Several years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Italy with my sister and our mutual friend. We spent several days in Rome, Assisi and Florence. When we drove from Rome to Assisi, we stopped at the cathedral in Orvieto. This cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and was constructed in 1263 to house the miraculous Corporal of Bolsena, a relic of a miracle that happened in a neighboring town. According to the story, a traveling priest stopped at the town to say Mass. While he was doing so, he doubted the act of Transubstantiation, the teaching of the Catholic Church that “the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of the Blood of Christ. This change is brought about in the Eucharistic Prayer through the efficacy of the Word of Christ and by the action of the Holy Spirit. However, the outward characteristics of bread and wine, that is the ‘eucharistic species,’ remain unaltered.”1 During the liturgy, he saw that the host began to bleed so much that the blood spilled over the paten onto the corporal, the cloth under the small plate and chalice during Mass. This cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral in Orvieto.
I stood at the front of the cathedral, gasping at the immense size and the beauty of its façade. Inside, I was again taken aback to view the beauty inside. To the left of the main altar was a very large Pieta sculptured from a single block of marble by Ippolitio Scalza between 1570-1580. This Pieta depicted Mary flinging back her mantle with a raised hand which screams out, “STOP!” while the other arm cradles her dead Son. Nicodemus stands over both of them, looking in quiet horror and disbelief. As amazing as this sculpture is, I knew that this was not what I came to see.
Off to the side of the main altar was a chapel. In that chapel, behind bulletproof glass, was the cloth with blood on it. A single spotlight lit up the corporal and made every onlooker stare at the still bright red stain. Viewing this miracle, I felt an awe that our God not only came to earth but became human.
Recently, I came across a blog published by Ascension Press that discusses Eucharistic Miracles of the past and the more recent ones. These miracles were studied under intensive modern scientific studies. The following was found:
“The blood is human, AB blood type; human DNA was found; white blood cells, red blood cells, hemoglobin, and microphages were present, indicating fresh blood; in the Tixtla miracle, the blood clearly emanated from within, because the blood on the surface had begun to coagulate but the interior blood was still fresh, as with a bleeding wound. The flesh is human myocardium tissue of the left ventricle of an inflamed heart; in the miracles from Argentina and Poland, there was evidence of trauma from the presence of thrombi, indicating repeated lack of oxygen; lesions present showed rapid cardiac spasms typical in the final phases of death. In the Sokolka miracle, the remaining host is tightly interconnected with the fibers of human tissue, penetrating each other inseparably – as if the bread were transforming into flesh. ‘Even NASA scientists, who have at their disposal the most modern analytical techniques, would not be able to artificially recreate such a thing,’ affirmed Dr. Sobaniec-Lotowska, one of the examining experts. Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a forensic doctor at Columbia University who examined the Argentinian miracle, did not know the source of the sample and told the doctor who brought it to him, ‘If white blood cells were present (in the heart tissue), it is because at the moment you brought me the sample, it was pulsating.’ When he learned the source of the sample, he was shocked and deeply moved.”2
For me, these findings almost scream to us that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is like the Pieta from Orvieto screaming out, “Wait! You see bread and wine but there is something more here! My Son! Your Redeemer!”
As we find ourselves within the Christmas season, may Christ be born anew in your heart!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness