Bishop of Beneventum, Martyr
Many centuries ago, Saint Januarius died for the Faith during the persecution of Diocletian. God, through the blood which His servant shed for Him, some of which is conserved in Naples, continues to strengthen the faith of the Church, and to work there a regular miracle by its means.
This beloved Saint of the late third century was the bishop of Beneventum, and had a friend, a deacon named Sosius, who like himself was occupied with fortifying the Christians faced with martyrdom. When the prefect of Pouzzoles, where Sosius had been imprisoned, heard that Januarius was coming to visit him and three other fervent Christians being held there, he had him arrested. He urged him to cease his exhortations, forbidden by the imperial edicts, and to offer incense to the idols, if he wanted to avoid torture. The holy bishop replied that he could not do so. He was submitted to torments, the first one of which left him miraculously uninjured. The judge attributed the miracle to magic, as was often said of the Christians whom God chose to spare. He ordered another torture which left the bishop lame, before he was sent to the same prison as the others.
When two ecclesiastics of Benevent came to visit the confessors, they were arrested and condemned to die with the other five in an amphitheater, by the teeth of wild beasts. The animals, furious when released into the space where the seven Confessors stood, came and quietly lay down at their feet, renewing a miracle seen more than once in the history of the first centuries. By this prodigy and other miracles which preceded their execution, five thousand persons were converted. The bishop and his companions were decapitated on September 19, 305. A church was built on a nearby mountain to honor the memory of Saint Januarius.
Little did the heathen governor think, when he condemned them, that he would be the instrument in God’s hand for ushering in a long succession of miracles which commemorate the faith and attest the sanctity of Januarius. His relics repose in the cathedral of Naples, and it is there that the liquefaction of his blood occurs. The blood is congealed in two glass vials, but when it is brought near the martyr’s head, it melts and flows like the blood of a living man. This ordinarily occurs on his feast day celebrated on September 17th in Naples, and on anniversaries of miracles attributed to him, which have preserved the city from eruptions of Mount Vesuvius or the plague. Some have tried to explain this miracle by natural causes, but none have ever contested the reality of the facts.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 11; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).