Francesco Paolo de Ceglia

Testing “Liquid Miracles” between the 17th and 18th Centuries


The prodigious blood of Saint Januarius of Naples

The subject of this paper is the experimental tests and the subsequent reconceptualization of a particular type of miracles, at the time relatively common, especially in the Kingdom of Naples (to which I will devote my attention), between the late 17th and early 18th centuries. “Liquid miracles” were basically of two types: 1) miracles of blood, in the capital, that is, in Naples, consisting of the melting, seething or shining of ancient blood relics; 2) miracles of manna in the rest of the Kingdom, in cities such as Bari, Amalfi and Salerno, consisting in the continuous production of a liquid, called manna, that exuded from the bones of the saints and was attributed with healing powers.

While up to the first half of the 17th century the objections to the miraculous nature of the behavior of these fluids were mainly theological, starting in the second half of the century research was accumulated by those who claimed to have developed substances capable of acting in a manner similar to blood and miraculous exudates or to have identified the environmental conditions able to explain changes of state, increases in volume and so on. A lively controversy emerged, which led the Church of Rome to reconsider (at least theoretically) the way it tested some difficult to explain phenomena before declaring them to be miraculous.

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