The Feast of San Gennaro
September 19th marks the official feast day of San Gennaro, the patron of Naples. A beloved saint, San Gennaro was a bishop from Benevento, Italy. Januarius, as he is also known, worked tirelessly against the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian. Of course, he was captured, jailed and a grisly execution involving wild bears was planned. However; he was beheaded instead.
While his body and his severed head were still in the street, Eusebia, a local woman, had the foresight to save the blood by sponging it off the streets.
Here’s where the miracle starts….this blood of San Gennaro liquefies each year. Neapolitans gather three times a year to honor their beloved saint. September 19th, which is his feast day. This is the day of his martyrdom. December 16th, which honors him as the patron of Naples. Finally, on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, he is honored once again by bringing his relics together.
Each town in Italy has a patron saint, one to whom ask for intercession and protection. The tradition of faith is interwoven into the culture of Italy. San Gennaro is revered for protection from earthquakes and Mt. Vesuvius. His blood has been brought out in the vials to ward off the evil from the volcano.
I am fascinated by the macabre aspect of blood in reliquaries and mortal remains of these saints. Their bones are a testament to the reality of the death they faced. The fact that he is still so beloved over 700 years after his death is an example of the strength of the faithful.
In the United States, San Gennaro festivals are celebrated in areas of high Italian populations, (San Francisco, for one.) The most famous one is held in Little Italy on Mulberry Street in New York City. This festival officially began in 1926 when Italian immigrants longing for home continued the traditions of their beloved Naples.
The saint is honored by reverently carrying his icon from The Most Precious Blood Church out into the streets where the faithful are waiting with flowers, candles, and money. It is an honor to be asked to bear the weight of the statue and the pride in Neapolitan heritage is evident. Mass is said on the feast day, the solemn part of the festival. There are processions that include both sacred and secular…marching bands, music, singing, priests. Everyone is Italian for the Feast of San Gennaro.
San Gennaro Festivals include music, family, friends and food. Little Italy bustles with this festival each year. While the feast day is the 19th, the festival runs for almost two weeks. This year’s San Gennaro festival in Little Italy, New York City will be held from September 13-23. For more information about the festival, click here.