Read the story of San Gennaro

“… Like this blood that boils at every feast, so the faith of the people of Naples may it boil, flourish again and assert itself..." (Paul VI, speech to the Neapolitan pilgrims, 1966)

Born in Naples, or perhaps in Benevento, in the second half of the third century, Gennaro at thirty years old is already bishop of the Samnite city, where he is loved by the faithful and respected by the pagans for his works of charity towards the poor among whom he makes no distinction.

We are in the early period of Diocletian's empire, when Christians were granted a certain freedom of worship and were even allowed to aspire to high civil offices. But then, in 303, everything changed and the Christians became the enemy to be eradicated.

Martyr of the faith

The episode that leads to the martyrdom of Gennaro takes place at the beginning of the fourth century, with the resumption of persecutions against Christians.

For some time Gennaro has been a great friend of Sossio, a deacon from the city of Miseno. One day, while he was reading the Gospel in church, Gennaro has a vision: a flame above his head.

Recognized as the symbol of future martyrdom, Gennaro gives thanks to the Lord and asks to be able to have the same fate. The bishop therefore invites Sossio to the pastoral visit he is planning to Pozzuoli, to talk about faith; the deacon sets off, but during the journey he is joined by the guards sent by Dragonzio, governor of Campania, and is imprisoned.

In prison he receives a visit from Gennaro who is accompanied by the deacon Festo and the reader Desiderio: the three try to intercede for the release of Sossio, but in response they all get sentenced to be torn to pieces by bears.

The news of their public death, however, is not well received by the people and so, fearing a revolt, the governor switches it to a more discreet beheading, away from the eyes of the people. The martyrdom of Procolo, deacon of the church of Pozzuoli, and of the faithful Eutyches and Acuzio who had publicly criticized the execution.

Another version of martyrdom

Since such ancient sources don't all agree on the martyrdom of San Gennaro, here is another hypothesis of what probably could have happened.

Gennaro is on his way to Nola: here the perfidious judge Timoteo imprisons him on charges of proselytism which violates the imperial edicts. The tortures inflicted on the Saint, however, did not affect his body nor his faith; therefore Timoteo has him locked up in a furnace from which, once again, Gennaro emerges unharmed. In the end he is sentenced to be beheaded in a locality near the so-called Solfatara.

During the transfer he meets a beggar who asks him for a piece of his garment to keep as a relic: the Saint replies that he can keep the whole handkerchief that he will tie around his neck before execution. Before the end, however, Gennaro puts a finger to his throat which is cut by the blade together with the handkerchief and also kept as a relic.

The miracle of blood liquefaction

As was customary on the occasion of the execution of martyrs, upon Gennaro's death a woman, Eusebia, arrives and collects the blood shed by the bishop already smelling of sanctity in two ampoules.

He will deliver them to the bishop of Naples, who will have two chapels erected in honor of the sacred transport: S. Gennariello in Vomero and S. Gennaro in Antignano. The body, on the other hand, buried in the Marciano countryside, underwent a first translation in the 5th century, when the cult of the Saint was already widespread. Gennaro, then, will be canonized by Sixtus V in 1586.

As for the relic of the blood, this is exhibited for the first time in 1305, but the miracle by which it almost seems to boil and returns to the liquid state in which it remains for the following octave, occurs for the first time on August 17, 1389, after a severe famine.

Today the miracle is repeated three times a year: the first Saturday of May in memory of the first translation; September 19, liturgical memory of the Saint and date of martyrdom; on December 16 to commemorate the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, blocked after the invocation of the Saint.

The two cruets are kept in a silver case commissioned by Robert of Anjou, in the Chapel of the Treasure of S. Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples.

source Vatican News © Dicastery for Communication

Patrono di Napoli

Gennaro is the main patron saint of Naples and, in the last years of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła, 1978-2005), he returned to being the patron saint of the two Sicilies, i.e. of southern Italy.

There is no historically documented information about his life. Born in Naples in the second half of the third century, its history was handed down in hagiographic works where reality and legend often intertwine and mix in a single story, whose historical elements are not always easily distinguishable.

The fact that led to the consecration of Gennaro would have occurred at the beginning of the fourth century, during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Diocletian.


Gennaro was the bishop of Benevento and went together with the reader Desiderio and the deacon Festo to visit the faithful in Pozzuoli. The deacon of Misenum, Sossio - already a friend of Gennaro who had come to see him in the past in Misenum to discuss faith and divine laws -, wanting to go to assist in the pastoral visit, was instead arrested along the way by order of the persecutor Dragonzio, governor of Campania.

Gennaro, together with Festo and Desiderio, then went to visit the prisoner, but, having interceded for his release, and having made a profession of Christian faith, they too were arrested and condemned by Dragonzio to be torn to pieces by bears in the amphitheater of Pozzuoli. The next day, however, due to the absence of the governor himself, busy elsewhere, the execution was suspended.

Dragonzio then ordered that Gennaro and his companions be cut off their heads. Conducted near theVolcano Forum(the current Solfatara of Pozzuoli), they were beheaded in the year 305; Gennaro's body would have been buried in the Agro Marciano (Fuorigrotta?).

According to tradition, immediately after the beheading, blood was kept, as was the custom at the time, collected by a pious woman named Eusebia who enclosed it in two ampoules; they have become a typical iconographic attribute of San Gennaro. However, the story of the pious woman is recent and appears published for the first time only in 1579, in the volume by the Neapolitan canon Paolo Regio on“The lives of the seven patron saints of Naples".

Very ancient liturgical documents, such as the Carthaginian calendar (written shortly after 505) and the Geronimian Martyrology of the 5th century assign September 19 as the date of the martyrdom of Gennaro and his companions; instead they indicate April 13 as the date of the first translation of the remains of the saint. Even in another martyrology dating back to the eighth century, written by the English monk Bede, September 19 is indicated as the date of martyrdom.

In the marble calendar of Naples the date of September 19 is indicated as“dies natalis”of San Gennaro. All these sources, and many others, attest that the veneration for the saint has very ancient origins dating back to the time of his martyrdom or, at the latest, to that of the first translation of his remains, which took place in the fifth century.

The relics of the saint were transported by King John I of Naples in the Neapolitan catacombs at Capodimonte which took the name of the Saint, and here they were the center of a very lively cult. From there the prince of Benevento Sicone, besieging the city of Naples, in 831, he took advantage of it to take possession of the mortal remains which he brought back to his city, episcopal see.

The holy relics were placed in the Cathedral - which was then called Santa Maria di Gerusalemme - where they remained until 1154. In that year, in fact, considering that the city of Benevento was no longer safe, the king of Sicily William I, called Malo (1120-1166), provided that they were transferred to the Abbey of Montevergine.

In Montevergine, however, the devotion of the pilgrims who went there was directed above all to S. Guglielmo and the very popular Byzantine icon of the Madonna called"Mom Schiavona”,so that S. Gennaro was soon lost in memory and even knowledge of his burial place. TO NaplesHowever, the cult remained very lively, also due to the presence of his other relics: the head and the ampoules with his blood.

Charles II of Anjou, known as the lame (1248-1309), – king of Naples (1285-1309) and Sicily (1285-1302) – after having had the French master goldsmiths Stefano Godefroy, William of Verdelay and Milet d'Auxerre make a very precious gilded silver bust-reliquary to contain the head and the vials with blood of the saint, he exhibited the relic for public veneration for the first time in 1305. His son Roberto d'Angiò, known as the Wise (1277 – 20 January 1343), however, had the silver case made which houses the two vials of blood.

However, the liquefaction of the blood is not attested before 17 August 1389, when the miracle took place during a solemn procession undertaken due to a severe famine.

When in Montevergine, thanks to Cardinal Giovanni di Aragona, the bones of St. Gennaro were found, placed under the high altar, the powerful Carafa family undertook, above all thanks to the interest of Cardinal Oliviero and with the support of his brother the Neapolitan archbishop Alessandro Carafa, so that the relics would return to Naples: the thing happened in 1497, not without the opposition of the monks of Montevergine.

As a worthy place to host them, Cardinal Oliviero Carafa had the cathedral built in Naples, below the main altar, an exceptional crypt in pure Renaissance style: theChapel of Succorpo.

Following a terrible plague that raged at Naples between 1526 and 1529, the Neapolitans made a vow to S. Gennaro to build him a new chapel inside the cathedral. Although the works only began in 1608 and lasted almost forty years, the dazzling and richChapel of the Treasure of S. Gennaroit was finally consecrated in 1646.

Above its splendid gate, created by Cosimo Fanzago, is the inscription“Divo Ianuario e fame bello peste ac Vesaevi igne miri ope sanguinis erepta Neapolis civi patr. Vindici” (“To San Gennaro, to the citizen savior of the homeland, Naples, saved from hunger, from war, from the plague and from the fire of Vesuvius, by virtue of her miraculous blood, she consecrates").

On February 25, 1964, the Cardinal Archbishop Alfonso Castaldo made the canonical recognition of the venerated relics:“The bones were found well kept, in an ovoid-shaped olla engraved with the calligraphic inscription, Corpus Sancti Jannuarii Ben. EP".

A scientific survey carried out on 7 March 1965 by Professor G. Lambertini established that the character to which the bones belong is to be identified as a young man (35 years old) of very tall stature (1.90m).

According to legend, the blood of San Gennaro liquefied for the first time in the time of Constantine, when Bishop San Severo (according to others it was Bishop Cosimo) transferred the remains of the saint from the Agro Marciano, where he had been buried , to Naples.

During the journey he would have met the nurse Eusebia with the vials of the Saint's blood: in the presence of the head, the blood in the vials would have melted.

Today the two cruets, fixed inside a small round case made with a large silver frame and provided with a handle, are kept in the Cathedral of Naples. Of the two cruets, one is 3/4 full, while the other higher one is half empty because part of its content was stolen by King Charles III of Bourbon who took it with him to Spain.

Three times a year :

1. on the first Saturday of May and in the following eight days, in memory of the first transfer from Pozzuoli to Naples;

2. on 19 September and for the whole octave, anniversary of the beheading;

3. on 16 December «the feast of the patronage of St. Gennaro», in memory of the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, blocked after invocations to the saint.

during a solemn religious ceremony led by the archbishop, the faithful flock to witness the "miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro".

The Neapolitan people over the centuries have wanted to see in the speed of the prodigy, a positive omen for the future of the city, while its absence or a prolonged delay is seen as a negative fact for possible calamities to come. There catechesis constant of the last archbishops of Naples it has convinced the majority of the faithful, that even the lack of the prodigy or the delay must be lived with serenity and intensification, if anything, of a more Christian life.

The liquefaction of blood is undeniable and scientific explanations have so far not been found, like all the contrary hypotheses formulated over the centuries, they have never been proven. It is singular that in Pozzuoli, simultaneously with the miracle that takes place in Naples, the stone, preserved in the church of S. Gennaro (near the Solfatara), which is believed to be the block on which the martyr rested his head to be beheaded, turns redder.

Your servant, who prepared this hagiographic composition, attended very closely for six years, being a seminarian, in the 50s and 60s, at the Archbishop's Seminary of Naples/Capodimonte, to the various liquefactions of the blood of St. Gennaro that take place, “naturally", only and only thanks to the fervent, and often insistent, prayers of the “Pastor"of Naples and of his “flock".(gpm)

For further information: Cathedral of Naples

miracle of San Gennaro
miracle of San Gennaro

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Ultimo aggiornamento: 25 Aprile 2023 8:34 by Remigio Ruberto

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Hi, I'm Remigio Ruberto, father of Eugenio. The love that binds me to Eugenio is timeless and spaceless.

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