An Early Martyr Still Inspires Naples

City, Marking a Jubilee Year, Remembers Its Patron Saint

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NAPLES, Italy, JAN. 31, 2005 ( Cardinal Michele Giordano says the 1,700th anniversary of the beheading of St. Januarius and his companions is a time to rediscover what inspired “these holy martyrs.”

Cardinal Giordano proposed this to his Archdiocese of Naples, as the way to live the Jubilee Year 2005, which includes the commemoration of Januarius’ martyrdom.

The celebrations began last Tuesday with a solemn Mass presided over by the cardinal in the Capodimonte Catacombs, the first Neapolitan site to receive the remains of Januarius, the holy bishop of Benevento.

In fact, Naples “did not have martyrs,” professor Gennaro Luongo of Federico II University told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. Rather, “the city imported him when the cult of burial, of relics, and of a saint linked to a territory was born throughout Eastern and Western Christendom.”

This circumstance in no way lessens the close bond that has existed from the early centuries of Christianity between the city and its patron who, as the archbishop of Naples said in his homily, “was the foundation, the roots of Neapolitan and southern civilization.”

St. Januarius’ year will be observed in different stages. Every month the relics of the saint’s blood will be exposed for veneration in the Treasury-Chapel of the Cathedral Church of Naples. And the saint’s bust, made by Charles of Anjou in 1305, will be taken on pilgrimage through the archdiocese’s nine pastoral zones.

Among the initiatives for the Jubilee Year, the Church in Naples will organize an international congress in September on the saint’s life. The congress will reflect on questions related to archaeology, anthropology, art history and music.

The objective of the 17th centenary is not only festive and commemorative but also “to rediscover the roots and inspiration from which these holy martyrs were born,” the cardinal said.

History and tradition supply biographical data of the bishop. During Diocletian’s persecution, Socius, deacon of Misenas; Proculus, deacon of Pozzuoli; and laymen Eutyches and Acutius were arrested in Pozzuoli, by order of the governor of Campania and accused of having confessed their faith publicly.

Upon hearing the news, Januarius, bishop of Benevento, began to visit Socius and his companions. That was enough for the prelate, his deacon Festus, and Desiderius, a lector, to be imprisoned by order of the governor and taken to Nola.

The three bravely endured interrogations and tortures. Shortly after, the governor went to Pozzuoli and the three prisoners, weighed down by chains, were forced to walk in front of his chariot. When they arrived at their destination, they were locked up in the same prison as their four friends.

The latter had been thrown to the beasts the day before the arrival of St. Januarius and his two companions, but the beasts did not attack them. Then the whole group was condemned to the wild beasts. All seven were taken to the amphitheater’s arena, but again the animals did not attack them. Then they were condemned to decapitation, a sentence that was carried out immediately near Pozzuoli.

The events date back to Sept. 19, 305. Pious people collected some of St. Januarius’ blood and kept it.

The Christians of Naples obtained the relics of St. Januarius, which were taken in the fifth century from the small church of St. Januarius near Solfatara, where they were buried.

During the Norman wars, the saint’s remains were transported to Benevento and, shortly after, to the Monte Vergine monastery. They were taken with great solemnity to Naples in 1947, the city that venerates St. Januarius as its patron.

St. Januarius is well known because of the miracle which for centuries has generally occurred every year on his feast day, Sept. 19: His blood liquefies in the presence of all those who wish to witness it.

The miracle of liquefaction may also occur on two other dates: the first weekend in May, which coincides with the translation of his remains to Naples; and on Dec. 16, anniversary of the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 which, according to tradition, ended when the faithful prayed to the patron of this southern Italian city.

Last Sept. 19, Cardinal Giordano announced to thousands of faithful crowded in the Neapolitan cathedral, the repetition of the miracle of liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood.

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