According to tradition, however, the punishment was changed because of a miracle: the lions knelt before the condemned, after a blessing made by Gennaro. Dragontius then commanded that Gennaro and his companions were to be beheaded: the sentence was executed on 19 September, 305 AD.
San Gennaro (Saint Januarius)
Another story is about Timoteus: being ill, he was healed by Gennaro, but despite this he showed no gratitude and ordered the bishop to be brought into the amphitheatre of Pozzuoli, to be given to wild beasts. During the journey to the site of the execution, a beggar asked Gennaro a flap of his garment. Gennaro said that, after his execution, the beggar could take the scarf with which he was to be blindfolded.
According to tradition, after Gennaro's beheading, blood was collected by a pious woman, one Eusebia, who enclosed it inside two ampoules; these became a typical iconographic symbol of San Gennaro.
Liquefaction of the Blood
Feast of San Gennaro in Naples
Every year, all city officials attend the ceremony, including the mayor, the president of the province of Naples and the President of the Campania region. The celebration follows a well-defined program:
- 8.45 - opening the safe with double keys to take out the casket with the vials of the blood of San Gennaro;
- 9.00 - procession with the Cardinal and the deputation of the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro;
- 9.15 - The propitiatory prayers and the homily by the Cardinal start.
- Once the miracle takes place, twenty-one cannon shots are fired from Castel dell'Ovo.
A scientific explanation?
The Church is skeptical, but always refused to allow taking samples of the liquid - arguing that an invasive analysis may damage both the ampoule and the blood; actually the Second Vatican Council decided to remove from the calendar several saints, including San Gennaro; but popular resistance was so strong that it was decided to keep the cult of the relic, pointing out that the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro could not be considered a miracle by the church, but an event that cannot be explained but deemed miraculous by the population.
As a matter of fact, there may exist a physical explanation, thixotropy: some materials, called thixotropic, become more fluid when subjected to mechanical stress, such as small shocks or vibrations, returning to the previous state if left undisturbed. An example is the ketchup sauce that is in a solid state until shaken, when it becomes much more liquid.
Three Italian scientists, Garlaschelli, Ramaccini and Della Sala, produced a suspension having a thixotropic behavior very similar to the fluid of San Gennaro (A Thixotropic mixture like the blood of Saint Januarius, "Nature", vol.353, 10 oct 1991). The three researchers (who used substances available at the end of the 14th century) with ferric chloride (in the form of molisite, a typical mineral of volcanic areas and present in Mount Vesuvius), calcium carbonate (egg shells are approximately 94% calcium carbonate), sodium chloride (common salt) and water, obtained a red colloidal solution with thixotropic properties.
One objection is that not always the blood liquefied, but this has its answer in the very thixotropic properties of the materials: if shaken gently, there is no liquefaction (after all, the blood of San Gennaro liquefied also outside of the canonical periods).
Another, stronger objection is that the gel of the three researchers loses its thixotropic properties after 2 years: but, as noted by Garlaschelli, some gel samples may last a decade, and it may depend on the concentration of the ingredients or on the sealing method.
Anyway, what is certain is that Neapolitans will continue to believe, to wait for the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro, and to draw from the event auspices on the future of the city.