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NAPLES — On Friday, many Neapolitans will look to the Naples cathedral for a glimpse into their future. Many believe the city’s fortune for the coming year turns on the contents of a vial of blood — a relic of the martyred San Gennaro.

The liquefaction ceremony is a religious ritual held twice a year (September and March) in the Naples cathedral. If the powdered remains of San Gennaro’s blood liquefies, the city will have good luck for the coming year. If the blood does not liquefy, bad luck, and possible devastation, might be on the horizon.

Ceremonies also take place this weekend in Pozzuoli, where the saint was beheaded in 305 during the persecution of Emperor Diocleziano. The people of Naples built a basilica in Pozzuoli on the site where he died. The basilica was destroyed during the eruption of the volcano Solfatara in 1198, and was replaced by the yellow-hued chapel, built between 1582 and 1584. The only thing that remains of the original chapel is a cabinet that supported the ancient Christian altar. The top part of the altar, on which the martyr was beheaded, is known as "the Stone of San Gennaro." The stone is framed and always on display in the church.

As the "miracle" of liquefaction takes place in the Naples cathedral, the stone in the small sanctuary in Pozzuoli darkens or appears wet, said Father Eugen, a Capuchin friar.

The miracle draws thousands to the tiny chapel, which opens its doors at 5 a.m. on Sept. 19, to let in throngs of worshippers who not only come to pay homage but also hope to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

On Sept. 20, a procession of acolytes who carry the famed marble bust of San Gennaro on their shoulders, leaves the chapel following the 5:30 p.m. Mass. It winds up the street toward the air force academy, backtracks past the church and follows a very steep incline overlooking the Solfatara before returning to the bust to its home.

There is no set time for the liquefaction ceremony, as the Lord apparently works in mysterious ways. But the faithful begin to gather at the cathedral downtown and at the chapel in Pozzuoli very early in the morning.

Whether you believe or not, this is a uniquely Neapolitan tradition that gives insight into the role faith plays in this modern metropolis.

What defines belief in the unknown

The crowds drawn to the liquefaction ceremony of San Gennaro’s blood exemplifies the tendency of some to place faith before logic.

While degrees of belief in religious miracles vary, faith is a constant. This saying from the Bible helps define the essence of faith — for believers and nonbelievers alike:

La fede e’ la sostanza delle cose in cui speri, l’evidenza delle cose che non hai mai visto.

Translation: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Phonetically: Lah feh-deh eh la so-stan-zah dell-leh ko-zeh een cooie speh-ree, leh-vee-den-zah dell-leh ko-zeh keh non eye my vee-sto


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