The blood of St Januarius

At the episcopal cathedral in Naples, which is to say the seat of the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of the city, they supposedly have the blood of St Januarius. A martyr whose blood is contained in a glass vial, apparently solid most of the time, becomes liquid at certain times and for different reasons, what these might be, no one knows.

The Naples duomo, the Italian word for the cathedral of the seated bishop of each city in Italy, also houses an enormous treasure of various jewel-encrusted religious garments, vessels, reliquaries, monstrances and I am not sure what else.

No 1. I cannot imagine how God might choose to make a miracle in which a vial of solid blood (or something) periodically liquifies as something significant for us mortals without any kind of hint as to why, or what that message might be. And how did they get an air tight glass vial of his blood from wherever he was martyred in 306 C.E. to Italy anyway? The first reported witness to the liquification was in 1364 . . a freaking thousand years later.

And yet . . . the blood liquified for the new, relatively liberal Pope Francis but not for Pope Benedict of the Nazi Youth or for John Paul II. I can get behind that. The liquification for Francis is a fun event that makes me think, not enough for me to return to the sacraments, but edging in that direction.

No 2. These jewel encrusted things. Look at that miter. A bishops hat and that scapular (or something). Those are real diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and citrine. How did they get so far afield from the message of a poor carpenter? Did they imagine St Januarius’ blood would liquify? Mine would boil.

The cathedral, though, is spectacular. Really glorious. The vial of St Januarius’ blood is housed in a small chamber behind the altar. You cannot actually get that near to it but you can see it, well, the container it sits in. And you can if you want, pay a euro to turn on an electric light. No candles are lit here in Italy it seems, the smoke of a thousand years was dirtying things. I understand. But it’s just so, um, less holy somehow. Maybe if i wore more jewelry it might sanctify things a bit.

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