The Miracle of Lanciano.
To many Catholics the Miracle of Lanciano proves the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during Mass. And the relique containing the elements range among the important religious shrines of Italy.
Lanciano offers spectacular views of the sea and of the snow-clad peaks in the Majella National Park, a rich history, interesting archeological sites, frequent festivals and cultural events, a lively restaurant scene and generous aperitivi, but the real miracle of Lanciano is a few drops of coagulated blood and a tiny lump of human flesh that has been preserved for more than a millennium and is now held in a relique on the altar of the church and convent of San Francesco d’Assisi.
Transforming bread into flesh and wine into blood
Devout Catholics still visit Lanciano with the sole purpose of witnessing the remains of the Eucharistic Miracle, which allegedly took place in the eighth century. During mass, a Basilian hieromonk doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but when he said the Words of Consecration (“This is my body. This is my blood”), he saw the bread change into living flesh and the wine change into blood. It goes without saying, that this kind of transubstantiation is an extremely rare occurrence, and the Basilian monks and their successors guarded the Eucharistic elements for centuries.
Since the Middle Ages the Miracle of Lanciano has been officially authenticated by the Catholic Church and the Vatican. And it has also been subjected to modern scientific analysis. A rigorous study was carried out in 1970-71 by two professors in anatomy and chemistry, and they found that the blood and the flesh were indeed human with no traces of chemical preservation.
A modest pilgrim site
Given the singularity and wonder of this story, I thought the church housing the Miracle of Lanciano would be a massive tourist site like Assisi, Loreto or San Giovanni Rotondo. It isn’t. Or at least it hasn’t been the 2-3 times I have stopped by Corso Roma in Lanciano. From the outside the church looks like a square house with an arched doorway, and austerity also prevails inside. The simple white columns have stuccoed capitals, there are rows of wooden benches and only a few frescos adorn the ceiling. The main features are a mint green organ and a tabernacle behind the altar containing a silver relique in which a coin-sized slice of fibrous tissue is displayed along with a crystal chalice containing some brown goblets. This is the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano.
For those who are not convinced there is a tiny, low-key museum in addition to the church, where you can study a few documents and artefacts relating to the miracle. For instance, there are posters explaining the results of the medical-scientific analysis performed in 1970. They demonstrate that the relics are in fact tissue from a human heart while the brown lump was found to be coagulated blood. Still, some questions remain to be answered, such as to whom the flesh and blood belonged and how his or her blood and tissue ended up on an altar in Abruzzo.
And while you are pondering these questions you might as well continue out into the yard behind the church and the museum. The porticoed convent cloister is normally accessible to the public, and here you will see an opus signinum floor from the Roman era along with traces of some sixteenth-century wall frescoes.
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