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Decrease in viscosity turns Catholic brains to jelly

Decrease in viscosity turns Catholic brains to jelly September 22, 2008

Three times a year thousands gather to watch as a glass phial containing the dried “blood” of Saint Januarius is removed from its locked vault, given a discreet shake, and held in the vicinity of his corpse where it “miraculously” liquefies.

Amaze your Catholic friends by giving a bottle of ketchup a good shake
Amaze your Catholic friends by giving a bottle of ketchup a good shake

It happened again on Saturday 19th, according Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, who announced the miracle to the credulous crowd. They set off fireworks and fired a 21-gun salute in celebration.
According to the legend, when Januarius 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. Well you would, wouldn’t you? A thousand years later, the miracle of liquefaction was first reported, and what turned out to be a sweet little money spinner for the diocese of Naples began.
Inevitably, some heretics have endeavoured to cast doubt on the veracity of the miracle, but for some strange reason the Catholic church is unwilling to allow scientists to open the phials and determine the exact chemical makeup of the liquid.
The most likely explanation is the thixotropic hypothesis. According to the Italian Committee for the Testing of Paranormal Claims:

Thixotropy denotes the property of certain gels to became more fluid, even from solid to liquid, when stirred, vibrated, or otherwise mechanically disturbed, and to resolidify when left to stand. Common examples of such substances are catsup, mayonnaise and some types of paints and toothpastes.

These Italian skeptics even went so far as to make up samples whose properties resembled those of the holy relic, using substances that would have also been available in the fourteenth century. They settled upon a reddish-brown FeO(OH) colloidal solution:

This gel is the right shade of brown without the addition of any dye; it becomes perfectly liquid when shaken […] and, just like the relic, can even produce the globo and bubbles on its shiny surface

Thixotropic iron hydroxide gel in its solid (left) and liquid (right) states
Thixotropic iron hydroxide gel in its solid (left) and liquid (right) states
Maybe one day the church will allow the contents of the phial to be analysed, and – should it turn out not to be a miracle after all – hold up their hands and apologise for misleading people all this time.
Now that would be a bloody miracle.

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