25 May 2008

The Miracle of Bolsena

As if the Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament is not enough of a mystery to ponder, one may add the institution of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ -- the feast erstwhile known as "Corpus Christi" -- for yet another layer of complexity.

Legend has it that in the 13th century, a German priest, on pilgrimage to Rome, was celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina in Bolsena when, at the words of the consecration, the host began to bleed. Historians dispute the accuracy of this account since no mention of the miracle appears in the 1264 Bull instituting the feast. The corporal, onto which the blood of Christ dripped, is preserved in a reliquary in the Cathedral of Orvieto, a neighboring town to Bolsena where Pope Urban IV was residing at the time of the miracle.

Because abundant details of this miracle do not appear in writing until two centuries after its occurrence, many historians have dismissed this as an "urban legend." A cursory check of biblical history, however, might suggest that the accuracy of oral tradition is far greater than its paper trail counterpart. In fact, anyone who has grown up in a culture, a tribe, a family in which stories of grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives are told and retold, can appreciate how these "urban legends" point toward great truths. The details may be wrong, but the essence is intact.
So why is there a picture of naked people at the top of this post? It is a panel from Luca Signorelli's "Last Judgment" which appears in the chapel opposite the one in which the reliquary of the Corpus Christi miracle is enshrined. It is curious to notice that the "saved" are coming out of the ground, limb by limb, as angels (not shown) are carrying others to heaven. Michaelangelo is said to have spent time in Orvieto, studying the four murals of Signorelli's "Last Judgment" before beginning his own opus of the same name.

Whether this "Umbrian" legend is true or an exaggeration of a smaller event is, perhaps, of little consequence when one considers the truth to which it points. There is a large (blood) stained corporal in a reliquary in the Cathedral of Orvieto which has drawn countless pilgrims for over 7 centuries. Across the way, in the Chapel of St. Brizio, are the exquisite murals of Signorelli, depicting the last judgment and the end of the world. If but one pilgrim returned with a renewed faith in the Lord's presence in the Eucharist and a renewed hope in the promise of salvation, we would do well to praise the Lord for the mysterious ways in which He works and the myriad instruments He uses.

"O, my very dear Sisters, how you should be overwhelmed with joy when you are visited by this Divine Savior in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and by the interior graces . . . and words which He speaks to your hearts."
St. Francis de Sales

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