Januarius (or Gennaro in Italian) was an early Christian bishop who was martyred near Naples during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
According to legend, as bishop of Benevento, he was visiting some imprisoned Christians in Pozzuli, a town very near Naples, when he was arrested. The bishop and his Christian companions were condemned to death in an arena containing wild beasts — possibly bears or lions — but the animals wouldn’t touch them.
According to one tradition, Bishop Januarius blessed a lion, after which it knelt at the bishops’ feet. Januarius and his companions were thereafter beheaded.
This Italian saint is famous for the relic of his blood, which is kept at the Naples cathedral. It is believed that a woman, Eusebia, saved Januarius’ blood after his martyrdom; it was an ancient Christian practice to preserve a vial of the blood of a martyr, often placed by his or her burial place in the catacombs.
A phial of the dark, solid blood, believed to belong to St. Januarius, liquefies annually on three different feasts: the date commemorating his martyrdom (Sept. 19); the date when his relics were transferred to Naples (the Saturday before the first Sunday of May); and the anniversary of a liquefaction that allegedly halted the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 1631 (Dec.16). The liquification is considered by many faithful as a sign that the year will be protected from disasters. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, also is invoked against volcanic eruptions.
There have been a few occasions when the blood did not liquify. One such occasion was when the nearby volcano, Vesuvius, did erupt. Another occasion was during a plague and a third time was during World War II.
Pope Francis visited the Naples cathedral in 2015. While there, the St. Januarius’s blood partially liquified. After venerating the relic of St Januarius’ blood, Pope Francis said: “The archbishop said that the blood has liquefied partially: so the saint loves us partially. Everyone needs a little more conversion so that he loves us more.”
Januarius is also the patron saint of blood banks.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini