If you are planning a holiday in Naples in September, I recommend that you do not miss the Feast of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint, which is celebrated every year on 19 September in the entire historic centre.
This celebration is a moment of great importance for the Neapolitans, as it is said that the fate of the city depends on the outcome of the liquefaction of blood, and attracts visitors from all over the world.
This a unique opportunity to plunge into Naples’ culture and traditions. In addition to its religious significance, the event offers the opportunity to explore the city, taste its world-famous cuisine and experience moments of genuine devotion.
The Meaning of the Feast of San Gennaro
The Feast of St. Gennaro is dedicated to the patron saint of Naples, Saint Januarius, a third-century bishop. Legend has it that the saint’s blood, preserved in two vials, miraculously liquefies during the festival. This event is considered a sign of protection and blessing for the city and its inhabitants.
If the blood of San Gennaro does not liquefy during the Feast, it can cause some concern and anxiety among the faithful present. Traditionally, the liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood is considered a positive omen and a sign of protection for the city of Naples. When the miracle does not occur, some people may interpret it as a possible omen of misfortune or future difficulties.
However, it is important to stress that the event of blood liquefaction is considered a miracle and cannot be predicted or guaranteed. There have been cases in history where blood did not liquefy during the Feast of San Gennaro, and yet there were no negative consequences for the city or its inhabitants.
Religious and devout people interpret the phenomenon in different ways. Some believe there may be spiritual or divine reasons behind the non-liquefaction, such as a call for more faith or a warning to improve spiritual and moral standards. Others see the failure to liquefy as a natural occurrence, giving scientific or physical explanations for the phenomenon.
However, the blood’s failure to liquefy does not affect the importance and relevance of the Feast of San Gennaro for the city of Naples. The feast continues to have a deep meaning for Neapolitans, who come together to celebrate their patron saint and keep alive the tradition and devotion that connects them to San Gennaro.
The stages of the festival
The Feast of San Gennaro begins with a solemn procession through the streets of Naples. The silver bust of the saint, carried on the shoulders of the faithful, is accompanied by religious and civil representatives in an atmosphere of devotion and joy. During the procession, which goes through the city’s oldest quarters, one can admire spectacular examples of sacred art and traditional folklore.
The climax of the feast takes place in the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, inside the Cathedral of Naples. Here, the two vials containing the saint’s blood are exposed to the public, awaiting the miracle of liquefaction. The faithful anxiously await the event, while a priest chants prayers and hymns.
An interview with a Neapolitan expert
To find out more about this event, we asked Raffaele de Lucia, editor of Napoli Village, a Naples online newspaper, who has taken part in the festival every year for several years now.
A. Raffaele, would you summarise in a few words what the story of San Gennaro is?
R. It must first be said that his real name was not Gennaro, but most probably Proculus or Publius Faustus Januarius. Gennaro was only his surname. Specifically, Saint Gennaro was a martyr, i.e. a man who died because he refused to recant his Christian faith. The cult around him has been spreading since the 5th century AD.
A. What is the explanation for your miracle?
R. It is wrong to speak of a miracle, because what happens in the Neapolitan city is defined as a prodigy. A miracle can only come from God, while a prodigy can be divine in nature, angelic in nature, or be caused by a prodigious saint – in this case the patron saint of the city of Naples. Even the Church does not officially recognise it as a miracle, but considers it scientifically inexplicable and approves its veneration by the people.
A. Can you tell us some less-known facts about San Gennaro?
R. There are many curious facts about the patron saint, from his name to his actual place of birth. But both Neapolitans and tourists are always astonished when they visit the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro located in Via Duomo in Naples. Inside, there are several objects that belonged to the Saint. One of them is his crown, but also a red horn, a typical Neapolitan figure. It is said that when San Gennaro was beheaded at Pozzuoli, his thumb was amputated. And from that’s how the Neapolitan cornetto, now known as a lucky charm throughout the world, was created.
A. When and how does the feast of San Gennaro take place?
R. There are three prodigies associated with San Gennaro: in May, on the first Saturday of the month; on 19 September, the day of the city’s patron saint, when the city of Naples dresses up and the faithful actively and joyfully participate in the liquefaction; and finally, on 16 December, because back in 1631, during the eruption of Vesuvius, the Saint’s half-bust was transported below the lava to make it stop, and this date has also been celebrated since then, with the prodigy repeating itself year after year.
A. Tell us about the relationship the city of Naples has with its patron saint
R. Neapolitans have a special relationship with the Saint. They see him as the protector of the city, since he saved it from plagues and eruptions.
A. Do you have any advice for those who want to attend the festival?
R. I strongly advise everyone to come and attend the festival and the celebration of the prodigy. It is a moment of great faith and emotion. It is worth visiting Naples on the feast of 19 September, but not only then, because Naples has so much to give and to discover.
We thank Raffaele for his help.
Practical tips for enjoying the festival:
- Plan ahead: the Feast of San Gennaro attracts a large number of visitors, so it is advisable to plan your trip in advance. Book flights and accommodation at least one month in advance to guarantee availability.
- Explore Naples: take advantage of your visit to discover the beauty and history of Naples. Visit the historic centre, a UNESCO world heritage site, enjoy the famous Neapolitan pizza, and admire the city’s fascinating artistic and architectural treasures.
- Attend high mass: attend high mass in the Cathedral of Naples, during which the vials containing the blood of San Gennaro are displayed. This moment is charged with meaning and spirituality.
- Take part in the procession: join the procession from Naples Cathedral to experience the unique atmosphere of the festival. Wear comfortable clothing and respect local traditions.
Where to Sleep in Naples
Naples offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all needs. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere, I recommend looking for accommodation near the historic centre or in the Spanish quarter, which are full of bed and breakfasts and family-run and non-family-run boutique hotels.
This way you will be right in the centre, with the main monuments just a few metres away, and you can visit the city on foot. If, on the other hand, you are looking for more upmarket hotels, go to the seafront and you will find elegant hotels, boutique hotels and even cheaper options such as bed and breakfasts and flats for rent.