THE EUCHARISTIC MIRACLE OF LANCIANO

While many Catholics today have lost their faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, there have been miracles to support this dogma and the Miracle of Lanciano is the most remarkable and best authenticated

Marc Conza

Although the oldest existing text documenting the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano can be no more precise on the exact date of the prodigy than "about the 700th year of Our Lord," it is certain that it took place at the beginning of the 8th century. At the time, there was a Basilian monk residing in his monastery in Lanciano in eastern Italy, a short distance from the Adriatic coast, who was especially plagued with doubts of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, an issue that grew more troublesome with each passing day, particularly when he himself was offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He prayed begging Our Lord to remove this cross lest he succumb to heresy and the ultimate loss of his vocation and Faith.

One morning while offering the Holy Sacrifice, with his doubts worse than ever, something extraordinary happened. After having pronounced the words of consecration over the bread and wine, the Host visibly changed into real human flesh and the wine to a dark opaque liquid that was unmistakably blood, which congealed into five globules. Stunned, the monk was unable to move or speak at first as his challenged mind processed the transformation he had just witnessed; indeed, his emotions seesawed between excitement and fear. Finally, a tremendous interior joy filled his soul, and, his face bathed in tears, he turned toward the congregation with the transformed Host in his hands and cried out: "O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my unbelief, has wished to reveal Himself in this Most Blessed Sacrament and to render Himself visible to our eyes! Come, brethren, and marvel at our God so close to us! Behold the Flesh and the Blood of our most beloved Christ!".

The people surged to the altar to see for themselves, and, struck with a holy and reverential fear, wept openly and begged God for mercy lest the miracle was a sign of His great displeasure with them, and was to be followed by a great calamity. Word of the prodigy spread immediately throughout the city, and in no time the church was packed with worshippers who struck their breast and wailed aloud in repentance of their sins. Finally, the highlycharged atmosphere settle down to one of adoration and wonderment with everyone thanking and praising God for revealing to their mortal eyes what they had heretofore been required to accept only with the invisible sight of Faith. The leaders of the city had a beautiful tabernacle crafted out of ivory to house the Eucharistic Miracle, where it remained for the next five centuries.

HISTORICAL AFTERMATH The Monks of St. Basil abandoned the church and monastery in Lanciano at the end of the 12th century, at which time the property was taken over by the Benedictines with the approval of Pope Innocent III. The Benedictines remained there no more than 50 years before the Franciscan Order was awarded the grounds in 1252 when their great benefactor, Landulfo, was appointed Bishop of Chieti, the diocese to which Lanciano belonged. Pope Innocent IV confirmed this concession in a brief dated May 9 of that year. The Franciscan found the church and the monastery in a state of disrepair, the result of centuries of earthquakes which were common to the region, and in 1258 built a new church -the Church of St. Francis- and monastery directly over the existing structures. This is the church the pilgrim finds standing in Lanciano today. The Eucharistic Miracle, at this time, was placed in a new and beautiful reliquary on the right side of the main altar.

Natural disaster weren´t the only threats to the area, however. The Ottoman Empire was waging war all across Europe, and by the mid 16th Century it had expanded its conquest to the Mediterranean. In 1566, the Turks overran Naples and its environs, slaughtering, ransacking, and burning entire towns and cities. On August 1, Friar Giovanni Antonio di Mastro Renzo of the Franciscans, losing hope in God´s providence, fled Lanciano in a panic, carrying with him the Eucharistic Miracle, and encouraging several other friars to follow his example. They labored all night to put as much distance between themselves and the invaders as they could, and by daybreak, having believed they had made a long journey, found themselves back at the very entrance gate of Lanciano they had run out of the night before. Confounded by his lack of trust in God, Friar Giovanni addressed his companions, saying: "Comrades! Do not ascribe this error to misfortune, but attribute everything to Divine Providence, Whose secrets are inscrutable and mysterious! Therefore, we ought readily to spend even our blood and our lives, because a true and good soldier and follower of Christ should be willing to lay down his life for this same Christ!" Uplifted by this rallying cry, the monks re-entered the city without fear, and resumed their place in the monastery, ready to defend to the death if need be, the Eucharistic Miracle they so jealously guarded. The church and the monastery were consequently preserved from the Turkish marauders, and none of the friars were harmed.

In 1666, however, the Franciscans found themselves in a different kind of battle, this time with a group of prestigious families bound together in a confraternity know as the Raccomandati . This group wanted possession for themselves of the ancient church of Sts. Legontian and Domitian which lay in ruins underneath the Church of St. Francis, citing its great historical value. The monks and lay people of Lanciano were astonished, to say the least, over the materialistic greed of these "privileged" Italians who found more value in decaying rock walls than in the Divine, ongoing Miracle the sanctuary of St. FRancis was protecting! Cardinal Giannetti of the Sacred Congregation of Bishop and Religious intervened, and the Franciscans won the case later that same year. To further ensconce their right of possession, the Franciscans requested in 1684 a deed from the Notary, Simone Peschio, which clearly established that the present Church of St. Francis was indeed built directly over the original, ancient Church of Sts. Legontian and Domitian in which the Eucharistic Miracle occurred, and both structures, as well as the land on which they stood, were the sole property of the Friars Minor Conventual.

THE RELIQUARIES When it was decided that the precious Treasure should have a fitting reliquary -as if there ever could be one- no expense was spared to manufacture one. As we have seen, the very first tabernacle was made of ivory, a substance considered by many in the 8th century more precious than any metal, even gold. Here the Holy Relics remained for five hundred years until the Franciscan occupation of the church, at which time, for reasons unclear, the Relics was transferred to a silver urn. During the Turkish invasion of 1566, the urn was hidden away in a small, dark chapel of the church until 1636, at which time it was removed after the threats from the Turks had completely passed. An expensive, but more worthy altar was then constructed at the expense of a wealthy resident of Lanciano, Antonio Valseca, but we know precious little about the latest reliquary to house the Eucharistic Miracle. An abbot named Pacichelli who visited Lanciano in 1693 wrote that there were "two silver boxes locked with as many keys in a wooden chest", at the core of all, which supported a crystal vase containing both the Eucharistic Flesh and the globules of the Precious Blood. Eighteenth century historical writing on the city of Lanciano by Archbishop Anton Ludovico adds: "The Holy Relics were locked with four keys; the one that locked the iron box was retained by the mayor in the name of the city; another was retained by the Father Guardian in the name of the monastery; the third, which locked the wooden box, was retained by Leone Riccio, a relative of Valsecca; and the last, for the iron door, was retained by the sacristan of the monastery, to make it possible to have Masses celebrated there for the intention of the benefactor, Valsecca".

The exquisite reliquary that today allows pilgrims to view the Eucharistic Miracle directly was commissioned by Canon Domenico Coli, who upon its completion, had the precious Relics placed therein on April 16, 1713. The Sacred Flesh of Our Lord is enclosed in an ostensorium consisting of a round, gold-plated silver lunette two crystal windows, while the Precious Blood rest in a crystal chalice topped by a crystal cover and affixed to the base of the ostensorium. An Angel flanks each side of the chalice, while a ribbon of gold proclaims: Tantum ergo Sacramentum venererum cernui (Before so great a Sacrament -let us bow in adoration.) The entire reliquary stands 25" high.

In October of 1902 the Valsecca Chapel, which had become inadequate for the increasing number of pilgrims to Lanciano, was replaced with a magnificent altar made possible by the generous donations of the townspeople. In 1920 a set of marble step were added to allow pilgrims to view the Eucharistic Miracle more closely. In December of 1958, in the frontal part behind the main altar, an arched opening and new stairway was made to afford an even greater viewing opportunity for pilgrims.

INVESTIGATIONS AND AUTHENTICATIONS From the very beginning, the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano was accepted by the local clergy, including the diocesan Bishop. Every year the anniversary of the Miracle was celebrated with the greatest solemnity, and included the participation of many Bishop and Archbishops from surrounding regions. On October 18, 1671, Monsignor Alfonso Alvarez Barba Ossorio defined the Eucharistic Miracle as "The Greatest and Stupendous Relic of Relics". The altar of the chapel built in 1636 was raised to the status of a privileged altar by Pope Benedict XIV on October 14, 1751. In 1887, to the astonishment of the people of Lanciano, Pope Leo XIII granted a very rare concession: a plenary indulgence in perpetuity to those faithful who visit the church of the Miracle during the octave (the preceding eight days) of the annual feast day of the prodigy, which is celebrated on the last Sunday of October.

On February 17, 1574, Monsignor Rodrigues made a first authentication -in the presence of the people- which included the announcement that the total weight of the five pellets of congealed Blood was equal to the weight of each pellet by itself: the only time such a thing has happened. In 1638, Friar Serafina Da Scanno, Father Guardian at the Church of St. Francis, made a second authentication. A third authentication took place on October 23, 1770, by Monsignor Gervasone. The last authentication was made in 1886 by the Archbishop of Lanciano, Monsignor Petrarca, together with a commission of Cannons and Ecclesiastics that had been formed at the written request of Cardinal Gaetano Alimonda. On October 4, 1904, Monsignor Angelo Dalla Cioppa established the Association of Daily Adoration, and the altar of the Eucharistic Miracle came to be considered the altar of the Adoration.

THE TESTIMONY OF MODERN SCIENCE In 1970 it was decided by then Archbishop of Lanciano, Monsignor Pacifico Perantoni, along with the Franciscan Community and its Superiors, that a thorough and objective investigation using the secular miracle of modern day science to give validation to a Miracle beyond the grasp of human reason be undertaken. The responsibility of carrying this out was given to Professor Edoardo Linoli, University Professor at-large in anatomy and pathological histology (the study of the minute structure, composition, and function of tissues), and in chemistry and clinical microscopy. Dr. Linoli was also Head Physician of the United Hospitals of Arezzo. He was to be assisted by Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, Professor of Human Anatomy at the University of Siena. On November 18, 1970, in the presence of Dr. Linoli and numerous clergy of various ranks, the Archbishop broke the seals on the lunette and the chalice to acces the Relics. It was noted that the lunette containing the Sacred Flesh had not been hermetically sealed, which accounted for the presence of mold and other related natural substances on the inside. Whitish specks adhering to the Flesh (but not consuming It) and to the inside of the glass were later determined to be akin to parasitic fungi. The color of the Tissue was described as being yellow- brown-chestnut. It was determined that at the time of the Miracle, the Flesh had appeared around the outer edges of the consecrated Host Itself -still retaining the species of bread -pulverizing and disappearing over the ensuing centuries, leaving the hole that can be seen today in the middle of the arrangement of the Flesh.

With the Archbishop´s permission, Dr. Linoli touched the Sacred Flesh which was found to be hard, like wood. Using tweezers, Dr. Linoli removed two small fragments of Tissue from the edge of the circle of Flesh, which would be subjected to various test in a laboratory.

The Precious Blood consisted of five irregularly -shaped hardener pellets, yellowchestnut in color. White dots found on the surface of the pellets were discovered to be part of the Blood Itself, and not parasitical in nature. The five fragments were weighed on a small scale and totaled 0.56 ounces. With the permission of the Archbishop duly noted, Dr. Linoli removed a tiny fragment from one of the pellet for microscopic and chemical examination in the laboratory.

At the conclusion of the extensive scientific analysis on the samples of the Flesh and Blood from the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, a detailed and highly technical report of the findings was presented to the Archbishop which, to put in layman´s terms, reported the following:

The Flesh is real human flesh, and the Blood is real human blood, with the blood type from both being AB, indicating they come from the same Donor. In the Blood were found normally-fractured proteins in their corresponding correct proportions as to normally be found only in fresh blood -even though the Sample was 1200 years old! The Flesh was found to be myocardium -heart tissue. No preservatives of any kind, such as those used by ancient people in embalming or mummification, were found in any of the Samples, which means that a fragile strip of human heart tissue, left in a natural state for centuries, exposed to the action of physical, atmospheric, environmental, and biological agents, still retained all the mineral and protein structures as found in similar tissue that has been preserved only by artificial means from the same time period. There is nothing to account for such a preservation other than one of a miraculous nature.

Dr. Linoli´s findings were published in 1971 in a scientific journal Quaderni Sclavo di Diagnostica Clinica di laboratorio. In 1973, the supervisory board of the World Health Organization (WHO) appointed a scientific commission to verify Linoli´s conclusion. This subsequent work took over 15 month with a total of 500 examinations carried out. The conclusions of all the research confirmed what had been stated and published in Italy: science was unable to explain the phenomenon.

"The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us!" wrote the Archbishop of Lanciano, Monsignor Perantoni, three years later in a preface to an Italian book documenting the extensive scientific analysis of the Eucharistic miracle. "Thus we greeted the word of science which furnished us the irrefutable proof of the authenticity of the Miracle, thanks, above all, to the illustrious Prof. Dr. Edoardo Linoli, to whom the delicate scientific researches were officially entrusted... [Whit this book] we are able to present a work... which will also remain for the future not only a real and indisputable testimony for the authenticity of the Eucharistic Relics, venerated under the title: "Miracle of Lanciano", but will be a work to which those will have recourse who will desire to investigate scientifically, or to speak to souls of a tangible presence which, to resolve a doubt, has assuaged so many hearts and with the help of science has made so many uncertain minds bow down in assent... He (Jesus Christ) truly dwells among us!"

On March 4, 1976, Father Lewis Della Sizza, Superior of the Eucharistic Shrine of Lanciano, declared: "This Miracle... is the greatest and most perfect of our Catholic Faith and, for twelve centuries, stands out as an uninterrumpted proof of Christ´s love and irrefutable proof ot the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic Mystery... Here at Lanciano, Christ made us a gift of Himself to remain with men until the consummation of the ages, "The Living Bread of Eternal Life", by changing Himself into Living Flesh and Living Blood. This stupendous and marvelous reality was confirmed by (the) recent and rigorous scientific documentation which guarantees its absolute authenticity".

In a 2005 interview, Dr. Edoardo Linoli made a further starling announcement about his research: "The blood group is the same as that of the Man of the holy Shroud of Turin, and it is particular because it has the characteristics of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East regions. The AB blood group of the inhabitants of the area" (here the Doctor is referring to Lanciano, Italy) "in fact has a percentage that extends from 0,5% to 1%, while in Palestine and the regions of the Middle East it is 14- 15%... AS regards the Flesh, I had in my hand the endocardium. Therefore, there is no doubt at all that It is cardiac (heart) tissue."

Our Lord proclaimed to St. Margaret Mary in the 17 th Century: "Behold this Heart Which has so loved men that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify It´s Love! And in return, I receive from the greater part of them only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love."

The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano is thus living proof of the supreme and eternal truths of all that the Catholic Faith teaches about the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a Heaven-sent antidote to cure every doubt of those who struggle over this dogma, and a reaffirmation for believers. St. Augustine says it best: "Faith is believing what we do not see; the reward for this Faith is seeing what we believe".