Thursday, August 1, 2013

San Pantaleone

Icon of Saint Panteleimon, with scenes from his life,
13th century (Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai).
The patron saint of Napoli - you may have heard of him - is San Gennaro, and he is particularly famous for the preservation of a vial of his blood which miraculously liquifies - in a good year - on his saint’s day. I was intrigued to learn that the Amalfi Coast village of Ravello - famous for its Classical Music Festival and the fact that Wagner thought it lovely - also has a patron saint with a cruet of blood which - in a good year - liquifies.

Ravello's Cathedral (source)
San Pantaleone’s Feast Day is 27th July, and Ravello, like all Italian villages, puts on a respectable party for its saint: a quality band is hired from Puglia, lights are strung up, tacky stalls come to town, there’s a parade where the effigy of the saint is taken out and given an airing around town, some religious remembrance, and - of course - fireworks.

Canelone for San Panteleone
Enjoying the festivities, I needed to know the history of San Pantaleone, so looked him up. He was Christian doctor who lived in the fourth century, and was killed during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian (before Emperor Constantine converted and took the whole Roman Empire over to Christianity with him). It's said that an old woman - it’s not clear why or who - collected some of San Pantaleone’s blood in a small cruet when he was killed. This very cruet made its way to Ravello - by sea; the ship carrying the cruet was shipwrecked near Ravello, and the cruet preserved by the village, which thus acquired a patron saint. The cruet - or perhaps a successor, it's now a the glass, gold, and silver ampulla - sits in the Chapel of San Pantaleone in the Ravello Duomo, and each year on 27th July (usually in the morning) it is watched carefully for signs of the liquefaction of the saint’s blood.

The Wiki entries on San Pantaleone make interesting reading. For example:
Pantaleon implored Heaven to forgive them [those who wished to persecute him], for which reason he also received the name of Panteleimon ("mercy for everyone" or "all-compassionate"). It was not until he himself desired it that it was possible to behead him, upon which there issued forth blood and a white liquid like milk.
St. Alphonsus wrote:
At Ravello, a city in the kingdom of Naples, there is a vial of his blood, which becomes blood every year [on his feastday], and may be seen in this state interspersed with the milk, as I, the author of this work, have seen it. (source) 
On the other hand, there is this disappointing comment:
Though there is evidence to suggest that a martyr named Pantaleon existed, the various stories told of his life and death are considered by some to be purely legendary. (source)
There are relics of San Pantaleone spread amongst various churches in Italy and elsewhere; and Ravello has even shared some of the holy blood with other shrines, where the devout similarly await its liquefaction on 27th July.

Although the fireworks were very impressive, and San Pantaleone was given a respectful parade with music and incense, all of which I enjoyed, I was unable to learn whether the morning of the 27th July had this year produced the holy liquefaction. It would be nice to know what kind of year lies ahead.

San Pantaleone on the steps of the Ravello Duomo
Fireworks over the valley - Ravello

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