Born in Italy, Saint Janarius was the Bishop of Benevento when the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian began. He is believed to have been born to a patrician family tracing it's roots to the Samnites and became a priest at the age of only 15. While visiting Saint Sossius in jail, he and his colleagues were arrested and likewise held in prison. Legends hold that he was thrown to wild bears in the Amphitheater in Pozzuoli. When the beasts refused to eat him, he was thrown in to a furnace, only to escape with out a single burn. He and his colleagues were eventually beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli.
Immediately following his death, a woman named Eusebia saved a portion of his blood in a vial. In 1389, accounts surfaced that the blood had "melted" and over the next two centuries official reports began that the blood would spontaneously melt three times of a year. Thousands of people now assemble at the Naples Cathedral three times a year to witness the miracle : On September 19th, December 16th and the Saturday before the first Sunday of May. The blood liquefied in front of Pope Pius IX and in front of Pope Francis in 2015.
The blood is held in two hermetically sealed ampules in a silver reliquary. The larger of the two is an almond shape and contains about 40 ml of a dark reddish substance. They are generally kept in a bank vault with keys held by key members of Naples, including the mayor. When exposed on the altar, they are frequently turned to show that the blood has in fact liquefied.
The city holds a traditional procession for the miracle. Most recently, the blood liquefied on May 2nd, with Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe saying:
“Dear friends, I have a big announcement to make: even in this time of coronavirus, the Lord through the intercession of St. Januarius has liquefied the blood!"
The Cardinal and
Archbishop then used the relic of liquefied blood to bless the city of Naples also saying in his homily:
“How many times our saint has intervened to save us from the plague, from cholera. St. Januarius is the true soul of Naples,”
On expected days in which the blood does not liquefy it is seen as a potential bad omen. In September 1939 it did not (right before WW II), September 1940 (Italy enters the war), September 1943 (Nazi Occupation), September 1973 (cholera epidemic in Naples), and September 1980 (one month before the earthquake in Irpinia near Naples, killing 3,000).