Saint Januarius … a Catholic martyr
Januarius was Bishop of Benevento in third century Italy. According to tradition, he died during the Great Persecution in 305 AD. The persecution lasted from 303 to 312 AD and only ended with Emperor Diocletian’s retirement.
Januarius is the patron saint and protector of Naples and is famous for the annual liquefaction of his blood, which according to legend was taken by a woman called Eusebia after the saint’s death. People gather three times a year at Naples Cathedral to witness the liquefaction of his blood which is sealed in a glass ampoule.
Little is known of the life of Januarius but according to various hagiographies, he was born into a rich patrician family in 272 AD. When he was fifteen, he became the local priest of his parish in Benevento, which was relatively pagan at the time.
Five years later Januarius became Bishop of Naples and befriended Saint Juliana of Nicomedia (feast day February 16) and Saint Sossius (feast day September 23) whom he met while studying to be a priest. During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, Januarius hid fellow Christians to prevent their capture.
While visiting Sossius in jail, Januarius was also arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be killed by wild bears in the Flavian Amphitheatre at Pozzuoli, but the sentence was changed due to concerns there would be public disorder. Instead, Sossius, Januarius and Juliana were beheaded near Pozzuoli.
Other legends state either that the bears refused to eat them, or that he was thrown into a furnace but came out unscathed.
According to an early hagiography, Saint Severus, Bishop of Naples, ordered Januarius’s relics be transferred to the Neapolitan catacombs. In the early ninth century the body was moved to Beneventum, north-east of Naples by Sico, prince of Benevento, while the head remained in Naples.
At the time of Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century, his body was moved to the Territorial Abbey of Montevergine. It was rediscovered in 1480, and at the instigation of Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, Januarius’s body was transferred to Naples in 1497.
Carafa commissioned a crypt beneath the cathedral to house the reunited body and head. The tomb was finished in 1506 and is considered one of the prominent monuments of the High Renaissance in the city.
Saint Januarius’s feast day is celebrated on September 19.
Middle image: Saint Januarius Emerges Unscathed from the Furnace, Naples Cathedral by Ribera.
Bottom image: The Flavian Amphitheatre (by Wojtek-Rajpold).
Feature image: A portrait of Saint Januarius by Caravaggio.
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