Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »

Fleeting Wonders: The Reliably Miraculous Blood of St. Januarius

The blood of St. Januarius, in an ambiguous state inside the reliquary.

The blood of St. Januarius, in an ambiguous state inside the reliquary. (Photo: Paola Magni/Flickr)

Not much is known of the life of St. Januarius. He was born in Benevento, near Naples, and became a priest at the ripe age of 15; five years later, he was Bishop of Naples, and protected his fellow Christians from the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. His death is equally mysterious. Depending on the legend, he was either eaten by wild bears, refused by said wild bears, burnt to death in a furnace, left unscathed by that furnace, or beheaded.

But for the past 750 years or so, his movements have been scrupulously tracked. That’s because St. Januarius has miraculous blood, preserved in a couple of glass ampoules in a silver reliquary in the city. Most of the time it’s dried out and rusty, but on certain occasions it perks up again into a bright red liquid, sending the city’s faithful into celebration mode. This past Saturday, as is tradition, it liquefied on behalf of the saint’s annual feast day, turning “a beautiful red color” and setting off the ritualistic 21-gun salute. (Meanwhile, New York City’s version of the Feast of San Gennaro featured parades, celebrity grand marshal Tony Danza, and the World’s Largest Gelato Cone.)

St. Januarius showing his own relics, painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in 1606.

St. Januarius showing his own relics, painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in 1606. (Image: Caravaggio/WikiCommons Public Domain)

St. Januarius’s blood can be fickle. Sometimes it liquifies inside its storage vault, and other times it stays solid for hours or days, or for the entire feast period. This year, it has been particularly generous, half-melting at the sight of Pope Francis during his visit in March. “We can see the saint only half loves us. We must all spread the Word, so that he loves us more!” the Pope responded, melting further hearts in turn. This was the first time the blood had responded to a pope since Pius IX in 1848

The blood’s next scheduled appearance is on December 16th, although if it is really committed to spreading the Pope’s message, it may have evaporated entirely by then

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.