One of France’s most fervent opponents during the Revolution was Maria Carolina of Austria. The wife of Ferdinand, King of Naples, known as « Il Re Nasone » or « king big-nose », she was a sophisticated and cultivated woman with strong political convictions. She hated the revolutionaries who had killed her sister, Marie-Antoinette.
When General Championnet’s revolutionary army captured Naples the royal family took refuge in Sicily, under the protection of the British fleet.
The Italian people hated the French.
One day, General Championnet was preoccupied; the annual San Gennaro (Saint Januarius) feast-day was approaching.
The patron saint of the city was revered by all Neapolitans, who flocked to the cathedral where the annual miracle was due to take place.Two small ampoules would be taken from a silver reliquary and presented to the crowd. They contained the blood of the martyr, Januarius, executed 1700 years previously.
The blood would slowly liquefy : a positive sign, regarded as a miracle.On the other hand, if the blood did not liquefy, the people would see this as a bad omen and the sign of impending disaster.
General Championnet was determined that the French occupation of Naples be accompanied by positive signs, meaning that in this case, the blood should definitely liquefy.
When the feast day came around, the cathedral was full, and crowds filled the church square and the surrounding streets. It was as if the whole populaion of Naples had come together to see what Saint Januarius would do.General Championnet had a front row seat, alongside the cardinal bishop of Naples.
The two ampoules were brought out and raised up so that the crowd could see them. Everyone was waiting to see what would occur Minutes went by, and nothing happened. The crowd began to murmur. Time passed, and there was still no sign. The clamour grew. General Championnet heard « Francesi, Francesi ! » as the crowd blamed the French for the non-liquefaction of the blood and the bad omen this represented. The French had brought the evil eye upon them, they were responsible for this predicament ! The crowd grew even noisier, and there was still no liquefaction.
General Championnet sensed that the situation coud deteriorate quickly. And so he got up from his seat, discreetly stepped over to the cardinal’s throne and whispered in his ear : « Your Eminence, if the blood of Saint Januarius does not liquefy in the next minute, I will have you shot ». At first, the cardinal didn’t move or react, but before a minute had passed the blood of Saint Januarius did indeed liquefy and begin to boil… which speaks volumes about miracles.