st.Januarius-Martyred bishop

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Feast Day : September 19



Patronage: blood banks


Also known as: Gennaro



Few facts are known about Januarius, who is famous for the miraculous liquefaction of his dried blood several times a year. The bishop of Benevento, Italy, he was caught up in the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. According to one account, Januarius was denounced under torture by Socias, deacon of the church of Miseno, Proculus, deacon of Pozzuoli, and laymen Eutychetes and Acutius, who had been imprisoned in Nola by Timothy, governor of the province of Campania. Timothy had Januarius arrested and brought to him. When Januarius would not deny his faith, Timothy had a fire stoked in a furnace for three days and threw the saint into it. The flames would not touch him. He was sent back to prison. Hearing of his travail, his deacon, Festus, and lector, Desiderius, traveled to Nola and were arrested. They were bound in chains and dragged by chariot to Pozzuoli, where Timothy had decreed that all seven men would be thrown to the lions. The beasts, however, ran to Januarius and laid down at his feet. Enraged, Timothy declared this to be magic and ordered them beheaded. Januarius prayed for God to punish him with blindness, and Timothy was struck blind. He suffered such great pain that he summoned Januarius and begged for his vision back. Januarius prayed and the man’s vision was restored. So amazed was the crowd of 5,000 that they converted. The execution was still carried out, and Januarius and his companions were beheaded on September 19. Three days beforehand, Januarius’s mother had a dream of him flying to heaven. Upon hearing of his imprisonment, she became so distraught that she died. After the executions, Timothy suffered great torments and pain and died. The relics of Januarius were buried near the town of Marciano between Pozzuoli and Naples. In 402, the bishop of Naples had the body taken to Naples, where it was interred in the catacombs. Ceremonies were observed in April and September. In 831 a Benevento nobleman managed to take possession of all the relics save for the skull. For several hundred years, the saint’s bones toured Italy, finally returning to Naples at the end of the 13th century. Charles II, king of Naples, had a cathedral built for the enshrinement of the skull. Two vials of dried blood also appeared. According to legend, the blood had been collected by a serving woman from the stone upon which Januarius had been beheaded. The vials had been buried with his body in Naples. It is not known whether the vials of blood toured with the rest of the relics, or if they were added after their return to Naples. Most likely, they were added. The two feasts in honor of Januarius were formalized in 1337, and records make no mention of the vials of blood. The first miracle of the liquefying blood was recorded in 1389, while a priest was holding the vials in a procession. On the Mass of St. Januarius, a vial of dried blood was set upon the altar and shortly seen to soften and change color, as though taken from a living man. From 1608 to 1646, a special chapel was constructed next to the cathedral solely for the skull. Beginning in 1659, the Church has documented the ritual liquefaction of the blood. More than 1,000 books, articles and studies, in Italian alone, have been written on this miracle. Some limited scientific tests have been done. No natural explanation has ever been found. The hermetically sealed vials are enclosed in a cylindrical silver and glass case, which is attached to a large silver monstrance that has a handle. One vial is larger than the other, and is about two-thirds filled with dried blood. The second, smaller vial has only a few drops. Only the blood in the larger vial undergoes the liquefaction. The vials are kept in a vault in Naples Cathedral and brought out for certain occasions: the first Sunday in May, which commemorates the translation of the relics to Naples; September 19, the feast day of the saint; and December 16, the commemoration of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 1631, when the blood liquefied for 30 days. In the ceremonies, the blood is brought out by procession to the altar, where rests a silver bust containing the skull of Januarius. A key part of the ceremony is the presence of the “relatives of Januarius” or “aunts of Januarius,” a group of elderly women who have inherited their status down through the generations. As soon as the blood is taken out of the vault, they begin to scream and beg Januarius to liquefy his blood. The entire event becomes one of increasing hysteria as onlookers join the shouting and screaming. Sometimes the blood liquefies quickly, within minutes, and sometimes takes several hours to change. A red cloth is waved at the first sign of liquefaction, which adds to the hysteria. The dignitaries are allowed to kiss the container. The blood is then paraded through the cathedral while a Te Deum is sung. On rare occasions, the blood does not liquefy. This is considered an ill omen for the city. In May 1976, the blood did not change, and an earthquake soon struck Naples. Other failures have been associated with famine, disease and political upheaval. The blood does not simply change from solid to liquid, but goes through several stages. It first changes color from dark brown to yellow-red to scarlet. The dried substance becomes pasty and finally more viscous than normal blood. Usually a small lump remains unchanged and floats in the liquid. Sometimes the liquid bubbles and froths. The volume of the dried blood changes dramatically, as does its weight. During the May ceremonies, the larger vial often fills with liquid, but during the September ceremonies, the volume of the vial decreases. Strangely, the volume increases when liquefaction occurs slowly and decreases when it occurs quickly—the opposite of what might be expected. Furthermore, the weight of the vials increases when the volume decreases, and vice versa. The liquefaction does not seem to be the result of temperature, for it happens regardless of the temperature inside the cathedral. The container is held only by the handle and the crystal sides are not touched. It is not shaken, though it is turned upside down by officials to check for the beginning of liquefaction. In 1902, a spectroscopic analysis determined that the vials did contain real blood. Unfortunately, the vials are permanently sealed by hardened putty and cannot be opened for further testing of the contents. Opening them would break them and some or much of their contents would be lost. And even if the vials could be safely opened, tests would still require the sacrifice of some of the contents. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, it was hypothesized that the psychic hysteria of the onlookers and the “aunts” created the conditions that made the liquefaction possible. However, the blood has been known to liquefy spontaneously when it has been moved for cleaning. Another mysterious phenomenon involving Januarius has occurred when his ceremonies are observed. In Pozzuoli, a Capuchin monastery has the marble block upon which Januarius was beheaded. When the ceremonies are held in Naples, the stone has turned deep red. On rare occasions it also has dripped blood. Samples of the blood have been laboratory tested and determined to be genuine human blood. Besides some feast ceremonies, the stone bled on February 22, 1860, when a church in Naples dedicated to the saint caught fire

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