the commemoration of the translation, or removal of Saint Januarius’s relics from his tomb to a shrine, which is celebrated on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May.
On each of these occasions, a silver portrait bust of Saint Januarius containing his skull is placed upon the altar and a glass vial containing Saint Januarius’s blood is given to the presiding prelate, usually the archbishop of Naples. The vial, measuring about four inches high and two and a quarter inches in diameter, is set in a metal reliquary. Through the glass, one can see that the vial is a little more than half-full of a solid, dark red mass. The archbishop carries the reliquary of the blood to the altar, holding it next to the silver bust of the saint. The miracle in which the solid mass becomes liquid has been known to occur in anything from two minutes to an hour. At the moment of liquefaction the archbishop exclaims, “The miracle has happened!” at which point the congregation sings the hymn of thanksgiving, “Te Deum.”
The liquefaction presents a puzzle to those who have studied it since it takes place under diverse circumstances and physical conditions. Sceptics have also wondered if the substance in the vial is real blood. Constant tradition has maintained that it is real blood, a fact that is confirmed by documents that are impossible to refute. Scientific examination has also confirmed this, especially when Professor Sperindeo was permitted to pass spectroscopic beams of light through the liquefied material. This test yielded the distinctive lines of the spectrum of blood with the characteristics of hemoglobin.
The liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius has occurred for over 600 years. Concerning these occurrences, so far no natural explanation has been found. It clearly remains a challenge to the skeptic, a mystery to the scientific community and a true phenomenon.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Cruz, Joan Carroll. “Mysteries Marvels Miracles in the Lives of the Saints.” Charlotte: TAN Books, 1997.