"Don't touch the treasure." That's the message more than 3,000 demonstrators in Naples had for the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday. The faithful in that southern Italian city fear that a recent government ruling could help the church get its hands on a priceless collection of jewels and other items dedicated to the municipality's patron saint. The Treasure of San Gennaro is said to be more valuable than the British crown jewels, AFP reports. A special local council called the Deputation has managed the trove, along with a chapel named for the saint, for centuries, according to the BBC. The decree by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano essentially relegates the Deputation to caretaker status and orders that the church should control four seats on the 12-person council.
Locals, however, aren't buying it. "We will not stand for interference from either the church or the government," says Paolo Jorio, director of the San Gennaro museum. Supporters of local control say the Deputation is much more than a mere caretaker, pointing to the fact that the city funded construction of the chapel that was completed in the 17th century. Also, they say, the council manages the annual miracle in which locals pray for a glass vial of San Gennaro's congealed blood to liquefy. (If the blood doesn't, it's bad news for the city, some believe.) It all goes back to 1527, when survivors of disease, war, and natural disasters pledged to build a chapel for San Gennaro (who was beheaded in the year 305). Items in the treasure, which includes a golden miter adorned with 3,326 diamonds, were donated by kings and aristocrats. The church has tried to get control of the collection through the centuries, some allege; Jorio says he thinks the archbishop of Naples leaned on Alfano for the favorable decree, adding that the Deputation would appeal. (In light of the Zika virus, Pope Francis recently said it was cool to use contraception.)