Our god is an awesome thixotropic blob of goo

This is what happens when you can’t comprehend the ordinary physical properties of fluids: you start hailing grungy old bottles of gloppy stuff as your salvation. Naples has gotten all excited about a bottle of “liquifying saint’s blood” — it’s incredibly silly. And just as silly, there is an online poll: Do you believe in miracles?. So far, 64% of the respondents say they do.

They should have asked, “do you believe in gullible people?”, because then I would have voted yes.


  1. Nerd of Redhead says

    Someone from Skepitcal Inquirer studied this. It’s some iron salts. He even made a batch. Not a miracle.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    According to the article, the “miracle” was first reported in the 14th century (around the same time as the Shroud of Turin was made). At that time, there was a sizeable relic-forging industry – all big churches and monasteries needed relics to attract suckers pilgrims, who were a major source of income. No doubt some enterprising individual discovered a thixotropic liquid and mixed in some red dye.

  3. Sili says

    I was sure this post was gonna be about how the spit-slurpy (or whatever it’s called) defies explanation by the Theory of Gravity. I’m sure someone can supply the Youtube.

  4. «bønez_brigade» says

    I’m sure the word “thixotropic” means about as much to them as the word “rational”. Does not compute.

    Derr, idunno eny siense: 64% 3856 votes
    Take off the blinders and look at the evidence, for fuck’s sake: 30% 1786 votes
    Need to hit the books: 7% 411 votes

    Weird rounding; that’s 101%.

  5. David Marjanović, OM says

    The poll itself is to the right of the end of the article. Click on “Have your say”.

    Just above 6000 votes so far. I predict quick pharyngulation. Though the wording of the questions is silly:

    6134 votes since Sep 19 2008

    Yes. There are things science can’t explain. 63% 3875 votes
    No. There is always a rational explanation. 30% 1845 votes
    Not sure. 7% 414 votes

    Well, duh. There are lots and lots of things science can’t explain yet. And that there’s always a rational explanation is by far the most parsimonious hypothesis, but that doesn’t prove it. I still voted “no”, but they should really work at their wording.

  6. negentropyeater says

    In support of the thixotropic hypothesis, we made up samples whose properties resembled those of the relic. We used substances that would have also been available in the fourteenth century. We settled for 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.

    …the Catholic Church has always forbidden the opening of the sealed containers…

    Further tests to investigate the real nature of the holy “blood” without opening the ampoule come readily to mind: for example, molecular absorptions and fluorescence spectroscopy, and Raman scattering measurements, made with modern electronic instruments by qualified spectroscopists. Controlled temperature increments and shock tests also represent non-destructive analytical methods by which our or alternative hypotheses might be verified or disproved. Whether these simple tests will be allowed to go ahead wholly depends upon the Catholic Church.


  7. «bønez_brigade» says

    @10, “I predict quick pharyngulation.”

    I concur. The (US) believers are in their boxes now (or will be shortly), gettin’ their blind on. The handover should occur by noon CST, if not 3 hours before. Expect an early afternoon surge by the believers, though; but count on a late rally by the hand of reason when the believers head back to the box for their 6PM mind-flush.

  8. scooter says

    Neapolitans, what do you expect. They make the most unimaginative ice cream in the world.

    FUCK I can’t wait to get out of here, anybody else going to LA?

    -posting from work

  9. Brad says

    Their poll has a false dichotomy:
    Yes. There are things science can’t explain.
    No. There is always a rational explanation.
    Of course there are things science can’t explain – that’s why we still have scientists, not just technicians and historians.

    And if by miracle, they mean an event occurring that is extremely unlikely, that happens all the time; you can even prove it. A dartboard (a circle in the plane) consists of an infinite number of points and the likelihood of hitting any particular point with a thrown dart is infinitesimally small. Yet every time you throw a dart, some point does get hit.

    Although they might be poor at judging probability, most people realize at some level the difference between unlikely and impossible. People don’t pray to win the lottery unless they bought a ticket.

  10. negentropyeater says

    Neapolitans, what do you expect. They make the most unimaginative ice cream in the world.

    You’ve obviously never been to Naples then…

  11. says

    It (the saint’s blood) is the seed of hope for all of us.

    Bit depressing, really. And yet the religious frequently accuse atheists of nihilism!

  12. Ray S. says

    I voted No to the question of miracles posed here. There’s always a rational explanation, even if I don’t know what it is. It might even be true that no one does — yet. All one has to do to see this is remember all the things we can explain today that we could not in the past.

  13. Eric says

    We’re up to 60 yes, 33 no, 7 unsure (6599 total votes)…


    Meh – as has been pointed out above, the article devotes a line to the skeptics:

    “More scientifically minded sceptics say the “miracle” is due to chemicals present in the phial whose viscosity changes when it is stirred or moved.”

    And there’s a decent article about this position here:



  14. alex says

    i thought the “liquifying-blood” trick was old hat, and everyone knew how it was done by now. do you think these people from Naples are aware that you can walk on custard?

  15. scooter says

    negen @ 16
    You’ve obviously never been to Naples then…

    You’ve obviously never been to Kroger.

    BTW, here’s my favorite dancing godBlob:

    note the dancing godBlob is made of flour and water, just like a cracker.

    Praise Blob

  16. acorelli says

    The vast (and I mean vast) majority of folks in Naples smile indulgently at the news of the “liquificazione” of San Gennaro’s blood. It is a colorful old custom; most people there accord it the same importance as we do, say, Groundhog Day. Sure, there are some religious goofs who moan, howl, and cheer, but they are NOT then trotting out to bomb abortion clinics.

    Ice cream (or rather, gelato) in Naples is fabulous. I recommend La Scimmia (the ape) which in addition to wonderful gelato features a charming brass primate (in our preferred meaning of the word) above the door.

  17. says

    Yes 59%
    No. 34%
    Not sure. 6%

    Well, at least they had the decency of putting up more than a black and while 2 options poll.

    Sadly, it makes not much difference.

  18. ma drid says

    Teh burning stupid. Orthodox Jews make Fundamental Islamists look “librul”.


    Yoel Kreus is known locally in the Mea Shearim area of the city (Jerusalem) as the ‘manager of operations’. He describes himself as a ‘shmira’, a Hebrew word that translates as ‘watcher of Israel’. ‘I make sure the rabbis’ decisions happen … I help you to be a moral person,’ he said.

    He maintained that separation was necessary beyond the boundaries of the neighbourhood. ‘Having secular people on the buses is a problem. They go like animals, without clothes. Non-religious girls don’t dress properly. They encourage me to sin,’ he said.

  19. negentropyeater says

    You’ve obviously never been to Kroger.

    I have actually, in Houston. If that’s your gold standard for ice cream, you really need to try “Chalet Ciro” in Naples for comparison.

  20. Sven DiMilo says

    A Mighty thixotropic blob of goo is our God
    A Liquid never fully coagulated.
    Still fluid it is but twice a year
    ‘Cause that’s how often we shake it.
    For still our ancient foe
    doth seek to work us woe;
    his craft and power are great,
    and armed with cruel thrombin,
    on earth is not his equal.

  21. BobC says

    A short conversation I had with a Christian retard a few years ago:

    Christian retard: “I believe in miracles.”

    Me: “Miracles are impossible.”

    Christian retard: “That’s why they’re called miracles.”

  22. shonny says

    Forget about them catlickers and their lunacy. The good news on that page was:

    Unknown score by Mozart found in France.
    A French municipal library has discovered a musical score handwritten by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in its archives.

    Now, THAT is interesting!

  23. Nick Gotts says

    That reminds me of the time a researcher found evidence that Beethoven had been buried with the score of a previously unknown symphony. Eventually, he obtained permission to excavate the grave. When he opened the coffin, he was astonished to see Beethoven appeared to be still alive! What’s more, he had the manuscript in his hands, but was systematically going through it from back to front, scoring out each line as he went.

    “What on Earth are you doing?”, he asked.
    “I’m decomposing”.

  24. Lynnai says

    i thought the “liquifying-blood” trick was old hat, and everyone knew how it was done by now. do you think these people from Naples are aware that you can walk on custard?

    Well I for one never heard of that…. I think it would be a colossal waste of custard mind you. I can believe it though, I’ve met jell-o you could’ve built houses out of.

    A French municipal library has discovered a musical score handwritten by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in its archives.

    Now, THAT is interesting!

    I’ll say! Coolness. Going to go hunt down the link and be cynical though, ’cause where was it found that it was lost that long? (and maybe it deserved to be, everyone has bad days too.)

  25. 386sx says

    The substance usually turns to liquid twice a year – on September 19, the saint’s feast day, and on the first Saturday in May.

    I wonder why the substance only “usually” turns to liquid twice a year. I guess maybe the substance gets tired and goes on vacation sometimes? Or maybe the substance is in a bad mood sometimes? Maybe the substance has a migraine or something.

  26. jimmiraybob says

    Somewhat OT but as an ilk I feel it my duty to report a PBS poll that asks if Sarah Palin is qualified to be VP. Currently Yes is ahead, 52% to 46% No.

  27. Kemist says

    I’d heard about this liquifying blood business (and thixotropic liquids) a while ago, during chemistry class. I remember feeling quite puzzled at the amount of knowledge, time and money wasted on stupid tricks when there were so many grave problems and scientific discoveries to be tackled all around at the time this was made. It makes you sort of lose hope and respect for humanity.

    It’s quite revealing that people calling themselves spiritual need such pointless magic tricks to give themselves hope. And refuse, like frightened and insecure children, to let people analyse the magic trick in question, to confirm that it’s not a simple trick, but indeed a true miracle. Some people do seem to need to be fleeced. They call this magic, and pity you if you just can’t be credulous like them. That’s a major dispute I have with some people : I like finding out how tricks are made. It means I can use the knowledge for something. Sitting there with my mouth open in awe and saying “It’s a miracle !!” wont help me, or anyone else.

    Christianity, and most of all the catholic brand in which I was raised, is so obsessed with death and decay that they need to show perfumed, waxed over and otherwise conserved saint relics in a morbid and distasteful freakshow. All this in a pointless effort at denying their own mortality. Such is the stuff that turned me away from the church.

    Pointless, morbid magic tricks : how can that give you hope for anything ?

  28. says

    And does anybody actually get to see this amazing spontaneous transformation? Of course not.

    Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, announced the blood turned to liquid at 9:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) and the glass phial was paraded to crowds outside, who set off fireworks in celebration.

    Well all I can say is that if that little charade is enough to convince you that a “miracle” occurred, you’re in dire need of an emergency scepticism implant.

    Wait a sec… Oh my FSM! I don’t believe it! My computer mouse just turned into a real one, right before my eyes! If you don’t believe me, look at this!

  29. TheBlackCat says

    I read about this blood once. Then I thought I might try to the trick on ketchup (since it is thick but semi-liquid). It turns out vibrating the bottle is a great way of get ketchup out of those annoying glass bottle. Who says there is nothing to be gained from skepticism?

  30. Tim Fuller says

    Voted no.

    OT. The food service industry is going into a steep decline. How much is it going to cost the taxpayer to bail out the food service industry?

    I know a whole lot more people who work in food service than I do that work in high finance. Surely these ‘salt of the Earth’ workers who are, as John McCain says the ‘strong fundamentals of our economy’ deserve the same assistance as the sleazy bankers and Wall Street mavens.


  31. Jadehawk says

    what I REALLY want to know is why sometimes the “blood” doesn’t liquefy. I wonder if there are instructions somewhere hidden in that church that say: “don’t shake in case of declining faith”, to scare some Catholics back to believing

    I’ve met jell-o you could’ve built houses out of.
    A friend of mine won a science-contest (drop egg from height; keep it from breaking) in High-School by encasing the egg in a layer of extra thick jell-o.

  32. says

    I understand it is similar to liquifaction. With that said – can someone explain to me why it happens twice a year?

    Is it from humidity or something like that??

    (non-sciencey type looking for layman answer) :-)



  33. Nerd of Redhead says

    S Scott, very simple. The material is thick (think jello) until it is shaken. Then it liquifies, and slowly goes back to gelatin. The priests take it out of a niche and shake it twice a year.

  34. negentropyeater says

    What I find the most extraordinary is that the Church has until now refused to let scientists perform tests to verify the nature of the substance inside the relic, at least check if it contains hemoglobin for instance.

    First, they’ve always refused to open the container.
    Then, when they were told by the CICAP (see my post #12) that tests could be performed without opening, they gave no answer…

    I mean, there should be a way to force the Church to let scientists investgate, I wonder how ?

  35. says

    Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, announced the blood turned to liquid at 9:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) and the glass phial was paraded to crowds outside, who set off fireworks in celebration.

    And I am sure the collection plates were full of Euros, too.

  36. El Herring says

    negentropyeater: do you really think the Church is going to let some nosy scientists poke around? It’s all fake, and they know it.

    Conjurers never reveal how their tricks are done.

  37. BobC says

    Off-topic: here in Florida the History channel has discontinued showing their Tuesday TV show “Evolve”, perhaps because of complaints from fundies. Did anyone else notice this?

    Also off-topic: Sam Harris talks about Palin in Newsweek.

  38. amphiox says

    I had thought (or heard), at least in regard to the venerable Shroud of Turin, that the official RCC position on relics was that they were objects of veneration for their symbolic value, and that it did not matter if they were, or were not legitimately exactly what they claimed to be.

    (If all the reported bones and body parts of various saints were true, many saints would have had to have had something like seven arms, four hearts and three noses in life)

    Though, if that were true, then the reluctance of the church to allow scientific investigation into these relics is a mystery.

  39. amphiox says

    BobC #54:
    The last time I went checking, I found a new episode of “Evolve” scheduled on a Sunday.

  40. Robert Freemyer says

    Here’s a miracle: I bought a 10 year old house way out in the woods which has double-layered windows. When Hurricane Ivan came along the wind was strong enough to break the seals around some of the panes. Condensation and evaporation set in until I had the ouline of a ‘Jesus’ head on one of the panes. Because I built a porch on the house in front of the window, the sun never hits it and the image is visible day and night. My remote neighbors are all of the religous right ilk and if any one of them see it, I’ll have a line of fanatics driving out here. The miracle is none of them have.

  41. «bønez_brigade» says

    @ #12 (negentropyeater) & #23 (Eric),

    Excerpted from that CICAP article, “The Blood of St. Januarius”:
    “Today the rite is on one hand still encouraged (is performed by the archbishop in the Naples cathedral); on the other hand it was never officially declared a miracle by the Catholic Church, which leaves scientists free to express their opinions.”

    The part after the semicolon appears to imply that (on the other hand) scientists are not so free to express their opinions if something _was_ officially declared a miracle. Am I the only one that finds that statement odd (especially since it is from the Italian version of CSICOP)?

  42. BobC says

    amphiox #56, thanks. I looked on the History channel’s website and I couldn’t find Evolve on Sunday or Tuesday or any other day. I bet they discontinued it because of complaints from fundies. American television thinks it has to suck up to religious stupidity.

  43. co says

    My dad (being a scholar of English and loving to annoy people who annoy him) loves to rant on the etymology of “miracle”, and how it used to be such a nice word (meaning, roughly, “that which causes a smile”), but was co-opted and then taken over by religious nuts to mean just about anything they want it to.
    In the original sense, I DO believe in miracles, but will, of course, answer the poll in the manner in which it’s meant, which means disabling cookies and giving it a right Pharyngulation.

  44. «bønez_brigade» says

    @ #28 (ma drid),
    Goddamn, that article is creepy. It’s theocratic-Islam, old-time-OT-Xianity-“values”, and mid-20th-Century-Southern-USA all rolled into one conveniently hateful little package.

  45. Sili says

    (If all the reported bones and body parts of various saints were true, many saints would have had to have had something like seven arms, four hearts and three noses in life)

    Well, haven’t it been common in most cultures to venerate freaks of Nature as blessed by the gods? I seem to recall the Greeks being fond of hermaphrodites, for example. Makes perfect sense for Saints to have been suffering from devolopmental accidents.

    Now the splinters that add up to seven true crosses are a ‘problem’ …

  46. info_dump says

    Wait, they’ve been keeping a bottle of some dude’s blood for the past 17 centuries?


  47. amphiox says

    Sili #66: There can be only one rational explanation for the splinters of the seven true crosses. String theory is true, and cruxifiction was a pan-dimensional punishment. (Them romans were more advanced than we give them credit for). Why there are only seven, and not eleven though, is beyond me. Perhaps some pieces have been scattered into even more higher dimensions. Or perhaps my admitted cursory understanding of string theory is incorrect as to the number of higher dimensions required.

  48. Nerd of Redhead says

    Info_dump, it isn’t blood. It’s actually a fake that anybody can mix up in a chemistry lab. They just pretend it’s blood and give a good show.

  49. amphiox says

    BobC: That sunday airing was I think 2 weeks ago. But History Channel hasn’t been playing up “Evolve” all that much right from the beginning. It doesn’t have its own homepage like all their other shows, and if you search their page for upcoming episodes, you don’t find any. I’ve taken to perusing torrent pages. If they still air, bittorrents usually turn up, eventually. You don’t have to download them if you have objections to that kind of thing, but it would be an indication as to whether or not the episodes are still airing. (I’m reliant on the bittorrents because I don’t have a TV) The episode I saw touted for the Sunday was Evolve: Communication. And as far as I can tell, no torrent has turned up for it yet.

  50. says

    Ancient words of wisdom:

    “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups.”

    I never cease to be befuddled by their incompetence.

  51. Marco says

    Guys you miss the point altogether.
    Miracles DO HAPPEN here in Italy today.
    They expose an embalmed corpse and within hours the floor is littered with €50 bills.
    Now, if this is not a miracle!

  52. says

    There’s really no point in doing any scientific testing on the stuff. This is the Catholic church, people, where the physical properties of an object are something totally apart from the “substance” or “essence” or “real nitty-gritty” of said object. They’ll just declare that though science measures it as a mixture of FeOH, its essence is actually the honest-to-goodness we wouldn’t lie to you blood of Saint Whazzisname.

    It all reminds me of a trick Amazo the Magician did once on The Wallace and Ladmo Show. He had Ladmo (IIRC) get into a large cardboard box, waved his wand and magically transferred him to a much smaller cardboard box. But then, before we could see the tiny Ladmo, he even more amazingly magicked him back to the big box!! Ladmo stepped out looking as if nothing had happened to him! Damn, how’d he do that? Two miracles in a row!

  53. says

    I’d like to know more about this. If every time the blood failed to liquefy there was a disaster and every time I didn’t there was no disaster, then there might actually be something to this. Obviously, controlled conditions would be necessary to test to see if it’s actually true, which I highly doubt given only the information on that poorly written Reuters article.

  54. leftoflarry says

    I lived in naples when I was a kid and my mother took me to this same cathedral to watch the “miracle” of Saint Gennaro’s blood liquefying. I find it amusing that Naples is now known for its’ trash…where is their savior when the city is sinking in a huge pile of trash???? It is ironic…to a stinking degree.

  55. David Marjanović, OM says

    Somewhat OT but as an ilk I feel it my duty to report a PBS poll that asks if Sarah Palin is qualified to be VP. Currently Yes is ahead, 52% to 46% No.

    That’s about the tenth time in three or four days someone tells us about this poll! Yesterday evening it had over 10 million votes, today morning it had over 29 million votes, and now it has 38,887,516 votes! Forget about it already!

  56. says

    Yeah, that’s a poll that has already been hacked to bits by both sides — its irrelevance has already been demonstrated. If someone tried to use it to claim Palin was competent, we’d all have a good laugh.

  57. Bob Evans says

    @ # 13 “The (US) believers are in their boxes now (or will be shortly), gettin’ their blind on.”
    Very clever and funny post, bonez brigade. You had me and probably thousands of theists doubled-over. Despite our “delusions”, we do have funny-bones. Well thought out, as my fifth grade nun was fond of saying….gotta go, I’m in the east and mind-flush time draws nigh.

  58. Sanity Jane says

    Robert @57, I agree with Giffy @80. Let ’em in to see the “miracle” and charge ’em through the nose.

  59. Carol Blanchard says

    Hey, that gap in the poll is closing. I just voted and as of now it’s 49% who believe in miracles and 46% who don’t!!!! Is there hope there???????

  60. Quiet Desperation says

    You really have to stop worrying so much about unscientific online polls, PZ. I fear for your blood pressure.

    @Nerd of Redhead: is there an online link describing how to fake the blood? I wouldn’t mind starting a cult for my retirement. And does it have to be red? I’d like a sex cult, so miracle *blood* would not be my bodily fluid of choice.

    Happy Sunday, folks! :)

  61. Ktesibios says

    Peter Mc | September 21, 2008 12:21 PM [kill]​[hide comment]

    Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, announced the blood turned to liquid at 9:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) and the glass phial was paraded to crowds outside, who set off fireworks in celebration.

    And I am sure the collection plates were full of Euros, too.

    Mark Twain wrote about this in The Innocents Abroad. He noticed something interesting about the timing:

    In this city of Naples, they believe in and support one of the wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy — the miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid — and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition. The first day, the blood liquefies in forty-seven minutes — the church is crammed, then, and time must be allowed the collectors to get around: after that it liquefies a little quicker and a little quicker, every day, as the houses grow smaller, till on the eighth day, with only a few dozens present to see the miracle, it liquefies in four minutes.

  62. Porridge Bird says

    OK, let’s just pretend for a moment that the reddish goo in the phial is actually the blood of a saint, sopped up with a Fourth Century sponge and squelched into the Dark Ages’ equivalent of Tupperware for storage. Let’s further pretend to believe that, twice a year (“usually”), by some ‘miracle’, the goo turns to liquid.

    What… exactly… does that prove to them?

    Anyone? Anyone?

  63. AlanWCan says

    From the article: “Legend has it that when Gennaro 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.”

    Those are some sick death-obsessed fucks.

  64. Quiet Desperation says

    @Nerd of etc…. Thanks! Free trial, too! Sex cult, here I come!

    Oh my. Double entendre not intended.

  65. Michael Cowtan says

    This is not good enough guys, there is still a three point spread in favour of the nut bars.

    I didn’t bother to read the article, so no comment on that

  66. «bønez_brigade» says

    @85 (Bob Evans),
    Always happy to use believers as the butt of a joke, I am. My gift of foresight failed me this time, though, as it appears the forces of reason were still behind at the last update. Arrrg!
    The poll appears to have now been replaced in favor of the masses’ other passion, TV. Anyone catch the (most) final results?

  67. hf says

    Interesting. Robert Anton Wilson used this “miracle” as an example of a conspiracy that succeeded for hundreds of years. (The book in question takes place in the 1700s, and seems historically plausible to this layman if you focus on what we see and ignore what the characters believe or talk about.)