THE HOLY BLOOD: EUCHARISTIC MIR­A­CLES

Holy Com­mu­nion com­mem­o­rates Christ’s sac­ri­fice in sym­bolic form, but over the cen­turies there have been cel­e­brated in­stances in which the Host has ap­par­ently oozed blood or even trans­formed into hu­man tis­sue. TED HAR­RI­SON steps up to the al­tar rail and su

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Holy Com­mu­nion com­mem­o­rates Christ’s sac­ri­fice in sym­bolic form, but there have been cases in which the Host has ap­par­ently oozed blood or shown the face of Je­sus. TED HAR­RI­SON sur­veys some Eucharistic mir­a­cles and their pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions.

In Oc­to­ber 2006, while help­ing a pri­est dis­trib­ute Com­mu­nion at a church in Tixtla, Mex­ico, a re­li­gious sis­ter no­ticed some­thing strange on the pix, the small plate on which she was car­ry­ing the con­se­crated bread. She turned to the pri­est, so re­ports claim, with tears in her eyes. The Com­mu­nion Host she was about to give to a parish­ioner was ooz­ing blood.

Ro­man Catholics be­lieve that dur­ing Mass a mir­a­cle is per­formed, on cue, thou­sands of times a week. At the mo­ment of con­se­cra­tion, the bread (the Host) and wine be­come the body and blood of Je­sus; not in a phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal sense, but in essence and mean­ing. This ‘mir­a­cle’ is called tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion.

How­ever, for cen­turies some faith­ful Catholics have be­lieved that in rare cases the con­se­crated Com­mu­nion el­e­ments can lit­er­ally turn into hu­man tis­sue. This was what the Tixtla nun be­lieved she was wit­ness­ing with her own eyes.

MEDIÆ­VAL MIR­A­CLES

The Vat­i­can has de­clared over 150 claims of Eucharistic mir­a­cles to be ‘church ap­proved’. They have been listed and de­scribed in a cat­a­logue en­ti­tled ‘The Eucharistic Mir­a­cles of the World’.

Many of the claims are cen­turies-old leg­ends. One cel­e­brated ex­am­ple is from eighth cen­tury Lan­ciano in Italy, where a pri­est who was hav­ing doubts about the doc­trine of tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion was celebrating Mass. As he pro­nounced the words of con­se­cra­tion the Host changed, so the story goes, into flesh and the wine into blood. He called the con­gre­ga­tion to the al­tar to ver­ify the mir­a­cle. The flesh and the blood, which co­ag­u­lated into five glob­ules, were placed in a reli­quary.

Through the monastery’s long his­tory, the relics have been care­fully pre­served and today are guarded by Fran­cis­cans. Over 1,200 years later, the flesh ap­pears not to have de­com­posed and is still pre­served at the Church of San Francesco.

An­other fa­mous Ital­ian Eucharistic mir­a­cle oc­curred in Bolsena, just north of Rome. In 1263, a vis­it­ing pri­est was celebrating Mass when a con­se­crated Host was seen to bleed and some of the blood stained the cor­po­ral, the square white linen cloth, re­sem­bling a hand­ker­chief, used by the cel­e­brant. Pope Ur­ban IV hap­pened to be 15 miles away in Orvi­eto and was im­me­di­ately in­formed. He or­dered a “thor­ough fact-find­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that the mirac­u­lous Host and the linen cloth stained with blood be brought to Orvi­eto and placed on dis­play”. There was a pop­u­lar move­ment of re­newed in­ter­est in the sto­ries of the suf­fer­ing of Christ at the time. It was af­ter ap­prov­ing the mir­a­cle at Bolsena that Ur­ban IV, in 1264, de­clared the Feast of Cor­pus Christi by pa­pal bull, which is still cel­e­brated ev­ery year in late Spring.

Today ‘The Cor­po­ral of Bolsena’ is still kept in the Cathe­dral at Orvi­eto. It may be seen be­hind glass in a lav­ishly or­nate reli­quary, and be­liev­ers say that when they

The host changed into flesh and the wine into blood

gaze at the red­dish marks on the cloth they see the shape of the head of Christ.

While Italy has more claims (30) than any other coun­try, 20 other na­tions make it into the Eucharistic mir­a­cle charts. Por­tu­gal’s best-known case hap­pened in 13th cen­tury San­tarém. A woman was dis­tressed that her hus­band was be­ing un­faith­ful to her, and she de­cided to con­sult a sor­cer­ess for help. “The sor­cer­ess told her the price of her ser­vices was a con­se­crated Host. She went to Mass at the Church of St Stephen and re­ceived the Eu­charist on her tongue. She then re­moved the Eu­charist from her mouth, wrapped it in her veil, and headed to the door of the church. But be­fore she got out, the Host be­gan to bleed.

“When she got home, she put the blood­ied Host in a trunk. That night, a mirac­u­lous light em­anated from the trunk. She re­pented of what she had done and the next morn­ing con­fessed to her pri­est.”

The mir­a­cle was duly in­ves­ti­gated and the church was re­named The Church of the Holy Mir­a­cle.

WORLD­WIDE WON­DERS

While the main Euro­pean Catholic coun­tries un­sur­pris­ingly pre­dom­i­nate when it comes to Eucharistic mir­a­cles, cases have been re­ported from as far afield as In­dia and Egypt. The Egyp­tian case is prob­a­bly the ear­li­est on record and in­volved a monk liv­ing in a re­li­gious com­mu­nity in the desert who doubted the teach­ing of the Church and asked for proof that the bread of the Eu­charist was, in re­al­ity, the Body of Christ. His ev­i­dence, so the fifth cen­tury story goes, came dur­ing Mass one Sun­day when, in place of the Host, the monk saw the in­fant Je­sus, who was pierced with a sword by an an­gel when the Host was lifted up, his blood run­ning into the chal­ice. Just as the monk was given Com­mu­nion, the Host be­came bread again and the doubt­ing monk cried out that he now truly be­lieved.

The In­dian claim is one of many from re­cent years, con­firm­ing that the phe­nom­e­non is not just a mediæ­val pe­cu­liar­ity. On 28 April 2001, in the parish church of St Mary of Chi­rat­takonam in Tri­van­drum, South In­dia, Fa­ther John­son Karnoor placed a con­se­crated Host in a mon­strance for pub­lic ado­ra­tion. This com­mon Catholic prac­tice in­volves plac­ing a large Com­mu­nion wafer in a glass-fronted and highly or­nate ves­sel, a mon­strance, used solely for the pur­pose. “I saw what ap­peared to be three dots in the Holy Eu­charist. I then stopped pray­ing and be­gan to look at the mon­strance, also invit­ing the faith­ful to ad­mire the three dots.”

A week later, Fa­ther Karnoor looked at the Host again and im­me­di­ately no­ticed the like­ness of a hu­man face. “I was deeply

moved and asked the faith­ful to kneel and be­gin pray­ing. I no­ticed that the rest of the faith­ful were look­ing in­tently at the mon­strance… as the min­utes went by, the im­age be­came more and more clear. I be­gan to cry… I asked the al­tar server what he no­ticed in the mon­strance. He an­swered: ‘I see the fig­ure of a man.’ I no­ticed that the rest of the faith­ful were look­ing in­tently at the mon­strance.”

Later he called a pho­tog­ra­pher to take pic­tures of the Holy Eu­charist with the hu­man face on it. Today, the Host is still kept at the church.

An­other ex­am­ple of this vari­ant – in which the face of Christ ap­pears with­out any blood be­ing seen – was re­ported in Novem­ber 2013 at the church of Christ the King atVi­lakkan­nur, Ker­ala, In­dia. Here, the pri­est saw a face of a bearded man ap­pear on the large Com­mu­nion Host tra­di­tion­ally raised dur­ing the Mass at the mo­ment of con­se­cra­tion. When the Host was put on pub­lic view the church be­came a cen­tre of pil­grim­age, with thou­sands of the cu­ri­ous and the faith­ful ar­riv­ing to see the ‘mirac­u­lous’ im­age of the face of Christ.

The pres­ence of blood, how­ever, is the most com­monly re­ported char­ac­ter­is­tic of a Eucharistic mir­a­cle. In April 2017 in Santa Fe, Ar­gentina, a group of young Ro­man Catholics at a drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre were pray­ing and singing in front of a con­se­crated Host that was on dis­play. As they looked at the Host in ado­ra­tion, it ap­par­ently started to bleed. It was the Tues­day of Holy Week, when the trial and suf­fer­ing of Je­sus is es­pe­cially re­called. Juan Ter­nengo, from the San Miguel cen­tre at Guemes, de­scribed the ooz­ing liq­uid as be­ing a “deep red colour”.

The lo­cal bishop in­structed that the Host be re­moved from pub­lic dis­play for

He saw the face of a bearded man ap­pear on the com­mu­nion host

ap­pro­pri­ate ex­am­i­na­tion and a state­ment was is­sued by the Dio­cese of Rafaela. It did not deny that there had been in­stances in his­tory when, in­deed, the bread lit­er­ally turned into the body of Christ, but added cau­tiously, “th­ese cases have been nei­ther com­mon nor sim­ple to dis­cern… Mean­while, pru­dence and re­spect are rec­om­mended”.

In 2016 a bleed­ing Host in Poland was of­fi­cially ap­proved for ven­er­a­tion by Bishop Zbig­niew Kiernikowski of Leg­nica. On Christ­mas Day in 2013, a con­se­crated Host fell to the floor in St Jacek parish, the bishop said in a state­ment. The Host was placed in a con­tainer of wa­ter and red stains sub­se­quently ap­peared on it.

Bishop Kiernikowski said the Host bore signs of “a Eucharistic mir­a­cle” and took the mat­ter to theVat­i­can’s Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith. It was rec­om­mended that a spe­cial place be found at the church for the Host to be put on dis­play for ven­er­a­tion. “I hope that this will serve to deepen the cult of the Eu­charist and will have deep im­pact on the lives of peo­ple fac­ing the Host,” the bishop said.

In Fe­bru­ary 2014, a small frag­ment was placed on a cor­po­ral and un­der­went test­ing by var­i­ous re­search in­sti­tutes. The fi­nal med­i­cal state­ment, as re­ported by the Catholic News Agency, said that the Depart­ment of Foren­sic Medicine of the Pomera­nian Med­i­cal Univer­sity in Szczecin found that “frag­ments [of the Host] con­tained the frag­mented parts of the cross stri­ated mus­cle. It is most sim­i­lar to the heart mus­cle. Tests also de­ter­mined the tis­sue to be of hu­man ori­gin, and found that it bore signs of dis­tress.”

TEST­ING THE CLAIMS

For at least 1,000 years claims of Eucharistic mir­a­cles have been care­fully ex­am­ined by the Church, as the in­ter­est of Pope Ur­ban IV in the Cor­po­ral of Bolsena il­lus­trates. The Lan­ciano mir­a­cle has un­der­gone sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions. When, ini­tially, the Host ap­peared to be flesh and blood, the ev­i­dence was care­fully weighed and the five glob­ules, although of dif­fer­ent sizes, were found ap­par­ently to be the same weight.

They were placed in a spe­cial ivory reli­quary, but not her­met­i­cally sealed. In 1574, a Mon­signor Ro­drigues once again weighed the five glob­ules in the pres­ence of wit­nesses and ar­rived at the

same con­clu­sion. He noted too that, eight cen­turies af­ter the orig­i­nal events, no vis­i­ble sign of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion had taken place.

In 1713, the orig­i­nal ivory reli­quary was re­placed by one of sil­ver and crys­tal, with the glob­ules of blood be­ing put in a crys­tal chal­ice (which some be­lieved was the ac­tual chal­ice when the mir­a­cle oc­curred).

In the 20th and 21st cen­turies sci­en­tists have been in­volved in ex­am­in­ing new cases and us­ing new tech­niques to ex­am­ine his­toric ev­i­dence. Ac­cord­ing to many be­liev­ers, what they have dis­cov­ered has not un­der­mined the mirac­u­lous claims but strength­ened the case for their au­then­tic­ity. Much quoted is the Buenos Aires mir­a­cle of 1996, which, in­ter­est­ingly, links with the Lan­ciano case. On the evening of 18 Au­gust that year an un­con­sumed Host was found in the church of Santa Maria y Ca­bal­lito Al­ma­gro in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina. A parish­ioner handed it to a pri­est, Fa­ther Ale­jan­dro Pezet, who put it in a con­tainer of wa­ter and placed it rev­er­ently in a taber­na­cle in the chapel of the Blessed Sacra­ment.

Eight days later Fa­ther Ale­jan­dro dis­cov­ered that the Host had changed in ap­pear­ance. It seemed to have grown in size and be­come bloody. Car­di­nal Jorge Ber­goglio, Fa­ther Ale­jan­dro’s su­pe­rior, ad­vised that the Host be pho­tographed, and this was done on 6 Septem­ber. Car­di­nal Ber­goglio, later el­e­vated to be­come Pope Fran­cis, in­structed that the episode be kept se­cret and that the Host be kept care­fully un­der wraps.

Three years later, on 5 Oc­to­ber 1999, the car­di­nal ar­ranged for a sam­ple of the bloody frag­ment to be sent for anal­y­sis. So as not to prej­u­dice the study the lab­o­ra­tory was not told the sam­ple’s his­tory. The Catholic

Her­ald later re­ported that re­sults came back

show­ing the blood was group AB and was in­deed hu­man.

An­other sam­ple was sent to the late Dr Fred­er­ick Zugibe, a re­tired Amer­i­can foren­sic pathol­o­gist and one-time pro­fes­sor of pathol­ogy at Columbia Univer­sity, New York. In ad­di­tion to his 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, dur­ing which he con­ducted an es­ti­mated 10,000 au­top­sies, Dr Zugibe was well-known for his in­ter­est in the sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Shroud of Turin (see FT326:38-41).

The re­sults of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ma­te­rial from the bleed­ing Host were an­nounced on 26 March 2005. He iden­ti­fied the sam­ple as hu­man flesh and blood and tes­ti­fied that it was a frag­ment of heart mus­cle. It was, he said, in an in­flam­ma­tory con­di­tion and con­tained a large num­ber of white blood cells. This in­di­cated to him that the heart was alive at the time the sam­ple was taken, as white blood cells die out­side a liv­ing or­gan­ism. He stated that “the heart had been un­der se­vere stress, as if the owner had been beaten se­verely about the chest.”

How­ever, the Buenos Aires story was not fin­ished, as it came to be linked with the much ear­lier Lan­ciano ‘mir­a­cle’. In 1970, Pope PaulVI per­mit­ted a se­ries of sci­en­tific stud­ies to sub­stan­ti­ate, or un­der­mine, the Lan­ciano leg­end.

Ac­cord­ing to The Catholic Ed­u­ca­tion Re­source Cen­tre, Dr Edoardo Li­noli, pro­fes­sor of anatomy and patho­log­i­cal his­tol­ogy, chem­istry and clin­i­cal mi­croscopy, and head physi­cian of the hos­pi­tal of Arezzo, con­ducted the study. He was as­sisted by Dr Rug­gero Bertelli, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of hu­man anatomy at the Univer­sity of Siena. “The analy­ses were per­formed in ac­cord with sci­en­tific stan­dards and doc­u­mented, and Dr Bertelli in­de­pen­dently cor­rob­o­rated Dr Li­noli’s find­ings. In 1981, us­ing more ad­vanced med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, Dr Li­noli con­ducted a sec­ond his­to­log­i­cal study; he not only con­firmed the find­ings but also gath­ered new in­for­ma­tion.

“The ma­jor find­ings from this re­search in­clude the fol­low­ing: The Flesh, yel­low­brown in colour, has the struc­ture of the my­ocardium (heart wall) and the en­do­cardium, the mem­brane of fi­brouse­las­tic tis­sue lin­ing all the car­diac cav­i­ties. Th­ese have the same ap­pear­ance as in the hu­man heart. No traces of preser­va­tives were found in the el­e­ments. The blood was also of hu­man ori­gin with the type AB. Pro­teins in the clot­ted blood were nor­mally frac­tioned with the same per­cent­age ra­tio as those found in the sero-pro­teic make-up of nor­mal, fresh hu­man blood.”

Li­noli’s find­ings were pub­lished in the med­i­cal jour­nal Quaderni Sclavo di Di­ag­nos­tica Clin­ica e di Lab­o­ra­tori in 1971. He found sig­nif­i­cant the fact that the

blood group was AB, a com­par­a­tively rare group that is found, how­ever, more pre­dom­i­nantly in the Mid­dle East than in Italy (and, he claimed, the same blood group as that of the man of the holy Shroud of Turin). He also said that the sam­ples should have de­te­ri­o­rated, given that they were cen­turies old. They had never been her­met­i­cally sealed from the air and yet they had pre­served the same prop­er­ties as might be found in fresh hu­man blood and flesh.

Sev­eral Catholic web­sites re­port that in 1973, the Higher Coun­cil of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) ap­pointed a sci­en­tific com­mis­sion to ver­ify the Ital­ian doc­tor’s con­clu­sions and con­firmed what had been stated and pub­lished in Italy.

In re­port­ing this sup­posed link be­tween the Buenos Aires and the Lan­ciano mir­a­cles – that both sam­ples ap­peared to be of the same un­usual AB blood group – some ac­counts have ex­trap­o­lated fur­ther. In one Youtube video, claims were made that not only was the blood group iden­ti­fied, but DNA as well. Some be­liev­ers have even claimed that DNA ex­tracted from the Ar­gen­tinian bleed­ing Host was found to match DNA taken from the Lan­ciano sam­ple, and even more re­mark­ably, that both matched DNA found on the Turin Shroud.

The only prob­lem with this story is that while hu­man DNA was found in dust par­ti­cles taken from the Shroud, they did not have a sin­gle iden­ti­fi­able source. To quote from the re­port of the re­search pub­lished in Nature: “a large num­ber of dif­fer­ent hu­man se­quences cor­re­spond­ing to three dis­tinct mtDNA loci were iden­ti­fied. This re­sult not only in­di­cates that hu­man DNA was in­deed un­equiv­o­cally present in the dust, but also that the sources of hu­man DNA could be as­cribed to nu­mer­ous in­di­vid­u­als. In fact, the mtDNA hap­lo­types were found to be­long to dif­fer­ent branches of the hu­man mtDNA tree, even af­ter hav­ing ex­cluded all the mtDNA se­quences that could be the­o­ret­i­cally at­trib­uted to op­er­a­tor con­tam­i­na­tion.” In other words, the Shroud had been han­dled by so many peo­ple over the years that to pin­point the DNA from the orig­i­nal corpse buried in it was im­pos­si­ble.

PUZ­ZLING EV­I­DENCE

Claims of sci­en­tific ver­i­fi­ca­tion of tales of the mirac­u­lous tend to hit four main prob­lems. Firstly, sourc­ing the claims can be dif­fi­cult. In gen­eral, the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is only cited in hearsay ver­sions on ded­i­cated Catholic web­sites and not in main­stream sci­en­tific, peer-re­viewed jour­nals. In par­tic­u­lar, why does the cor­rob­o­ra­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­ducted, sup­pos­edly, by the WHO prove im­pos­si­ble to source? The WHO body in­volved, de­scribed as the Higher Coun­cil, does not even ap­pear to ex­ist in the WHO or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture.

The sci­en­tific claims fol­low a wellestab­lished pat­tern found in web­sites run by en­thu­si­asts who are ded­i­cated to their own mar­ginal causes, whether con­spir­acy the­o­ries, alien sight­ings or im­mi­nent apoc­a­lypses. Claims are freely cir­cu­lated around the fam­i­lies of web­sites, each one quot­ing the other as sub­stan­ti­a­tion, but none pro­vid­ing ir­refutable and check­able source ma­te­rial. One un­named cor­re­spon­dent to the website Catholic

An­swers Fo­rums in 2007 was par­tic­u­larly scathing. “Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous Catholic web­sites, the physi­cian Dr Edoardo Li­noli ex­am­ined the Eucharistic Host at Lan­ciano and found it to be com­posed of hu­man heart mus­cle. And the Blood was hu­man blood, type AB. The find­ings are only found on the Catholic web­sites. This sounds sim­i­lar to the “Oil well to Hell” hoax that many Fun­de­men­tal­ist Protes­tants still fall for to this very day and sug­gests that the Catholic web­sites have un­wit­tingly par­roted a lie.”

Se­condly, even sourced sci­en­tific re­ports of tests do not pro­vide cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence of how sam­ples were pre­sented. Where in­di­vid­ual in­sti­tu­tions have a spe­cial in­ter­est in hav­ing a mir­a­cle con­firmed, at­tempts might be made to dupe rep­utable sci­en­tists with sam­ple sub­sti­tutes. The Lan­ciano tis­sue could have been tampered with at any time over hun­dreds of years. The best that sci­en­tific lab­o­ra­to­ries can hope to do is state what they find in what they are given to ex­am­ine – but there is no sci­en­tific test that proves a sam­ple might once have been Com­mu­nion bread.

Thirdly, it is of­ten the case that the Church calls on the ser­vices of sci­en­tists who are them­selves not im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tors and who have pre­vi­ously taken a spe­cial in­ter­est in al­leged mir­a­cles and have a per­sonal, faith-based mo­ti­va­tion to sub­stan­ti­ate them.

And fourthly, even when re­ports can be sourced, the ev­i­dence is far from clear. The most cel­e­brated and most stud­ied holy relic is the Shroud of Turin, and over time sci­en­tific claims have been far from con­sis­tent. Af­ter car­bon dat­ing tests pooh­poohed claims that the Shroud was 2,000 years old, came other tests on pollen, dust and nanopar­ti­cles. Be­liev­ers in­ter­preted the var­i­ous re­sults as sup­port­ing the claim that the Shroud was the burial cloth of Christ; scep­tics took the op­po­site view. Most re­cently, in July 2017, a re­port into an anal­y­sis of nanopar­ti­cles from the Shroud seemed to cor­rob­o­rate the the­ory that it was used as a burial cloth and con­tra­dicted pre­vi­ous the­o­ries that it was made in mediæ­val times. Pro­fes­sor Gi­ulio Fanti, one of the au­thors of the re­search, said: “The pres­ence of th­ese bi­o­log­i­cal nanopar­ti­cles

found dur­ing our ex­per­i­ments point to a vi­o­lent death for the man wrapped in the Turin Shroud.”

Fur­ther sci­en­tific stud­ies, of course, may pro­duce yet an­other swing in the pen­du­lum of ev­i­dence.

An­other claim of ev­i­dence to sup­port a mirac­u­lous Eucharistic event has come in the form of video footage. In the vil­lage of Be­ta­nia in­Venezuela there is a shrine celebrating the apparitions of theVir­gin Mary which are said to have oc­curred there. In the 1970s and 1980s there were said to be at least 30 ap­pear­ances in which the mother of Je­sus warned of im­pend­ing war and suf­fer­ing. On one oc­ca­sion in 1984, 108 peo­ple claimed to have seen an ap­pari­tion. The shrine is a pop­u­lar lo­cal site of pil­grim­age and on 8 De­cem­ber 1991, Fa­ther Otty Ossa Aris­tizábal was celebrating Mass in the chapel when the Host be­gan to bleed. Re­ports say that it ap­peared to be spurt­ing blood as if from a wound. He and the con­gre­ga­tion im­me­di­ately recog­nised the event as a mir­a­cle and today the mirac­u­lous Host is pre­served in the city of Los Te­ques at the con­vent of the Au­gus­tinian Recol­lects Nuns of the Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus, where it is on per­ma­nent dis­play and at­tracts hun­dreds of pil­grims a year.

In 1998, an Amer­i­can pil­grim, Daniel San­ford, went to Be­ta­nia with an or­gan­ised prayer group from Med­ford Lakes, New Jer­sey. On 13 Novem­ber, the group went to see the famed Bleed­ing Host of Be­ta­nia. Af­ter Mass, they opened the door of the taber­na­cle that con­tained the Host. “The Host was in flames, bleed­ing, and there was a pul­sat­ing heart bleed­ing in the cen­tre of the Host. I watched this for about 30 sec­onds or so, then the Host re­turned to nor­mal. How­ever, I did man­age to film this mir­a­cle with my cam­corder!” San­ford’s video has been viewed over 140,000 times on YouTube (you can see it at www.youtube. com/watch?v=jqsRDD6kXWY). He shot the footage with­out a tri­pod and the cam­er­a­work is very wob­bly. The sup­posed heart­beat of the Host is in­con­sis­tent, de­pend­ing, it seems, on the cam­era an­gle at the time. The low qual­ity of the vis­ual ev­i­dence pre­vents proper study of the claim. Scep­tics will eas­ily dis­miss the il­lu­sion as a trick of the light or the con­se­quence of see­ing the Host through dis­torted glass.

MOULDY OLD DOUGH

In many cases, scep­tics would ar­gue that some­thing as sim­ple as mould or some other con­tam­i­nant might be re­spon­si­ble for dis­colour­ing or leav­ing marks on a wafer. In the con­text of faith, it is quite plau­si­ble that such dis­col­orations are in­ter­preted imag­i­na­tively; that th­ese in­ter­pre­ta­tions can be­come charged with re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance for the faith­ful is again all en­tirely within the bounds of pos­si­bil­ity.

Rel­e­vant here – and com­mon to sev­eral claims of Eucharistic mir­a­cles – is the code of prac­tice that priests are ad­vised to fol­low when a Com­mu­nion Host be­comes in any way con­tam­i­nated: it has to be placed rev­er­ently in wa­ter un­til it dis­solves.

In 2015 a Com­mu­nion wafer was re­turned to the pri­est at St Fran­cis Xavier Church in Kearns in Salt Lake City, Utah. It had been given in er­ror to a young child. He duly placed it in wa­ter ac­cord­ing to the pro­to­col. Af­ter sev­eral days, the Host de­vel­oped a red colour. Some parish­ioners said it ap­peared to be bleed­ing (see FT336:20). The dioce­san au­thor­i­ties set up a com­mit­tee of en­quiry and com­mis­sioned sci­en­tific tests. To the dis­ap­point­ment of some be­liev­ers the con­clu­sion was that the dis­col­oration was not su­per­nat­u­ral and most prob­a­bly at­trib­ut­able to red mould.

The dio­cese stressed the need for Catholics to avoid “rash spec­u­la­tion” about mirac­u­lous claims. Mon­signor M Fran­cis Mannion said that while such mir­a­cles had hap­pened in the past, “false claims of mir­a­cles cause harm to the faith­ful and dam­age the Church’s cred­i­bil­ity.” He said the in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­mit­tee had been ap­pointed “in the wake of ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by the pre­ma­ture and im­pru­dent dis­play and ven­er­a­tion of the Host”.

That a sim­i­lar red bread mould might ex­plain many other cases in which Hosts have been placed in wa­ter seems not im­prob­a­ble. How­ever, once a mir­a­cle has been an­nounced it is dif­fi­cult to back­track – un­less, as in the case of the Salt Lake City dio­cese, a prompt and im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion is car­ried out. An­other sug­gested ex­pla­na­tion for hu­man blood be­ing found on Com­mu­nion bread is that it the blood of the pri­est who, per­haps in­ad­ver­tently, has con­tam­i­nated the ev­i­dence. A drip of blood from a slight nose-bleed or a small cut on a fin­ger might be a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion.

What­ever the cause, and the Church au­thor­i­ties do not rule out the very rare pos­si­bil­ity of su­per­nat­u­ral in­ter­ven­tion, what re­ally cre­ates the ‘mir­a­cle’ is the pop­u­lar re­sponse to an event. A mir­a­cle is some­thing that cre­ates won­der in the eyes of be­hold­ers. If be­liev­ers ex­pe­ri­ence a sense of won­der, what­ever the cause or mun­dane ex­pla­na­tion, that event can be­come to them a thing of ho­li­ness and a faith-en­hanc­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

TED HAR­RI­SON is a writer, artist, tele­vi­sion pro­ducer and for­mer BBC re­li­gious af­fairs cor­re­spon­dent. A reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to FT, his lat­est book is The Death and Res­ur­rec­tion of Elvis Pres­ley.

LEFT: A Cor­pus Christi pro­ces­sion in which the ‘Cor­po­ral of Bolsena’, stained by a bleed­ing host, is dis­played. BE­LOW: Pope Ur­ban IV, who ap­proved the mir­a­cle in 1264.

ABOVE: The ‘Cor­po­ral of Bolsena’ in its reli­quary at Orvi­eto Cathe­dral.

BE­LOW: The Lan­ciano Host, pre­served in a reli­quary in the Church of San Francesco.

BE­LOW: At the Church of Christ the King in Vi­lakkan­nur, Ker­ala, this im­age of a bearded man was in­ter­preted as the face of Christ and drew thou­sands of pil­grims.

ABOVE: The Host bear­ing the “the fig­ure of a man” in a mon­strance spot­ted by Fa­ther Karnoor church of St Mary of Chi­rat­takonam in Tri­van­drum, South In­dia (above).

ABOVE LEFT: The bleed­ing frag­ment of the Host from the Buenos Aires mir­a­cle of 1996. ABOVE RIGHT: The bleed­ing com­mu­nion wafer first seen by a nun in Tixtla, Mex­ico, in 2006. BE­LOW: Doc­tor Fred­er­ick Zugibe in­ves­ti­gated the Buenos Aires case and the Turin Shroud, as well as con­duct­ing the odd cru­ci­fix­ion in his lab.

TOP: Be­ta­nia, Venezuala, was home to a se­ries of Mar­ian apparitions in the 1970s and 1980s. Here, a ven­dor sells photos of some of the vis­i­ta­tions. ABOVE: St Jacek Church in Poland, where a bleed­ing Host was ap­proved as a mir­a­cle by the lo­cal bishop and re­port­edly found to con­tain hu­man tis­sue.

ABOVE LEFT: Scep­tics ar­gue that dis­col­oration due to mould or other con­tam­i­nants can leave marks on com­mu­nion wafers that be­liev­ers in­ter­pret in the light of faith. ABOVE CEN­TRE: A frame from Daniel San­ford’s video of the bleed­ing Host of Be­ta­nia. ABOVE RIGHT: The Salt Lake City Host of 2015 – prob­a­bly red mould, not blood.

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