Lanciano, Italy 700’s A.D.The Heart of Christ
Lanciano is a small, medieval town, nestled in from the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Italy, halfway between San Giovanni Rotondo and Loreto. Everything about Lanciano smacks of the Eucharistic Miracle. Even the name of the town was changed from Anxanum (in ancient times) to Lanciano, meaning “The Lance.” Tradition has it that the centurion Longinus, who thrust the Lance into the side of Jesus, striking Him in the Tip of His Heart from which He shed blood and water, (in the Gospel account of the Crucifixion (Mk 15:29)) was from this town. After seeing the events which followed the piercing of Jesus’ heart, the darkening of the sun, and the earthquake, he believed that Christ was the Savior. A more physical sign, however, was that Longinus had had poor eyesight, and after having touched his eyes with the water and blood from the side of Jesus, his eyesight was restored. What a perfect parallel the actions of the Centurion were to the Eucharistic Miracle. He touched the Heart of Jesus, was healed, and converted. He gave up the Army, went to Cappadocia, and was martyred for the faith. He is known now as Saint Longinus. His feast day is celebrated on March 15.
The church of the Eucharistic Miracle is located in the center of the town. But what is the center of the town today was the outskirts of the town back in the Eighth Century, when the Eucharistic Miracle occurred. At the time, it was called the Church of St. Legontian and St. Domitian, and was under the custody of the Basilian Monks of the Greek Orthodox Rite. This was prior to the Great Schism of 1054.
A Basilian monk, wise in the ways of the world, but not in the ways of faith, was having a trying time with his belief in the real presence of Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. He prayed constantly for relief from his doubts, and from the fear that he was losing his vocation. He suffered through the routine of his priesthood day after day, with these doubts gnawing at him.
The situation in the world did not help strengthen his faith. There were many heresies cropping up all the time, which kept chipping away at his faith. They were not all from outside the church either. Brother priests and bishops were victims of these heresies, and they were being spread throughout the church. This priest couldn’t seem to help being more and more convinced by the logic of these heresies, especially the one concerning his particular problem, the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
One morning, while he was having a strong attack of doubt, he began the Consecration of the Mass for the people of the town. He used the same size host which is used in the Latin Rite masses today. What he beheld as he consecrated the bread and wine caused his hands to shake, indeed his whole body. He stood for a long time with his back to the people, and then slowly turned around to them.
He said; “O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my disbelief, 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 Blood of our most beloved Christ.” The host had turned into Flesh. The wine had turned into Blood.
The people, having witnessed the miracle for themselves, began to wail, asking for forgiveness, crying for mercy. Others began beating their breasts, confessing their sins, declaring themselves unworthy to witness such a miracle. Still others went down on their knees in respect, and thanksgiving for the gift the Lord had bestowed on them. All spread the story throughout the town and surrounding villages. Jesus even allowed Himself to be crucified again. After the miracle, the Host was pinned down to a wooden board, so that when it dried, it would not curl up, as scabbed flesh does. So here He was again, with nails in His Body, nailed to a piece of wood.
The miracle that occurred in 700 was just the beginning. That was 1250 years ago. Had that miracle taken place, and then the flesh and blood disintegrated, as would have been normal, the miracle would have been none the less a miracle. The priest’s faith had been renewed. The entire town, the whole country for that matter, became aware of the miracle. Pilgrims flocked to Lanciano to venerate the Host turned flesh. Belief in the Eucharist had been reborn. The gift from the Lord was complete.
But that’s not all. The miracle is ongoing. The Host-turned-Flesh, and the wine-turned-Blood, without the use of any form of preservative, is still present in the reliquary. In 1574 testing was done on the Flesh and Blood and an unexplainable phenomenon was discovered. The five pellets of coagulated Blood are different sizes and shapes. But any combination weighs the same as the total. In other words, 1 weighs the same as 2, 2 weigh the same as 3, and 3 weigh the same as 5.From the very beginning, the local church accepted this miracle as a true sign from heaven, and venerated the Eucharistic Flesh and Blood in processions on its feast day, the last Sunday of October. The fame of the shrine spread throughout the region quickly, and soon all of Italy came to the Church in Pilgrimage.
Many accounts authenticating the Eucharistic Miracle have been written over the years. Because this has been such an important local miracle, the background and history of the events were carefully recorded. There had been a maunscript written in both Greek and Latin, attesting to the miracle. It was said to have been written and certified at the time of the miracle.
In a Chronology of the City of Lanciano historian Fella wrote that in early 1500 two Basilian Monks came to the Church, which was now in the custody of the Franciscans, and asked to stay overnight. They also asked to see the parchment which told the story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano. The Franciscans allowed them to study the parchment overnight. But the next morning, the Basilian Monks left very early, before the Franciscans had awakened, and took the manuscripts with them. The motive, it was thought, was that the Basilian Monks were ashamed that one of their own had lost his faith in the Eucharist, and hoped that by stealing the original document attesting to the event, it might go away.
The Church of the miracle remained in the custody of the Monks of St Basil, until 1176, when the Benedictines took over. However, the building had become very run down, and the Benedictines were not overly excited about taking care of it The Franciscans, however, did want custodianship of the Shrine. When one of their benefactors, Bishop Landulfo, was made Bishop of Chieti, he gave them the Shrine to take care of. So, in 1252, the Benedictines left, and the Franciscans took over. What they were not aware of until they actually came to Lanciano was that the church was a disaster. They surmised that this as why the Benedictines so easily turned it over to them.
In 1258, the Franciscans built anew church on the site of the original Church of St Legontian. In 1515, Pope Leo X made Lanciano an episcopal See, directly responsible to Rome.
In 1562, Pope Pius IV wrote a Papal Bull raising it to an Archepiscopal See. In 1666, the Franciscans found themselves in the middle of a legal battle with what was called the “Raccomandati,” or Select group of the town. Today’s Italians might call them “I Superbi.” They thought they were better than everyone else. The Raccomandati tried to take the church away from the Franciscans by laying claim to the original church of St. Legontian, upon which the Franciscan church was built. If they had won, they would have had both churches. But the Lord intervened through the high ranking Cardinal Giannetti, of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Religious, and the Franciscans won the case. You can be sure that they immediately applied for a deed, and 18 years later, in 1684, it was granted them.
During Napoleon’s time, in 1809, the Franciscans were driven out of the town. But they returned in solemn triumph on June 21, 1953. On June 25, 1672, Pope Clement X declared the altar of the Eucharistic Miracle a privileged altar on the Octave day of the deceased and on all Mondays of the year. In 1887, the Archbishop of Lanciano, Monsignore Petarca, obtained from Pope Leo XIII, a plenary indulgence in perpetuity to those who venerate the Eucharistic Miracle during the 8 days preceding the feast day. The Eucharistic Miracle was placed in different locations within the Church of St Francis over the years. At one point, in 1566, the threat of the Turks became imminent along the Adriatic Coast. It was thought that Lanciano would be an easy target for them. As a matter of security, the Eucharistic Miracle was taken from its chapel and walled up on the other side of the Church. It got to a point, however, that the threat of the Turks became too much of a reality.
On August 1 of that year, a Friar Giovanni Antonio di Mastro Renzo lost his faith, not in the Eucharist, but either in God’s ability or God’s desire to save him and his little band of Franciscans from the onslaught of the Turks. Using the need to save the Eucharistic Miracle from the Infidels, he took the reliquary containing the Flesh and Blood, and with his Friars fled the city. They walked all through the night. Just before dawn, Friar Giovanni felt they had put enough distance between them and the enemy, and ordered his friars to rest. As the sun came up, they found that they were back at the gates of the city. Believing that the Lord had intervened, and that He wanted His Sacred Sign as an assurance to the people of the city of Lanciano that He had not abandoned them, the friars were filled with the Holy Spirit. They acquired the courage of lions. They vowed to remain in the Church, and protect the Eucharistic Miracle with their lives. As it turned out, the Lord kept them from harm, as well as the city of Lanciano, and the Eucharistic Miracle.
The Flesh and Blood were kept walled up until 1636, although the threat of the invading Turks had long since disappeared. At that time, the Eucharistic Miracle was transferred to the right side of the altar, encased in an iron tabernacle, behind iron doors. There were four keys to the vault, each held by different people in the town. This was called the Valsecca Chapel, in honor of the benefactor.
The Miraculous Flesh and Blood were kept in this chapel until 1902. The faithful were only able to venerate the Eucharistic Miracle on special occasions, the Monday after Easter, and the last week in October, the week of the feast. The Plenary Indulgence was available to the people during the feast. By 1902, it was determined that the Valsecca Chapel was inadequate for the Eucharistic Miracle. The people of Lanciano were hungry to be able to see Our Lord Jesus in the form of Flesh and Blood while they prayed to Him. Under the inspiration of the local bishop of Lanciano, Bishop Petrarca, a beautiful altar and new home for the Eucharistic Miracle was designed by a well known architect, Filippo Sergiacomo. That was a beautiful sign. But the real sign came from the people of Lanciano. They collected all the money needed for the new altar. During the month of the feast, five bishops from the Abruzzi region, with the Franciscans, and pilgrims from all over, solemnly dedicated the new altar.
Lanciano was selected as the site for the First Eucharistic Congress for the region of Abruzzi on September 23-25, 1921. We bring our pilgrims to this shrine many times each year. Upon entering the church, our attention is immediately focused on the unusual altar. There are two tabernacles, rather than the traditional one. The second tabernacle is on top of the first. Continuing down the aisle toward the main altar, we see a large tablet on the wall, dating back to 1574, which tells the story of the Eucharistic Miracle. Further on the right of the main altar, is a painting of the Eucharistic Miracle. The painting opens out from the wall, revealing a set of doors, behind which is hidden an old iron tabernacle. This is the Valsecca Chapel, and was the home of the Eucharistic Miracle from 1636 until 1902, when the present altar was built.
We walk to the back of the main altar, where there is a stairway leading up to the second tabernacle, to the Eucharistic Miracle. A priest from the church dresses in vestments worn for the celebration of Holy Mass, and leads us to the top of the stairway. The Monstrance and the miracle are before our eyes. We are allowed to ascend in groups of five. The priest puts a flashlight in back of the Host turned Flesh. This is an actual heart muscle. With the light in the background, the fibers of the heart can be seen. The chalice which holds the Blood is believed to be the same one into which the Blood was placed after the miracle, and possibly the actual chalice which was used for the Mass when the miracle took place. The Host has turned light brown over the years. When the priest puts the light in back of It, It appears rose colored. The Blood has an ochre appearance.
It’s impossible to truly appreciate the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano without seeing the impact it has on those who witness it.
All questions and doubts about the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist become a matter of rhetoric when you are privileged to witness those who have seen the miracle. They descend the steps in tears. Many go down on their knees at the sight of the miracle. What had possibly been curious, doubting Thomases become dumbfounded, awestruck believers. They go back to their pews and just sit there, silent, weeping, praying.
One priest who went with us to Lanciano in 1983 wrote to us, “I can never raise the host or wine in Consecration again, without seeing my Lord’s very Heart between my fingers, His Blood alive in the Chalice before me.”
A pilgrim, born and baptized Catholic, shared with his convert wife, after venerating the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, “I never believed in the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. To me, it was strictly ‘in memory of Him.’ Now, I truly believe that my Jesus comes alive to me personally in the Consecrated Host that I consume at Holy Mass.”
On one occasion, after the priest had shown all our pilgrims the Eucharistic Miracle, he came down to the foot of the altar, and made the following observation: “Remember, this miracle that you are witnessing now, and that you have traveled so far to witness, happens every day in every church in the world, at the consecration of the Mass.”
How many tests have been made over the years, how many times Our Dear Lord Jesus allows Himself to be prodded and cut, examined under microscopes, and photographed. The most recent, an extensive scientific research done in 1970, used the most modern scientific tools available. The results of the tests are as follows:
- The flesh is real flesh. The blood is real blood.
- The flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart (myocardium)
- The flesh and blood belong to the human species.
- The flesh and blood have the same blood type (AB).
- In the blood, there were found proteins in the same normal proportions as are found in the seroproteic make up of fresh, normal blood. In the blood, there were also found these minerals: Chlorides, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.
- The preservation of the flesh and of the blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries (without any chemical preservatives) and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
As part of this most recent investigation, the following comment was made: “Though it is alien to my task strictly speaking, I feel I should insert the following reflection into the study just completed: the clarification, which comes through in these studies, of the nature of the flesh gives little support to the hypothesis of a ‘fraud’ perpetrated centuries ago. As a matter of fact supposing that the heart may have been taken from a cadaver, I maintain that only a hand experienced in anatomic dissection would have been able to obtain from a hollow internal organ such a uniform cut (as can still be glimpsed in the flesh).”
What the doctor, a scientist and not a theologian, is saying in simple language is that although it’s not his task to speculate it would have been difficult, next to impossible, for anyone to have cut a slice of the heart in the way that it was done. He also states that it’s highly doubtful that there was any fraud involved.
Another unusual characteristic of the blood is that when liquified, it has retained the chemical properties of freshly shed blood. When we cut ourselves and stain our clothes, the chemical properties of the blood are gone within 20 minutes to a half hour. If blood is not refrigerated within an hour maximum, the composition rapidly breaks down. If blood were taken from a dead body, it would lose its qualities quickly through decay. This blood is over 1250 years old and still contains all its properties, chemicals and protein of freshly shed blood. And yet in the testing, it was determined that no preservatives of any kind were found in the blood.
Jesus gives us His Heart again in the Eucharistic Miracle which is a Heart muscle. He gives us His Blood again in this miraculous form to heal us. He gives us His Blood with His Body in the Eucharist every day to heal us and nourish us. There are instances in history, which we’ll explore in this book, where people lived for years on no other nourishment than the Eucharist. “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood real drink.” John 6:54-56
We believe that the most perfect form of love is the Eucharistic Love of Jesus. In the Miracle of Lanciano, He loves us by revealing His very Heart and His very Blood. It helps us to understand the sacrifice of our Perfect Lamb, Jesus, in the Holy Mass. How much do I love you? Here is my Heart. How much do I love you? Here is my blood. being shed for you.
Each day during the Mass, Jesus, completely vulnerable, offers us His very heart for us to accept or reject. We become part of the Incarnation again: God, one with man-God be-coming man. As Mary carried Jesus below her heart, we too are allowed to carry now Jesus’ very Heart, His Body, His Love in our heart. And we are never the same.
As a postscript to the Miracle of Lanciano, we should note that in 1978, a group of scientists from NASA performed an intensive examination on the Shroud of Turin, using all the sophisticated scientific equipment available to our Space Agency at that time. Among the many findings the scientists made in support of the authenticity of the Shroud, a very significant discovery was found regarding the blood type on the Shroud. It was AB positive, the same blood type as found in the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano. More and more, science has verified what we have believed in Faith for centuries.
- Jesus Christ Our Daily Food: Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (frbonnie.wordpress.com)
- Did you know that A Eucharistic Miracle in 1263 Paved the Way for the Institution of Corpus Christi? (speramusposterous.wordpress.com)
- Corpus Christi (christinesunderland.com)
- The Proof is in the Pudding (ubicrux.com)
- The Host (everydaypleasuresblog.wordpress.com)
- Feast of Corpus Christi: A call to become Eucharistic people (junjunfaithbook.com)
- Feast of Corpus Christi (danardoyle.wordpress.com)
- Franciscans in the Holy Land Celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ Right Where It All Happened (prweb.com)
- The Eucharist In Medieval Life And Art (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Creator Steps Out: A Meditation On Eucharistic Processions (catholiccustoms.wordpress.com)