St. Januarius

September 14, 1997

Brother John Raymond


On September 19 the Church celebrates the feast of St. Januarius. If you are in Naples, Italy on this day you will most certainly want to visit the Cappella del Tesoro (Chapel of the Treasure, founded in 1608). Why? Because in this chapel in the Cathedral you will find the silver reliquary believed to contain the blood of this Saint. On this Saint's feastday the reliquary is exposed for public veneration. Now, given that St. Januarius was martyred around the year 305 in the persecution of Diocletian, it is impressive that this church has a relic of his blood. There have been many cures of those who have venerated it. But this is not the only reasons why you would want to be in the church on this day. You may get to see and hear his blood boil in the vial in which it is contained. This blood, which is normally solid, liquefies and even boils! It has been doing this for at least the past six hundred years at regular intervals. Sometimes this phenomenon has occurred eighteen times in the same year. It rarely fails to take place on his feastday.

Now is there a natural explanation for this? How about temperature? Well, scientists have found that there is no direct relation between the temperature and the time and manner of the liquefaction. At 77 degrees and higher it has taken longer to liquefy than at lower temperatures.

Perhaps it is not blood but some other chemical. In 1902 a scientist passed a ray of light through the upper part of the vial after it became a liquid and examined the beam spectroscopically. The experiment yielded the distinct lines of the spectrum of blood. This proves that at least there is some blood in the vial.

The blood in the vial returns to the solid state after becoming a liquid. Yet, it does not necessarily return to its original bulk. What do I mean? Sometimes when it solidifies the whole vial is filled. Other times hardly more than half. Now in case you think this is some kind of optical illusion the reliquary has been weighed. When the blood occupies the whole vial it weighs 26 grams more than when it fills a little more than half of it. The blood seems to increase and decrease but where it goes or comes from nobody knows. Scientists have no explanation for any of this.

We know almost nothing about the life and martyrdom of St. Januarius, who was bishop of Benevento. What we do know about him was written a long time after his death and is considered untrustworthy by some. But here goes.

St. Januarius heard that his friend, Sossus, a deacon of Miseno, had been imprisoned for the Faith under the persecution of Diocletian. On hearing this the bishop went to visit him in prison. He in turn was arrested. Januarius was thrown into a fiery furnace but the flames did not harm him. Next, the saint and his companions were thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheater. The animals would not harm them. Finally, their persecutor ordered them to be beheaded. After declaring the sentence this person became blind. Januarius cured him. Because of all these miracles five-thousand people were converted.

This September 19 let us pray to St. Januarius asking him to intercede for our special needs. Let us especially ask him to increase our love for God and neighbor so much that our blood will "boil," also!