The feast of the bishop-martyr St Januarius (d c305), known in Italian as San Gennaro, is celebrated this week. He is the patron saint of Naples, where the faithful venerate vials of his dried blood which regularly liquefies on three days a year: September 19 (the saint’s feast), December 16 (anniversary of the 1631 eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, which looms over the Bay of Naples) and the First Sunday of May (the day of the translation or moving of the saint’s relics to Naples).

The liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood is taken seriously by the people of the area. When it fails to change state, bad things tend to happen, such as famine, disease and earthquakes – for example, the terrible quake of 1980 which killed almost 3,000 people and injured thousands more. Hence, on these special liquefying days, throngs jam the cathedral. The Cardinal Archbishop displays the reliquary with the larger of the two ampoules and slowly oscillates it. When it changes, he announces “The miracle has happened”, thus launching the corybantic assemblage into that great hymn of praise, the Te Deum.

Scientists can’t explain this phenomenon. One inexplicable detail is that the weight and volume of the blood isn’t always the same after the blood solidifies again. Sometimes the weight increases and the volume decreases, and vice versa. Sometimes the liquid bubbles or foams, becoming bright red. At other times it is duller and rather viscous. And it seems truly to be blood.

In 1902 it was examined. The spectral lines produced by the light that passed through it had the characteristics of haemoglobin. In any event, this miraculous transformation has been observed consistently since it was first noticed during a procession in 1389. That’s a solid track record.

Speaking of miracles, if we do not believe in miracles, we do not ask for them. While we accept God’s will and schedule in all things, if we do not ask for miracles they will not be granted.

We are not alone. The Church Militant (us) and the Church Triumphant (saints and angels) are closely knit, interwoven in charity. In this vale of tears we must intercede for each other. We must believe in and ask for the intercession of saints. No one is too small to be an occasion of grace for others.

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