Concern that control over a priceless treasure in Naples is being passed to the Church has sparked a protest at the Italian city’s cathedral.
At least 2,000 people gathered outside to uphold the city’s centuries-old right to guard the jewels of its patron saint, San Gennaro (Saint Januarius).
Waving white handkerchiefs, they shouted “Hands off San Gennaro”.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano’s decree reclassifies the treasure as religious, not secular, property.
Supporters of the city’s claim to the treasure fear that the decree will open the way to the special council which manages the jewels – the Deputation – losing control to the Roman Catholic Church.
The jewels, which were donated by kings and aristocrats after a series of disasters gripped Naples in the 16th Century, are considered one of the world’s most valuable collections.
They are dedicated to San Gennaro, a 4th Century Christian martyr whose miraculous preserved blood is said to be conserved in a glass vial in the cathedral.
The city of Naples retained control of the treasure because the chapel inside the cathedral dedicated to the saint was built with city funds, not Church money.
“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.
However, the Italian government argues that the council should be the same as any other caretaker body which manages religious buildings, and wants to give four of the Deputation’s 13 seats to the Church.