Siena, Italy – 1730 to the Present Day
On August 14, 1730, thieves stole a golden ciborium from the Church of Saint Francis in Siena, Italy, about 45 miles south of Florence. At the time, the chalice also contained a large number of consecrated Hosts. Those in charge estimated the contents as 348 whole Hosts and six half Hosts. Three days later, on August 17th, that exact number of Hosts was found in the alms box of the Church of Saint Mary of Provenzano. They were of the same size and bore the same mark from the baking irons that other hosts at Saint Francis bore. As the alms box was only opened once a year, the Hosts were found among the dust and cobwebs.They were cleaned and taken back to the Church of Saint Francis in a solemn procession the next day.
With the passage of time, the clergy were surprised to notice that the Hosts did not change in appearance and even emitted a pleasant scent.
Fifty years later, an examination was conducted. On April 14, 1780, the Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Father Carlo Vipera, tasted one of the Hosts and found it to be fresh an incorrupt.
In 1789, another examination was conducted, this time by Archbishop Tiberio Borghese and a number of dignitaries. Hosts were inspected under a microscope and were found to be perfectly intact, with no sign of deterioration.
For comparison purposes, the Archbishop ordered several unconsecrated hosts to be placed in a sealed box. Ten years later, they were examined. They were found to be withered and disfigured. In 1850, when examined once more, the hosts were found reduced to particles of a dark yellow color.
In 1914, Pope St. Pius X authorized scientific testing, attended by many professors of health, chemistry and pharmaceutics. Acid and starch tests were performed on a fragment from one of the Hosts. They indicated a normal starch content. Microscopic tests indicated that the Hosts were made from roughly sifted wheat flour. It was acknowledged that unleavened bread, prepared in a normal fashion and not kept in an airtight, antiseptic container would remain intact for only a few years. The stolen Hosts had been prepared in a normal manner, and they had been kept in an unsealed container. Accordingly, they should have deteriorated more than 150 years earlier. Professor Siro Grimaldi, professor of chemistry at the University of Siena and director of the Municipal Chemical Laboratory, was the chief chemical examiner during the tests. Summing up their findings, he declared, “The holy Particles of unleavened bread represent an example of perfect preservation … a singular phenomenon that inverts the natural law of the conservation of organic material. It is a fact unique in the annals of science.”
Additional tests were done in 1922, with similar results.
Enrico Medi, noted Italian scientist, who was appointed as the Director of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics in 1949 and as the Vice-President of the European Atomic Energy Community in 1956, stated: “This direct intervention from God is the miracle…accomplished and maintained for centuries, to testify to the permanent reality of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrament”.
The Hosts have been adored and venerated by St. John Bosco and Pope John XXIII (in 1954, when he was the Patriarch of Venice). On September 14, 1980, Pope John Paul II visited Siena and, with regard to the Hosts, declared, “It is the Real Presence!”
The Hosts are displayed publicly to this day. They are brought out on the 17th of each month, in commemoration of the day they were found in 1730. Each year, on the feast of Corpus Christi, they are placed in a monstrance and carried in a procession through the streets of the city, still incorrupt, more than 280 years after they were consecrated.
(For a fuller account, see Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz.)