By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11/07/97 in The Madera Tribune
"Though blind men see no light, the sun doth shine.
Sweet cakes are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it.
Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine;
Each truth is true, though all men do not try it."
— Robert Southwell, "Of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar"
LANCIANO, Italy — By late Friday morning, this Maderan's tour bus rode into the city of Lanciano for a lunch break. That afternoon, we pilgrims would catch our flight at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome for Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Our tour guide Sylvia Puppio led the 11 Californians from the bus to the little Church of St. Legontian. We were to meet again near there an hour later to continue the last leg of our journey through Italy.
In the back of this church sat an alleged 1,200-year-old miracle of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine of Communion had reportedly become Jesus' flesh and blood in a visible fashion.
Except for Sylvia, all silently prayed for a time before leaving to eat or shop. Another group of European and Middle-Eastern pilgrims filled the pews as my fellow pilgrims left one-by-one.
As for myself, I wasn't overwhelmed at the sight before my eyes. As a Catholic, I had always believed and don't recall ever doubting that Jesus truly became physically present in the bread and wine of Communion at mass. For me, appearances could not change what the scriptures and early Christians so clearly attested (I.E. Mat. 26:26-28; John 6:51-58; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-32).
Sylvia had warned us earlier that we weren't allowed to take photographs of the Eucharist out of reverence. But several pilgrims — including myself — couldn't resist taking at least one shot. I prayed first to ask God permission to take His picture even though this was discouraged. If He did mind, I asked that the photo wouldn't come out ... and when I returned I discovered that it hadn't.
"I stooped to see the wonder, when, behold!
Within the cup a Countenance divine
Looked upward at me through the trembling wine,
Suffused with tenderest love and grief untold."
— Frederick Tennyson, "An Incident"
In the eighth century Frentanese city of Anxanum, a Basilian monk who had been studying the science of the day began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. How could Jesus be physically present when the apparent nature of the bread and wine didn’t change? While celebrating mass one day, he interiorly begged God to help him know for sure that Jesus was present in the bread and wine, he later claimed. After the two-fold consecration during mass, the outer edge of the large Communion host publicly appeared to transform into flesh, and the wine into blood. It seemed his prayers had been dramatically answered.
The blood, now kept in an old rock-crystal cup, coagulated into five irregular globules and has a yellowish earthy color. The light brown flesh, minus the bread center which wasted away, has sat in a silver Ostensorium since 1713.
A scientific investigation was conducted in 1970-'71, and partly in 1981, by Prof. Odoardo Linoli, a professor in anatomy and pathological histology and in chemistry and clinical microscopy. Prof. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena assisted. Their conclusions were that the flesh and blood are real flesh and blood, belong to the human species, and have the same blood-type: AB.
The flesh consists of muscular tissue of the heart: the myocardium, endocardium, the vagus nerve, and the left ventricle of the heart. The blood contains proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as the sero-proteic make-up of fresh human blood. They could not explain how this flesh and blood, which had been left exposed to atmospheric and biological agents for 12 centuries, could remain preserved and fresh, despite signs of age in the ancient tissue.
"And I heard Agnus, Agnus Dei,
Pleading for man with Love's own breath;
And Love drew near me,
And Love drew near me
And I drank Life through God’s own death."
— Alfred Noyes, "The Strong City"
Too soon the hour of prayer passed. I made sure this time to be at the designated meeting place a few minutes earlier than requested. I would not be late this time, and happily endured the tardy return of a few shopping pilgrims.
We travelled westward, and upon arriving in Rome at half-past three we were delayed by a necessary detour. The bus driver, who had driven in a relatively subdued fashion during our travels, began to drive more like the other drivers with a heavy pedal. We had to reach the Da Vinci airport in time or miss checking in for our 5:25 p.m. flight.
"Your journey here has ended," announced Sylvia as we passed a statue of Leonardo da Vinci holding a model of the primitive helicopter he thought up.
She wouldn’t have another tour group until Thursday, but she stayed at the airport to help us all check-in and lingered behind to watch her odd bunch of 'tourists' off. I couldn't think of anything to say at the last, so I said farewell with a silent bow which amused her.
All of the pilgrims felt a bit sad to leave Italy, but all were excited and eager to go on to Medjugorje.
"Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul...
I'll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer."
— Alice Meynell, "'I Am the Way'"