Protests in Italy Over Patron Saint’s Jewels

The collection is said to be worth more than the British crown jewels

More than 2,000 people in Naples, Italy, gathered on March 5 over concerns that the Roman Catholic Church will gain control of the jewels of the city’s principal patron saint, San Gennaro.

The jewels, as well as the chapel in honor of the saint, was built with city money and is under control of a council including 12 laypeople and the mayor.

Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, recently issued a decree reclassifying the council as religious and not secular and ruled that four of the committee’s posts should belong to the Church. Protesters are worried that this means the Catholic Church will take control of the jewels.

“We’re protecting a centuries-old institution. We will not stand for interference from either the Church or the government,” Paolo Jorio, director of the San Gennaro museum where the jewels are kept, told AFP news agency.

The Guardian reports that the jewels include gold jewelry, precious stones, and silver busts, and a golden mitre, the ceremonial headdress of the bishop, which is studded with 3,326 diamonds, 164 rubies, and nearly 200 emeralds. The collection also includes a vial of the saint’s blood, which is used in a ceremony three times a year (parishioners pray for the miraculous liquefaction of the blood; the mayor invites the Archbishop of Naples to the chapel for the ceremony).

“We think Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (Archbishop of Naples) has applied great pressure on Alfano, in order to extend his influence over one of the most well-known symbols of popular religion,” Jorio said.

 The jewels are reportedly worth more than the British crown jewels.