San Gennaro's treasure leaves Naples for first time
More valuable than British crown jewels29 October, 17:54
The collection, made up of lavish gifts given by popes, kings, emperors and ordinary people in gratitude for the alleged intervention of Naples' patron saint, will be moved from the Duomo in Naples.
Among the more interesting items are a mitre (bishop's hat) in which diamonds, ruby and emerald are embedded, and a collection of silver busts, composed of about 70 pieces made between 1305 till the modern era.
Once hidden away, the priceless haul found a new permanent home in 2003, a 300-sqm-area underneath the restored Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, which houses a sealed vial alleged to contain the saint's blood which miraculously liquefies three times a year.
The treasure includes jewels, busts, statues, paintings, tapestries and other valuable gifts made by the devout over the past 700 years.
Among these are the silver objects made by Neapolitan craftsmen between the 14th and 19th centuries. The objects demonstrate their makers' incredible skill in sculpting and forging busts of the saint, candelabras, chalices, plates, crosses and other altar ornaments.
The Chapel of the Treasure is a popular Naples attraction with 1.7 million visitors a year.
The treasure was also the subject of a successful 1967 Italian comedy film by Dino Risi, Operazione San Gennaro, known in English as The Treasure of San Gennaro.
The 'miracle of San Gennaro (St. Januarius) traditionally takes place three times a year: on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May; on the saint's feast day, September 19; and on December 16, the anniversary of an eruption of Vesuvius believed to have been halted by saintly intervention in 1631.
St Januarius was a Christian martyr, the Bishop of Beneventum (today's Benevento, to the south-east of Naples), believed to have been decapitated during the persecution ordered by Roman Emperor Diocletian around the year 305.
The legend goes that after his arrest, Januarius was thrown into a furnace but the flames did not burn him. He was then sent to an area to face ferocious wild beasts, but the animals would not harm him. Finally, it was ordered that he be beheaded.
According to tradition, the man who ordered the beheading suddenly went blind, but Januarius cured him before going under the axe.
On his feast days, a silver bust believed to contain the saint's head is placed on the altar in the Duomo and a vial allegedly containing the relic of his blood is held up to view and sometimes inverted while the faithful fervently pray for the 'miracle' of liquefaction, a sign of the martyr's blessing which sometimes is withheld.
The first historical reference to the liquefaction of the martyr's blood is dated 1389.
One group of Italian scientists have established that the substance in the vial is blood but have been unable to explain its liquefaction and the fact that its volume and weight can vary.