No more kisses for San Gennaro
A ban on kissing San Gennaro's relic was confirmed by Naples church authorities Monday.
A vessel said to contain the saint's dried blood is generally held up after the substance liquefies on the anniversary of his martyrdom on September 19, when it is sometimes offered to authorities for a good-luck kiss.
Naples church authorities were said to be keen to stress the ban was in force again this year after Italy's first victim of the new H1N1 flu died in the city last week.
Pallbearers wore surgical masks as they carried the man's coffin to a cemetery at the weekend as unfounded fears about the new flu spread through the southern Italian city, which is famous for a popular belief in magic and beyond-the-grave intercessions for problems and betting tips.
The 'miracle' of San Gennaro (Saint Januarius) takes place three times a year but celebrations on his September 19 feast day are usually the most festive, apart from the odd occasion in which the blood does not turn to liquid.
The city's archbishop holds up the vessel, containing two phials of the blood of the 3rd-century saint, while a traditional white handkerchief is waved to crowds packing the cathedral and the piazza outside.
Aside from the faithful, leading local politicians attend the ceremony which is also broadcast live by a host of national and international TV networks.
Aside from the anniversary of the saint's beheading in 305 AD, the miracle also takes place on December 16 to commemorate the 1631 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, believed to have been halted by the saint's intervention, and again on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May.
On this occasion, there is a procession through the city's streets to recall the many times the relics have been moved over the centuries.
The liquefaction process sometimes takes hours, even days, and on occasions fails to happen at all.
For the faithful and superstitious, the ritual's success is a good omen for the city while its failure is a sign of impending disaster.
In fact, disaster has struck on at least five occasions when the blood failed to liquefy, including in 1527 when tens of thousands of people died from the plague and in 1980 when 3,000 people were killed in an earthquake which devastated much of southern Italy.
The first historical reference to the liquefaction of the martyr's blood dates to 1389.
Although now a headline-making saint, little is known about San Gennaro except that he was bishop of Benevento to the south of Naples and was martyred during the persecution of Christians spearheaded by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
The bishop was beheaded for refusing to bow down to his 'pagan' persecutors.
According to legend, his body and head, still dripping blood, were gathered up by an old man and taken to a safe place while a local woman filled up a phial.
A group of Italian scientists has analysed the contents of todays' two phials, establishing that they do contain blood, but have been unable to explain the phenomenon.
Some sceptics believe it is due to the shaking of the containers or the penetration of warmth from the holder's hands.