As 2016 staggers to its wretched end, it has lobbed one final (knock on wood) grenade of doom: The failure of a Catholic “blood miracle” that signals “war, famine, disease or other disaster.” Happy holidays!
Here’s the story: In Naples, Italy, a vial of dried blood kept in a cathedral crypt is said to spontaneously liquefy three times a year. Dec. 16, the anniversary of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is one of the liquefaction days. So far, so good! But last week, on the appointed day, the blood remained stubbornly dry. “We must not think of disasters and calamities,” the local abbot said in response, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes one think about disasters and calamities.
The blood supposedly belongs to Saint Januarius, also known as San Gennaro, who was martyred around the turn of the fourth century, according to lore. As the Italian newspaper La Stampa reports, previous occasions of the miracle’s failure coincided with the beginning of World War II and a local cholera outbreak.
It gets worse. Baba Vanga, a blind clairvoyant from Bulgaria who died in 1996, apparently predicted the recent failure. Believers say Baba Vanga also predicted that Barack Obama would be the last American president, which suggests something alarming will take place before inauguration day. “The Nostradamus of the Balkans” also supposedly predicted the 2004 tsunami, the rise of ISIS, and 9/11: “Horror, horror! The American brethren will fall after being attacked by the steel birds.” (It’s not clear why she didn’t just call them “airplanes.” Do not question Baba Vanga.)
The previous Neapolitan liquefaction occurred right on schedule. On Sept. 19, a local cardinal descended into the crypt to observe the vial of blood, as per tradition. In the past, clergy would often bring the dry blood up to the church and let the congregation view the miraculous transformation. This time, there was no need to bother. The cardinal observed that the blood had already liquefied, so he simply returned to the church and reported the good news. According to a report on the Catholic news site Crux, the congregation burst into applause.
Spoilsports will argue that the concept of a “blood miracle” is nonsense. They may point out that a team of Italian scientists once conducted experiments showing that medieval chemists could have created imitation blood that would appear to liquefy and then congeal. The act of inverting the vial of “blood,” part of the ritual in Naples, would be enough to liquefy certain of those substances. The spoilsports’ findings were published in the journal Nature in 1991.
The “blood miracle” is really just a bit of local lore that has never been sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis himself doesn’t seem to take it too seriously; when he was handed the vial last year during an event at the cathedral, the local cardinal noted that the vial appeared half-liquefied afterward—proof that “St. Januarius loves the pope.” Francis joked in reply: “You can see that the saint only loves us a little. We have to convert more.”
Tabloids and paranormal-interest websites have handled news of the blood miracle’s failure with much less sanguinity. As one headline in a British paper put it, “Ancient Miracle of Saint Januarius’ blood liquifying fails to occur signalling END OF DAYS.”
There were at least a dozen unverifiable assertions in the previous seven paragraphs, but don’t let that stop you from freaking out. We live in a post-fact universe now. “Trust, but verify” is out. “Distrust, but react” is in. Ignore wussy hedges like supposedly and according to lore, and just let the fear wash over you. Bulgarian omens, mysterious blood, “war, famine, disease or other disaster”: This year, it just feels true.