NAPLES, Italy (Reuters Life!) – Roman Catholics in Naples crowded the city’s cathedral on Wednesday to witness the annual miracle of Saint Gennaro, who died in the 4th century but whose dried blood is said to turn liquid on his feast day.
In a ritual first recorded in 1389 — more than 1,000 years after the martyrdom of Gennaro, also known in English as Saint Januarius — a church official waved a white handkerchief to the crowds to signal that the dried blood had liquefied on schedule when brought close to relics which are said to be his body.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, then showed the glass phial of blood to the congregation and paraded it to the crowds outside, where fireworks were lit in celebration.
“It is a prodigious sign that shows the Lord’s closeness and predilection for our beloved and long-suffering city,” he said.
The “miracle of the blood” is also celebrated in May to mark the relocation of the saint’s mortal remains to Naples.
Legend has it that when Gennaro was beheaded by pagan Romans in 305 A.D., a Neapolitan woman soaked up his blood with a sponge and preserved it in a glass phial.
Sometimes it liquefies immediately, other times it takes hours. Locals pray to the saint to protect them from earthquakes or the volcano Vesuvius and believe that if the blood should fail to liquefy, something terrible will happen to Naples.
I remember reading about this miracle in one of Thomas Merton’s books where he looked at an atheist opposition to miracles and the fact that they don’t go go investigate miracles such as the blood of Saint Gennaro.
I find it ironically funny that now as a believer I have more freedom than an atheist has when it comes to miracles. I can choose to either believe or disbelieve that a miracle has occurred based on the facts of the case. An atheist is obliged to disbelieve them and not to honestly look at the facts of an individual case. Their "dogmatic" position only allows them to look at any facts so as to disprove them and of course the idea of an "open mind" goes out the window. If a specific miracle is disproved it does nothing to change my faith, whereas if a specific miracle is proved – an atheist will have problems with an atheists faith.
Though as a former atheist I can testify to clinging to skepticism in the face of an apparent miracle. This reaction is certainly not unknown. When Dr. Alexis Carrel who won the Nobel Prize in 1912 witnessed a miraculous healing at Lourdes. Scientific American has credited Carrel with having initiated all major advances in modern surgery, including organ transplants and at the time of the miracle he witnessed and then later another one Dr. Carrel was in no way a believer. In 1902 he witnessed the immediate healing of Marie Bailly who had tuberculous peritonitis. He later witnessed the case of an 18-month-old boy who was born blind and had his sight restored. Though neither of these cases led him back to the faith at the time and he continued to try to find a purely scientific rationale for the cures. Fr. Jaki wrote a great article on Dr. Carrel and the results of these two events in his life.