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October 7, 2005

The miracle (or the myth) of St Januarius of Naples questioned

Today on NGC I watched the blood miracle of St Januarius (partly) explained. The blood of the martyr is stored in a glass vial and turns into liquid during the ceremony held 3x/ year. On those days even the criminals in Naples behave properly, so the police get at least some rest.

However the scientist Luigi Garlaschelli e.a. proved that he could, though partially, make some thixotropic liquid to do exactly the same as the martyr’s blood. His team was in joy, but then they thought whether publishing the result would be the right thing to do. Is it wise to demystify the mystery of the blood miracle? They were worried that some people might cast doubts upon their faith then. However, it didn’t deter Garlaschelli e.a. to publish a letter in Nature 1991 Oct 10;353(6344):507.

Could we, as human beings, live without myth? Myth in its broadest sense, not merely as illusive stories of this or that god(des), this or that hero(ine). If I take the definition of myth according to Roland Barthes: a myth is a type of speech, so that everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse. For Barthes, this historically-produced, ìdepoliticized speech gives meaning and form to reality; then the answer would be ‘No’.

Myth is everywhere. It’s as important as the air we’re breathing in. Without myth it would mean to live without meaning. It would make homo animale of us.

Personally, I don’t think that rationalizing the blood miracle would shatter the faith of some believers. Human nature will make him create another myth as soon as the old one is demystified, simply due to the fact that human can not live without it.

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