Today marks the first day of the Feast of San Gennaro in New York City. San Gennaro Day is officially September 19th. Italian American cities and towns of Naples and southern Italy descent celebrate their ancestry and pay homage to their patron saint with a variety of feasts and parties. In New York City’s Little Italy, it runs from September 15th to the 25th. It is one of the biggest and festive block parties. The days will be filled with parades, pageantry, music, dance, and so much incredible food.
Gennaro was Bishop of Benevento, Italy, and died a martyr in 305 AD during the Christian persecution. Because he visited fellow Christian brothers in jail, he was arrested and horribly tortured. However, Gennaro remained loyal to Christ. Frustrated, the torturers threw him headfirst into a fire, but by God’s grace he emerged without burns.
Finally, Gennaro was beheaded. His blood was sopped up and saved by a woman. Normally, blood solidifies, but twice a year it is liquified on the first of Sunday of May, the feast of transferring his relics, and on September 19, the anniversary of his martyrdom.
Saint Gennaro’s remains are preserved in Naples. Many pray to the patron saint to protect them from fires, earthquakes, plagues, droughts and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
At the turn of the 20th century when Italian immigrants settled on the lower east side of Manhattan. They brought their language, culture, food and saints.
The Church of the Most Precious Blood is the National Shrine Church of San Gennaro and the sister church of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. During its construction and diocese certification, the Franciscan friars supplied the church with a relic of San Gennaro’s 1,700-year-old dried blood.
Originally Italian Americans celebrated San Gennaro on one solemn day, September 19th. Over the years, the event grew to include a procession of the statue through the streets of Little Italy followed by an eleven day street fair.
I featured the Church of the Most Precious Blood in my Becoming America’s Stories series. In 1911, families worshiped in the church for less than ten years. The big feast was not underway until the 1920s.
My characters dutifully attended Mass and prayed to Madonna and San Gennaro for comfort and guidance. I believe my grandmother’s sisters were baptized in this parish. I need to do some ancestry digging on that.
In the meantime, if you are in the Little Italy area during the Feast of San Gennaro, soak in the music and food. If you prefer a more calm experience, tour the lower east side after the festivities, visit the Church of the Most Precious Blood on Baxter Street and enjoy a plate of macaroni and a cannoli. .
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