The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano and the Shroud of Turin
People of weak faith, who doubt or do not believe in the Eucharist, have been given many clear signs calling them to conversion—to belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
One such sign is the miracle of Lanciano. The sign has become famous throughout the world ever since the publication, in1971, of the findings of the first scientific study made on the fragment of flesh and globules of coagulated blood preserved in the Italian town of Lanciano.
Historical records attest to an extraordinary event occurring in the mid-eighth century in the small Basilian abbey of St. Legontian at Lanciano. For many years one of its monks had fallen prey to severe temptation. While saying Holy Mass, he had doubts that at the moment of consecration the bread became the actual Body of Christ and that the wine became His Blood. Early one morning, while saying the words of the consecration, he was seized by especially strong and insistent doubts. Suddenly, on uttering the words “This is My Body….This is My Blood,” he noticed blood dripping from the white host. Amazed and terrified, the monk stared silently at the Sacred Species. His terror soon subsided, and his heart became filled with indescribable joy. After a long period of ecstatic silence, his face radiant with joy and streaked with tears of happiness, the monk turned to the faithful attending the Mass and said to them, “Here is the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He has made visible to me, that I may no longer be a disbeliever, but a believer.”
News of this wondrous event quickly spread throughout the district. Before long the church became a popular shrine, attracting thousands of pilgrims. The Sacred Species were duly preserved in a special reliquary. In time, numerous legends began to spread about the Eucharistic miracle. The Franciscan Fathers, who eventually became custodians of the shrine, decided to have this cult of the Body and Blood of Christ authenticated. On November 19, 1970, they commissioned a group of scientists under Dr. Odoardo Linoli, eminent Professor of Anatomy, Pathological Histology, Chemistry, and Clinical Microscopy, to conduct a thorough investigation. (Dr. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena assisted him.)
The inquiry took several months to complete. Released to the public on March 4, 1971, the findings caused a sensation, making headlines in all the Italian dailies. The commission confirmed what tradition had always held. It verified that the Host dating from the eighth century consisted of the muscular tissue of a human heart. The flesh bore no signs of incision, thus excluding the possibility that it had been excised from someone’s heart. Analysis established beyond a shadow of doubt that the tissue consisted of myocardium of the left ventricle, endocardium, and the vagus nerve. Found also were five globules of coagulated blood. Again analysis showed these to be real human blood of the AB type. The same blood type was found in the preserved tissue of the “Host-Heart.” Science is at a lost to explain how for twelve centuries the flesh and blood were spared the process of decay and how to this day they remain in such a perfect state of preservation.
Three years after the first scientific inquiry (another followed in 1981), Cardinal Karol Wojtyla came to Lanciano to spend a night of prayer and adoration of the Eucharistic Species. The man who would soon become Pope John Paul II wrote the following eloquent inscription in the visitor’s book, in Latin: “Fac nos Tibi semper magis credere, in Te spem habere, Te diligere” (“Make us believe in you ever more, place our hope in you, and love you.”
The Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano is a sign attesting to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It calls us to faith, to open our hearts to the gift of the boundless love that Christ offers us in His Real Body and Blood.
Here we shall add another noteworthy fact. Analysis has shown that the blood found on the Shroud of Turin is also of the AB type, thus matching the blood at Lanciano. Is this not yet another astonishing sign calling us to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Thanks to modern science, the Shroud of Turin has become a relic of unique significance. After the first photograph was taken of it in 1898, scholars of practically every discipline began to study it. In the process they discovered to their amazement that the image of the crucified Man represents a perfect negative photograph. Divine Providence preserved this relic to our day, so that modern science might reveal its extraordinary secrets to an unbelieving age. Analysis shows that the linen fabric is indeed a burial cloth from Palestine dating from the time of Christ, that it had been used to bind a crucified Man of extraordinary beauty and physical perfection, and that the sentence of death had been carried out on Him in exactly the way it is related in the Gospels. Whoever sincerely seeks the truth and reads the results of the scientific studies conducted on the Shroud is forced to ask himself disturbing and radical questions concerning the person of Christ. Many scientists studying the Shroud have come to believe in Jesus Christ.
By studying the pollens found on the fabric, Max Frei, the famous criminologist from Zurich, was able to trace the serendipitous path of the Shroud over the centuries. He determined with absolute certainty that it originated in Palestine at the time of Christ. His meticulous tracking of the Shroud’s stopping places involved, among other things, the discovery of a species of rice pollen such as used to be cultivated only in the region of Vercelli. It was there, in their castle, that the princes of Sabaudia kept the Shroud for a while.
Max Frei was a Protestant. Before undertaking to research the Shroud, he considered it a forgery, and its veneration a superstition, a tool of the Anti-Christ—the Pope. As he progressed in his investigation of the artifact, his preconceived views gave way to an inner certainty, to profound respect, and finally to veneration of this wondrous relic.
The image on the Shroud has a special capacity to work on and transform human hearts. A group of American scientists from NASA also came to examine the Shroud in Turin. Arriving in an aircraft loaded with state-of-the-art scientific equipment, they discovered that the image was three-dimensional, apparently seared onto the cloth as a result of a powerful explosion of energy of split-second duration. Does this not signify the Resurrection? In the instant before life was restored to the dead body, its image was imprinted forever on the surface of the fabric by a burst of radiation of mysterious origin. From a scientific point of view, it is far easier to accept the Shroud’s authenticity than to account for it as a forgery, for the putative medieval forger would have to have been a genius light years ahead of modern knowledge and science, which remains unable to replicate the image.
Pierluigi Bollone, an internationally known professor of forensic medicine in Turin, also experienced a conversion on investigating the Shroud. He claims that the relic supports the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion. If the Evangelists did not dupe us in this instance, if they merit the historian’s trust, then we can extend that trust to the rest of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life.
Dr. Bollone insists that the arguments of the Shroud’s naysayers are never based on objective scientific evidence, but rather derive from their doctrinaire preconceptions. If the Shroud were attributed to Julius Caesar, for example, no one would dare to doubt the claim. Jesus is and remains “a sign that is spoken against” (Lk 2:34). That is why to accept the authenticity of the Shroud requires declaring oneself for Jesus, acknowledging Him as God, which in turn involves enormous personal implications, for it means changing one’s life—conversion. This explains why so many people claim to be objective, when in reality they remain bound to their prejudices. According to Dr. Bollone, those who know the results of the scientific studies and still deny the authenticity of the Shroud, have decided a priori that they will not believe in it. Given the authority of the scientists who have studied the Shroud and the enormous amount of positive data they have provided from every discipline, it is incumbent on those who deny the Shroud’s authenticity to provide convincing counterarguments. They do not do this, because there are none.
The discovery of the same blood group in the Shroud of Turin and the Sacred Species preserved at Lanciano is a sign calling us to conversion, to belief in the real divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, who in His risen humanity is truly present in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Fr. M. Piotrowski SChr