NAPLES, Italy - Wednesday was not a good day for superstitious Neapolitans.
The blood of San Gennaro, the patron of Naples, failed to liquefy despite two rounds of praying by the faithful, which some in the southern Italian city see as an omen of bad things to come.
A vial containing the dried blood of the fourth-century martyr is put on public display three times a year in the city's cathedral and the faithful pray for its liquefaction, known as the "Miracle of San Gennaro".
It did not happen on Wednesday despite hours of praying in the morning and a special Mass in the afternoon. Fewer people than normal were allowed into the cathedral because of coronavirus restrictions.
Scientists say the substance inside the sealed vial appears to be dried blood but cannot explain why it sometimes turns into liquid and sometimes does not.
Neapolitans get particularly nervous if the blood does not liquefy on the saint's feast day, September 19, but less so on the other two days the vial is brought out for public veneration - the Saturday before the first Sunday in May, and on Dec. 16.
When the blood failed to liquefy on September 19, 1980, a massive earthquake hit southern Italy two months later, killing more than 3,000 people.
On Wednesday, the city's cardinal, Crescenzio Sepe, told the faithful not to be overly dismayed. "If something needs to melt, it is the hearts of people," he said.
Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Gareth Jones