St. Januarius, Bishop of Benevento, was martyred for the faith around 305 CE, during the Emperor Diocletion’s persecution. It is said that when he was put in the arena, wild animals refused to harm him, so they cut off his head. The Feast of St. Januarius is celebrated on September 19th, believed to be the day he died, or, as we believe, was born into Heaven.
A relic of St. Januarius’ blood is kept in Naples. It is exposed in Naples Cathedral in May, September and December. Ordinarily, the blood is clotted. But on these three special days when it is exposed, it almost always liquefies. Thousands of people assemble to see if the miracle will happen again. Scientists have not been able to explain how it happens.
There have only been a few times in the recent past when the blood failed to liquefy. Shortly thereafter, disaster fell on the area.
- 1939: The Second World War broke out.
- 1973: Naples was visited by a cholera epidemic.
- 1980: A powerful earthquake killed almost 2,500 people.
Last weekend, at the annual December ceremony, the blood of St. Januarius failed to liquefy.
There is another aspect to this story, which is the unusual liquefactions that have occurred only twice in the presence of a visiting pope.