The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano
Introduction to the Miracle of Lanciano
After Liz and I lost Seana and Kieran, all our holidays became pilgrimages.We ﬁgured that anything that brought us closer to heaven, to where God was and where our children were, was where we wanted to be.
We went to Lourdes, Fatima, the Holy Land and made plans to go to many other places.
One of the places at the top of our list to visit after I retired was Lanciano in Italy.
The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano called out to both of us.This was the ﬁrst and most famous of Eucharistic Miracles and has
artefacts all validated by scientiﬁc investigation. We both also have a great devotion to Pope John Paul II and he visited
the shrine in 1974 when he was Cardinal of Krakow, Karol Wojtila.The Pope imparted an apostolic blessing to the people of Lanciano-
Ortona in 2004 and said: “For us Christians the Eucharist is our all: it is the centre of our faith and the source of all our spiritual life.”
As I’ve related earlier, Liz fell ill and died before we ever got to make our planned journey to Luciano.A few years later, I managed to make the trip for both of us, the story of which I relate below.
In ancient times, the order of Saint Basil monks ﬂed persecution in Greece and took refuge in a place now known as Lanciano in Italy.
The hill-top Roman trading town, then known as Anxanum, was the original birthplace of Saint Longinus - the centurion who pierced Jesus with his spear during the cruciﬁxion.
After the cruciﬁxion, Longinus is said to have quit the Roman army,converted to Christianity and died later as a martyr.
The Greek monks built a monastery in honour of Longinus in the Roman town. In honour of Longinus and the Eucharistic miracle which took place in his church, the city became known as Lanciano, which translates as ‘The Lance’.
We have no exact date for the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, but it is said to have taken place sometime between 730 and 750A.D.
It happened while a Basilian monk, whose name has been lost in the annals of time, celebrated mass in the church.
Like many of his order, he was probably Greek and an ancient document from the 1600s described him as “versed in the sciences of the world but ignorant in that of God.’’
The monk was having a crisis of faith and had recurring doubts about the presence of God in the Eucharist.As he performed the consecration, he witnessed the host of leavened bread transform into ﬂesh, and he saw the red wine turn into blood.
Excerpts from a document kept at Lanciano read:
"Frightened and confused by so great and so stupendous a miracle, he stood quite a while as if transported in a divine ecstasy.’’
Finally, he recovered and with his face streaming with tears, he called the congregation to come to the altar and witness the miracle themselves:
“Oh 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 congregation, who were reportedly ‘completely terriﬁed’, spread world of the miracle throughout the land. Shortly after the miracle, the blood coagulated into ﬁve globules of diﬀerent sizes. Te circle of ﬂesh remained as it was with a piece of the
original leavened bread still at its centre.
It is claimed that the Church authorities certiﬁed the miracle, but the original document was lost some time in the 16th century.
The Order of Saint Basil held custody of the relics until 1176 when they were handed into the care of the Benedictines.
In 1252, the relics came under the care of the Franciscans.By now it was 500 years since the miracle, and the Church of Saint
Longinus was tumbling from earthquake damage and crumbling with age.The monks completed a new Church of Saint Francis or San Francesco in 1258 in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The relics have been on display in this basilica ever since and are still under the care of the Franciscans.
In 1574, Archbishop Antonio Gaspar Rodríguez ordered an investigation into the miracle.
Eight hundred years had passed since the miracle took place, and the Church noted there was no visible sign of deterioration in the relics.The ﬂesh was uncorrupted and the blood remained as it was for centuries.The investigation also included the weighing of the globules of blood which were all diﬀerent sizes.
The Archbishop and other witnesses claimed that each globule of blood weighed the same as the other, and any combination of them or all ﬁve together also weighed the same.
That phenomenon has never been witnessed since then.An inscription on the right-hand side of the Church of Saint Francis announces the “recognition” of the Holy Relics on February 17th, 1574.In the early centuries, the ﬂesh and blood were held in an ivory
reliquary.In 1713, it was replaced by the gold-plated silver and crystal reliquary which we still see today in the Church of Saint Francis.
The circle of ﬂesh is displayed on top in what’s called a monstrance.These ornamental cases have windows to display the consecrated host during processions and devotional ceremonies.
The ﬂesh is roughly the same size as the large communion wafer used today in the Latin church. Light brown in colour, it appears rose-coloured when lit from the back. The globules of blood are held in a crystal chalice which is attached tothe bottom of the monstrance.
Some believe the crystal is part of the original 8th century chaliceused by the monk who witnessed the Eucharistic miracle.
The blood is described as having the colour of yellow ochre.
Pope Paul VI gave a green light to conduct the ﬁrst modern study of the relics in 1970.Doctor Odoardo Linoli, who conducted the study, was an eminent Italian professor of anatomy and pathological histology, chemistry and clinical microscopy.
He was also the former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arezzo.
He was assisted by Doctor Ruggero Bertelli, professor emeritus of human anatomy at the University of Siena who independently corroborated the ﬁndings.
Doctor Linoli presented his ﬁndings on March 4th, 1971.He concluded that the ﬂesh in the reliquary was myocardium or muscular tissue from a human heart.
He reported that the blood is from a human too, and both relics belong to the same blood type AB. Tis is one of the rarest blood types in
Europe but more common in the Middle East.The blood-type is identical to that which Professor Baima Bollone
uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin.Doctor Linoli found proteins in the same proportions found in the make-up of normal blood.
The professor denied any claims that the blood could have been taken from a cadaver as he says it would have deteriorated rapidly.
There was no sign of salt or other preservatives in the tissue.Remarkably, the samples had not decomposed or deteriorated despite
being free of preservatives, and being left open to air, bacteria and light.However, the centre of the host, the only part that had remained as the monk’s original leavened bread, had entirely decayed. Moreover, the doctors both concluded that only the skill of a trained pathologist could have obtained the sample from the heart.The skilled cross-section contains the myocardium, the endocardium,
the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart.Professor Bertelli conﬁrmed that the ﬁrst anatomical dissections on the human body did not even begin taking place for another 600 years in Europe.
The detailed cross-section of the heart is remarkable considering pathology did not begin emerging as a scientiﬁc ﬁeld until the Italian
Renaissance in the 14th century.
My visit to Lanciano
During the four years that I was in the seminary in Rome, I never travelled anywhere except to go home to Ireland.We got breaks in the semester on average every ﬁve weeks, and I ﬂew straight home every time to go the cemetery.
I played a bit of golf as well, but mostly I wanted to visit the cemetery.Each year in June, students who completed year three were ordained as deacons.The rest of the seminarians ﬁnished for the summer the week before,but we were not allowed to go home.
We all had to stay until after the ordination ceremony in the Cathedral of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
There were no exceptions. The rector of the Beda wanted a full complement of seminarians to show their support for the deacons.
Also, they needed us to work.The college hosted a celebration meal for the deacons and the families and friends who travelled to Rome for their ordination along with the staﬀ and students.
The college did not have a large housekeeping staﬀ so we were all roped in to serve the meal and to clean up that day.
The week before the ordinations, we were free to go where ever we wanted, as long as we didn’t go home.
The college suspected that we could ﬁnd a hundred excuses not to come back for the ordinations once we went home.
It was during that free week in my second year at the Beda, that I decided to visit the Miracle of Lanciano.
The city is on the east coast of Italy, a four-hour bus trip from Rome.It was around noon that day when I ﬁrst set eyes on the Church of St.Francis, home to the miraculous relics.The church is a simple, solemn structure standing in the Piazza Plebiscito in the heart of the town.It glows in the sunshine with warm, golden hues from its locally-hewn limestone and is surrounded by picturesque medieval streets.There was nothing solemn or beautiful, however, about the sight of
hundreds of tourists spilling out of buses and into the piazza outside the
church.My heart sank as I saw the sheer numbers of Chinese, Japanese,American and every nationality of tourist queueing to enter the church.When I got into the church, my heart sank even further when I saw the hordes ﬁling past the relics.It was so sad to see no sign of reverence or devotion. I didn’t see a prayer being uttered, a bow of the head or a knee bent in genuﬂection.There was no acknowledgement that this was something special, a sign of God in the world.
People just shuﬄed past, more concerned with clicking their cameras or capturing the image of the relics on their phones.There was no opportunity for quiet contemplation or prayer. It was hectic in the church.
I talked with the church attendant, who warned me that they were closing in ten minutes at 12.30am and wouldn’t be reopening until 3.00pm.I gave up, and decided instead to go and check into my hotel in Lanciano.
I was determined to get back to the church and be ﬁrst in the queue
when the doors reopened for the afternoon.
I hoped that maybe it would be more peaceful when I got back at 3.00pm.I arrived back well before the oﬃcial opening time and waited at the door.The attendant, who I’d been talking to earlier, spotted me outside and out of some kindness, he furtively opened the door and ushered me in.He must have felt my anxiety and disappointment earlier.I found myself sitting at the front of the empty chapel before the blessed relics.They were so close, that I could have touched the reliquary that holds them.
I recited my Divine Mercy, that particular passion of mine right up to 3.00pm - the time of Christ’s death on the cross.I got to pray in the way I wanted to. I had peaceful, cool silence with my eyes ﬁxed on the miraculous relics for ﬁfteen glorious minutes.
Then at 3.00pm, the doors opened and all hell broke loose again.
The crowds poured in, people teemed around and the cameras started clicking again.It didn’t bother me this time. I sat there for a while and then explored the rest of the church.
The next morning when I was leaving, the church was heaving with busloads of tourists again.
I didn’t care.
"You made the eﬀort to come here. You believed. Yes, there were busloads
of tourists, but I made sure you got your ﬁfteen minutes, didn’t I?”
Lanciano is a special place, but that’s what made it even more special