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St. Januarius

( Originally Published 1883 )



There is perhaps no miracle which has been so much scoffed at, and derided, as the Liquefaction of the Blood of St. Januarius ; still the Church has not hesitated to mention it in the Breviary, and devout Catholics still have the faith to believe in it. Attempts have, of course, been made to explain it, but so clever and scientific a man as Sir Humphrey Davy could detect no fraud in the liquefaction ; and the evidence on which we receive all miracles (except those recorded in the Holy Scriptures, and which we cannot question,) appears to vs satisfactory. A portion of that evidence is as follows :

It is also well known, and is the plain fact, seen even unto this clay, that when the blood of Januarius, kept dried up in a small glass vial, is put in sight of the head of the same martyr, it is used to melt and bubble in a very strange way, as though it had but freshly been shed."—Roman Breviary, Sep. 19, Marquess of Bute's translation. And Butler says :—" The standing miracle (as it is called by Baronius) of the blood of St. Januarius, liquefying and boiling up at the approach of the martyr's head, is likewise very famous. In a rich chapel called the Treasury, in the great Church of Naples, are preserved the blood, in two very old glass vials, and the head of St. Januarius. The blood is congealed and of a dark colour, but when brought in sight of the head, though at a considerable distance, it melts, bubbles up, and upon the least motion, flows on any side. The fact is attested by Baronius, Ribadeniera, and innumerable other eye witnesses of all nations and religions, many of whom most attentively examined all the circumstances. The usual times when it is performed are the feast of St. Januarius, the 19th September, that of the translation of his relics (when they were brought from Puzzioli to Naples), and the Sunday which falls next to the Kalends of May. From several circumstances this miracle is traced much higher, and it is said to have regularly happened ou the annual feast of St. Januarius, and on that of the translation of his relics from the time of that translation about the year 400."

One of our own Bishops, well known for his intelligent discrimination, writing from Naples on May 14th, 1881, speaks thus of what he saw :

First we saw the vial of blood. The vial appeared to be rather more than half-full of a perfectly solid matter, in quantity it might be equal in bulk to a plover's egg, but it was hard, dry, and of a brown colour, approaching black. The vial itself is enclosed in a kind of circular box, with glass on the two sides, very much like that part of a monstrance in which the sacred Host is exposed, only, instead of rays there is a thick silver rim. This circular case is surmounted by a solid silver crown, and from the lower parts projects a silver stick, which is let into a socket or stand when it is carried in procession or put away in the treasury. The Archbishop turned the vial upside down repeatedly to see whether the blood was liquefying. He then began the prayers—the Apostles creed—the Athanasian creed—the Litany of Our Lady—the Salve Regina—the Miserere—and other prayers. It was a perfect picture to see the fervour with which the prayers were recited. And while the clergy were praying at the altar a crowd of some forty or fifty persons, called the family of St. Januarius, on the gospel side of the altar, outside the sanctuary were praying away independently and aloud, they seemed to be chiefly engaged in reciting the Rosary. The first half-hour passed, and the second without any change in the vial. The Archbishop again and again examined it, and held it in every position coaxing it, as it were, to flow, but it remained perfectly hard, and of the dull colour already described. The prayers went on, the " Salve Regina " was again said most fervently, then a change was perceived taking place in the vial, the fervour increased, the Ahanasian creed was again recited, followed by the Miserere. We could now all distinctly see that the sides of .the mass of blood had become softened, and that the whole mass began to slip as the vial was moved. The Master of Ceremonies was about to give the signal that the miracle was wrought by tinkling the little silver hand-bell which was on the altar, but the Archbishop said No," and again began the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and the Salve Regina." When these were finished he once more turned the vial slowly upside down, and behold the entire mass of blood flowed or slipped with the motion of the vessel. The miracle was wrought after the prayers had been recited for 75 minutes, and the little bell now gave notice of it. There was a kind of scarcely suppressed expression of feeling of delight manifested throughout the church. I was then able to take the vial into my hands and to hold it close against a candle to examine its contents more carefully, and to balance it backwards and forwards to test the liquidity of the blood. In colour it had now become of the appearance of half melted red currant jelly, it did not flow like a stream of liquid blood, nor did the mass separate into portions, but the whole seemed to adhere together, the external parts becoming of the consistency of half melted jelly, and transparent, while a heavy clot remained in the centre unmelted and solid. The liquefaction sometimes takes place after a few minutes' prayer, sometimes after an hour's, sometimes after two or three hours' prayer. On some occasions the delay into the night has been so long that they have taken it back into the Duomo, and it has liquefied on the way, but, sooner or later, the miracle always takes place. Again sometimes the blood boils up and bubbles filling almost the entire vial, and at other times it liquefies as it did on the present occasion, at other times the whole mass liquefies more fully, and sometimes a very small portion of it changes.

If you ask what is the meaning of this miracle, all that can be said is that it certainly helps to maintain one's faith in the supernatural in the power of God and the intercession of the Saints; God's ways are inscrutable, and we can set no measure to them, why He should choose one saint, not another, one form of intervention, not another, one time, one people, and not another—all this is beyond our ken. But is the miracle true ? It has been tested again and again, science cannot account for it, Sir Humphrey Davy, and other Protestant men of science have examined it and have admitted that there was no human way of accounting for the phenomenon. Quite recently a scientific inquiry into it has been published at Naples, the conclusion of which is that no law in Nature can explain the occurrence of the liquefaction. As to believing in it, people can do as they please, the Church leaves us free to form any opinion we please, but granted the existence of the supernatural and of miracles, it seems to me to require a greater effort of reason to disbelieve than to believe. All kinds of evidence and of tests converge towards one conclusion—why then not accept it, or rather how can you reasonably refuse to accept it ?

In ending this brief account of the miracle of St. Januarius I will make a confession, I had no desire to witness it, and it was with some difficulty I had allowed myself to be persuaded to remain two days longer in Naples in order to see it—not that I at all disbelieved, but I did not feel curious or anxious to see it. I am now very glad that I beheld it, the order, reverence, and faith of the whole proceeding was most edifying, and the sight of the miracle tends to strengthen one's faith in the supernatural and in the goodness of God."

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