In Naples the less usual is everywhere.
A few weeks ago it was San Gennaro, his blood, and a selection of saints, who added the extraordinary as they were carried shoulder high in procession through the city’s streets from the cathedral to the church of Santa Chiara.
The procession is an annual event but this year it was different. There was a skip in its stride, an extra clang in the bells, because a victory had been won … not the easiest victory to understand but definitely a win for the city.
The win was a legal one, signed before witnesses, which confirmed that the existing management of San Gennaro, his cappella and his treasures, would remain as a lay group and that the Church, who had tried to insist on joining the team, should not and would not do so.
It was a bouncy day and you could feel it right from the start.
The cathedral, built over ruins much older than its own consecration date of 1314, was coloured in with uniforms that smudged into the restless wait of children, grandparents, participants and spectators.
Everyone had to wait a while but finally, as the afternoon lost its heat the saints, around twenty in total, began their parade.
It was heavy, awkward work with pauses in the cathedral before each saint was manoeuvred out into the evening to be introduced to the crowd.
They exited dramatically into the sunlight, each supported by particular groups.
They swopped the huge, backstage space of the cathedral for the auditorium of the piazza.
The last to emerge was San Gennaro accompanied by some members of the historic organisation responsible for his care – La Deputazione.
Chief amongst the saint’s treasures are two phials of his blood said to have been saved when he was beheaded.
Three times a year the blood, normally in a dry state, is presented before the people of Naples to see if it will liquify. If it does so the omens for the city are said to be good and a ripple of relief, almost imperceptible in some corners, washes through Naples.
This particular procession was the first of the three annual occasions.
The patient crowd – the majority locals, with a mix of tourists and media – welcomed San Gennaro and the lavish ostensorium that holds the two phials of his blood.
Then, with the young saint and his blood amongst them, the procession began.
We followed behind the procession of saints and saviours, along old stone streets, past shopkeepers, tourists, the curious and the devoted.
Occasionally the whole parade would pause as imaginative parking solutions were negotiated, or adjustments made.
Of course San Gennaro was the star. The bust and blood of this young bishop from Benevento, beheaded almost two thousand years ago in Pozzuoli, was the centre of gravity for the whole procession.
At Santa Chiara, at the end of the route, the bells swung out loud and clear. The church, obliterated by a bomb in the Second World War, is a rebuild of its original early-14th-century self. Now its warm, yellow lines stand tall in the heart of Naples.
We squeezed through a side door to stand against the walls of the church, halfway along the rows of packed pews.
In the distance Cardinal Sepe announced what everyone had hoped to hear – that San Gennaro’s blood had liquified. He also added that, in fatti, it had done so when the legal battle over constitutional arrangements had been solved a few days earlier.
It was a happy ending to the procession and the end of a journey for us.
For San Gennaro it was just another tiny droplet in the long story of his life, a story sealed with blood on the fortune of Naples.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018