My cousin and I recently went on a pilgrimage to Italy, with our first stop in Rome. Since my last pilgrimage there in 2012, the reminders of the unsafe world we live in were now extremely present. In 2012, a pilgrim could walk right up the long, wide cement steps and enter the huge front doors of the major Basilicas in Rome. Now, there are armed Italian soldiers covering the front of each beautiful church structure, both men and women soldiers stationed with machine guns across their chests with handguns and ammunition strapped around their waists, waiting and watching the crowds carefully. And one cannot just walk into the front door of these churches without walking through a metal detector. The Vatican and St. Peter’s Square had its own added coverage of armed soldiers. But overall, it felt very safe to be there, taking in the aesthetic and spiritual benefits, even with the harsh reality of world terrorism outside the walls of these religious sanctuaries.
After spending a few days in the Eternal City and rejoicing in the experience of a Canonization Mass and seeing Pope Francis at his Papal Audience and in the popemobile, we made plans to rent a car and venture out into the beautiful Italian countryside to visit a city with a church that beholds a miracle. The city is Lanciano and the church we sought out on our day long pilgrimage across Italy is the Church of San Francesco. The miracle that rests within the wall of this historic and beautiful church is the Eucharistic Miracle.
Lanciano is in the province of Chieti, part of the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It is known for the first recorded Catholic Eucharistic Miracle. According to tradition, Lanciano is also the birthplace of Longinus the Roman centurion who thrust his spear into Jesus’ side during the Crucifixion: Lanciano in Italian means “of the Spear.”
The Eucharistic Miracle is usually described roughly as follows: In the city of Lanciano, Italy, then known as Anxanum, sometime in the 700s, a Basilian monk was assigned to celebrate Mass at the monastery of St. Longinus. Celebrating in the Latin Rite and using unleavened bread, the monk had doubts about the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. During the Mass, when he said the Words of Consecration (“This is my body. This is my blood”), with doubt in his soul, the priest saw the bread change into living flesh and the wine change into blood which coagulated into five globules, irregular and differing in shape and size.
Today after a passage of thirteen centuries, the Host-Flesh has retained its reddish form. The Blood, contained in an antique crystal chalice and affixed to the base of the monstrance, has coagulated into five irregularly-shaped globules, with a total weight of 16 grams and 505 milligrams. It appears pale and colorless on first glance, but takes on natural hues (resembling the yellow of ochre) when brought near a source of light.
All these circumstances have favored a wider and more rapid diffusion of information about the Miracle itself, culminating in the solemn and universal recognition (examination) of 1971. In 1971 and taken up again partly in 1981, there took place a scientific investigation by the most illustrious scientist Prof. Odoardo Linoli, eminent Professor in Anatomy and Pathological Histology and in Chemistry and Clinical Microscopy. He was assisted by Prof. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena. The analyses were conducted with absolute and unquestionable scientific precision and they were documented with a series of microscopic photographs.
These analyses sustained the following conclusions: The Flesh is real Flesh; the Blood is real Blood; the Flesh and the Blood belong to the human species; the Flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart; in the Flesh we see present in section: the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium. The Flesh is a “heart” complete in its essential structure; the Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).
Additionally, in the Blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of the fresh normal blood. In the Blood there were found these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium. The preservation of the Flesh and of the Blood, which were left in their natural state for thirteen centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
The scientific investigation of Professor Linoli, reported in all the most important medical journals, as well as in a book published by the Sanctuary, has obtained and continues to obtain wide support within the scientific community, nationally and internationally. The significance of the scientific investigation of the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano for theology and spirituality merits a discourse apart. The essential, however, is intuited by the crowds of pilgrims at the Church of San Francesco in Lanciano, Italy.
On October 19, 2017, my sweet cousin and I were one of these pilgrims visiting this very special church and sanctuary that holds the source and summit of the Catholic-Christian life. For us, we hold dear to our hearts & spirit, the opportunity of experiencing our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist and in the space, that contains this wondrous miracle of Jesus!
Manelli, Father Stefano M., FI. “Jesus Our Eucharistic Love.” New Bedford, MA: Immaculate Mediatrix, 1996.