Flu fears affect even San Gennaro

Nervous church authorities are preventing Napolitans from kissing the phial containing the blood of San Gennaro during his festival later this month, because of swine flu fears. Reuters has the story:

In one of Italy's best-known festivals, Saint Gennaro's dried blood is said to liquefy twice a year, 17 centuries after his death. Some Neapolitans fear disaster may strike the city if the "miracle" does not occur.

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Legend has it that when Gennaro was beheaded by pagan Romans in 305 A.D., a Neapolitan woman soaked up his blood with a sponge and preserved it in a glass phial.

The substance usually turns to liquid on Sept. 19, the saint's feast day, and on the first Saturday in May. The "miracle" was first recorded in 1389, more than 1,000 years after Gennaro's martyrdom.

More scientifically minded sceptics say the phenomenon is due to chemicals present in the phial whose viscosity changes when it is stirred or moved.

Italy's socialists are clearly not among the sceptics:

Marco Di Lello, national co-ordinator of the Socialist Party, said the ban would "fuel the psychosis (over flu) which risks becoming unstoppable", and appealed to the archbishop of Naples to try to have the ban revoked.

I always associate the saint with the festival in Little Italy, New York, celebrating all things Italian, which I stumbled on the first time I ever visited the city. (It begins Thursday). The streets were filled with little stands selling delicious pasta. One seller cried out: "Canelloni just like your mudda made 'em!". Came the answer: "I never had a mudda!". To which the first retorted: "Canelloni just like your mudda made 'em if you had a mudda!."

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