Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Eucharistic Miracles and Final Ends at the Morgan Library

Faithful Receiving The Eucharist From Christ
from DuBois Hours
English (probably Oxford), c. 1325-1330
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M700, fol. 121r
(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

The last section of the current exhibition “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in the Life and Art of the Middle Ages” focuses on the topic of Eucharistic miracles.

Miraculous Hosts began to appear in the High Middle Ages, that is, in the same time period in which the Church finally came to agreement on an understanding of what transpired at the consecration of the Mass. This was the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation means that at the consecration the substance of the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, while still retaining the appearances of bread and wine. Although the reality of the presence of Christ in the consecrated elements has been believed by the Church from the earliest times, this formulation ended several centuries of debate on the mechanism of the transformation, which was most famously represented by the debates between Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus in the 9th century. It was St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century who formulated the philosophical ground for an understanding of what had been believed from the earliest centuries. 1

Belief in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Real Presence, which endures beyond the celebration of Mass is and has been the belief of the Catholic Church from the very beginning. Eucharistic miracles reflect this belief.

They fall into several different categories. There are visions, bleeding Hosts and other manifestations of Christ’s Presence in the Host.


The exhibition includes images of the Mass of St. Gregory, during which Pope Gregory's fervent prayer for a sign to enlighten a doubting member of the congregation was answered by a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows, which appeared at the elevation and was visible to everyone in the church.

Jean Poyer, Mass of St. Gregory
from Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), 1500
New York, Morgan Library
MS H8, fol. 168r

In addition there is an image of the vision of St. Bridget of Sweden who saw the Host turn into a child as the priest held it up for the elevation.
Eucharistic Vision of St. Brigid of Sweden
From Devotional Miscellany
Italian (Naples), c. 1345-1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M498, fol. 4v

There is also a charming image of the miracle of St. Anthony of Padua and the mule, which I explained in an earlier article (here). In this image not only does the mule kneel to the Host, but so does St. Anthony, plus the Host in this image levitates.
Miracle of St. Anthony and the Mule
from Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Belgian (Bruges), c. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS 52, fol. 411v-412r

Bleeding Hosts

However, the main focus of the exhibition is on one of the instances of bleeding Hosts, the Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon.2 

This Host, which survived in honor for 350 years, was a gift from Pope Eugenius IV to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1433. Philip built a chapel for it, known as the Sainte Chapelle. in his capital at Dijon. An indication of the esteem in which the Bleeding Host was held is indicated by the name, which is the same as the Parisian chapel built for the relic of the Crown of Thorns by Philip’s ancestor, St. Louis.
Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon
from a Book of Hours
French (Poitiers), c. 1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1001, fol. 17v
This image shows the appearance of the Bleeding Host in great detail.

Bleeding Hosts were assumed to be the results of physical desecration of the Wafer by non-believers, especially Jews (the most frequently encountered non-Christians in medieval Europe). The Host of Dijon had bloody marks in areas specific to the wounds of Christ, a feature that made it particularly notable to the devout.

From 1433 to 1794, when it was burned by the French revolutionaries, the Host was shown intense devotion. This was only increased when, in 1505, King Louis XII of France received a cure after making a pilgrimage to the Host. In gratitude, he donated his crown to the shrine.
Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon Adored By a Cleric
Single Leaf From a Gradual Choir Book
French (Dijon), c. 1536-1537
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1144, fol. 1r
The show includes some of the vast amount of material that must have been produced. For example, images of the Host were sold as souvenirs in the cloisters attached to the chapel, just as similar items are sold at shrines today. But these souvenirs were often hand painted. The purchaser could bring the image home and add it to his or her own books of devotion, be those illuminated or printed.

Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon Adored by a Couple
Souvenir Image added in the 1540s  to Heures a l'usiage de Romme
Printed in Paris, 1501
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
PML 129355, MS fol. 9v

Interest in the Host of Dijon continued through the centuries until the Host was destroyed in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

In 1825, following the restoration of the monarchy in France, a Mass of Reparation was established and is celebrated in Dijon on February 10th to this day.

In the 19th century a micro-organism called micrococinus prodigiosus that grows on bread and which turns red and liquid was discovered. It is hypothesized that it is this organism that gave rise to a large number of medieval bleeding Hosts. Whether this was the case with this Host can neither be proved nor disproved since it was destroyed before the micro-organism was discovered.

The phenomenon of bleeding hosts has continued to the present.  Some of these have been examined scientifically and found to have no natural cause.  The case remains open.


Finally, another image in the exhibition should be mentioned. It offers a brief glimpse of the effects of the reception of Holy Communion, both good and bad.

In the center of this picture we see the Crucifixion, with Christ on the cross, His Blood flowing into a chalice, standing on an altar. On either side we see communicants whose actions paint the moral of the picture. The good Communion is shown on the left. These individuals make sincere, good confessions in the foreground; receive Communion in the proper spirit in the middle ground. In the background we see their souls being carried to heaven by angels. On the right side, we see the effects of a bad communion. These individuals make an insincere, bad confession in the foreground, but receive Communion in the middle ground. The effects of this insincerity appear in the background, as demons carry their souls to hell.
Good and Bad Communions
from a Book of Hours
Italian (possibly the Veneto), c. 1425-1450
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS 1089, fol. 118v

The image makes clear the words of St. Paul “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
(1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

If you are in the New York area I strongly urge that you get to the Morgan Library and see for yourself the amazing variety of images of this most important subject.

© M. Duffy, 2013 
1. LaVerdiere, Eugene S.S.S., The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1996. Substantial sections of this book can be viewed at
See also: 

2. You can learn more about the Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon in this slideshow narrated by Roger Wieck, the curator of the Morgan exhibition (here). Just bear in mind that in his introductory remarks about the Host Mr. Wieck uses the past tense to explain Eucharistic beliefs, making it sound a bit like they only applied in the Middle Ages. Not so.  This is still the faith of the Church today, so a better tense for his remarks should have been the present.

*  Some images are available at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Feast of Corpus Christi at the Morgan Library

Philippe de Champaigne, Vision of St. Juliana of Liege
French, c. 1645-1650
Birmingham, Alabama, Barber Institute of Fine Arts
(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

The highpoint of the Morgan exhibition “Illuminating Faith: the Eucharist in the Art and Life of the Middle Ages” is the section entitled “Feast of Corpus Christi”. The wall card that introduces this section of the show gives a very good exposition of the history of the establishment of this important feast, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It was officially established for the universal Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264, although its actual adoption in individual countries took another 70-75 years.

This feast, honoring the Body and Blood of Christ, was initially proposed by St. Juliana of Liège (also known as Juliana of Montcornillon). Juliana was a nun of the Premonstratensian order, a religious order founded by St. Norbert in 1120. One of the purposes of the orders he founded is the defense of and spread of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

For many years, beginning in her 20s, Juliana had a vision in which she saw the full moon shining brightly except for one black spot. Over time she came to understand that the full moon was a symbol for the round, white Host, the Body of Christ, which is also the Church (known as the Mystical Body of Christ) and that the black spot was an indication that something was missing from the Body of Christ.

Eventually, she determined that what was missing was a feast which celebrated the Body of Christ in all its aspects. Her spiritual director, the Canon John of Lausanne, contacted a number of theologians who agreed that her visions were genuine and not in conflict with any Church teaching. Therefore, in 1246 a feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament was established for the diocese of Liège by the bishop, Robert de Thorete.

In 1261 one of the theologians who had been consulted about her visions in the 1240s became Pope Urban IV. In 1264 he established the feast of Corpus Christi for the universal Church on the Thursday following the Sunday celebration of the Holy Trinity. St. Thomas Aquinas was asked by the Pope to compose the Office and prayers for the new universal feast and his beautiful work is still part of the celebration of the feast today. Indeed, his great poems for the feast, which include the sequence “Lauda Sion” and the hymn “Pange Lingua” (the last two verses of which are the well-known Benediction hymn “Tantum Ergo”) are in frequent use by the Church at other times as well. The feast is still celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday in some countries, while in others, including the United States, it is celebrated on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.

St. Juliana is frequently shown holding a monstrance, the special reliquary that is used to hold the Body of Christ for adoration outside of Mass.

The Morgan Exhibition includes many images related to the establishment and spread of the feast. Through these images it charts some of the influences that form the non-specific background in which the feast was promulgated (the establishment of the feast for the diocese of Liège under Juliana’s influence being the specific background). Among these are the history of miraculous Masses, such as the Mass of St. Giles, as well as an increasing number of representations of representations of several “ordinary” Masses in prayer books, missals and other books of devotion.

Funeral Mass 
From a Psalter
Belgian (Liege), c. 1280
New York, Pierpont Morgan Lirary
MS M183, fol.252v
Mass of St. Giles Witnessed by Charlemagne and
Gisela of Chelles
From a Psalter
Belgian (Liege), c. 1290-1305
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M155, fol. 97v

From a Breviary
Italian (Bologna), c. 1315-1325
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M373, fol. 303v

Some of the images focus on one of the special aspects of the celebration of this feast, the Eucharistic procession. This is a major aspect of the feast to this day.
Heavenly Procession of the Blessed Sacrament
From a Gospel Book
Italian (Padua), 1436
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M180, fol. 68r (detail)

Processions of the Blessed Sacrament take place both inside and outside of churches, sometimes as a highly public event involving large crowds of people. One such takes place annually through the streets of Rome, from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Thousands of people take part, including the pope. This year, Pope Francis walked the entire distance with the people.

In spite of Pope Urban IV establishment of the feast it did not spread immediately to all corners of Christendom. Its spread took about fifty years and in some areas much longer. It became widespread only in the period 1311-1317.

The exhibition recalls many aspects introduced into the Church on the establishment of the feast. Among these are the opportunities it offered for lay involvement, in offering adoration and in participating in the Eucharistic procession.

Corpus Christi Procession
From a Missal
French (possibly Angers), ca. 1427
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M146, fol. 141 (detail)
Charles the Bold of Burgundy and Isabelle of 
Portugal Adoring the Blessed Sacrament
From the Diurnal of Isabelle de Bourbon
French (Amiens), c. 1455
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M221, fol. 80v

One of the most interesting images on view comes from the Farnese Hours, the best known work by the illuminator Giulio Clovio, made for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1546. In an impressive two-page spread we see a Corpus Christi procession moving through St. Peter’s Square. This is the old square, before the transformations made by Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini.
Papal Corpus Christi Procession in St. Peter's Square
from Farnese Hours
Italian (Rome), 1546
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M69, fol. 72v-73r

The image unites the earthly world with the heavenly world, as angels descend from heaven where the Holy Trinity appears surrounded by angels and saints. And the procession depicted is reflected today by the procession through the streets of Rome that takes place each Thursday after Holy Trinity, most recently on May 30, 2013.

As the Church teaches, the Communion of Saints unites all believers, living and dead, in one Mystical Body of Christ. On the feast of Corpus Christi, as this last image suggests, the entire Mystical Body, living and dead, in heaven and on earth, comes together in adoration of the supreme symbol of unity, the Blessed Sacrament.

© M. Duffy, 2013

* Some images are available at

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Domestic Devotion to the Eucharist at the Morgan Library

Receiving Communion After Mass
From Book of Hours
Dutch (Haarlem), c. 1445-1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1031, 193v (det.)

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

This posting was to have been done three days ago, but a series of domestic and other events proved too distracting and time consuming. So, although my plan for coordinating these postings with the celebration of Corpus Christi has gone somewhat awry, I am continuing with my comments on the current extraordinary exhibition on the Eucharist in manuscript painting in the middle ages. The section I will examine today is entitled “Domestic Devotion to the Eucharist”.

 As the wall card that introduces this part of the exhibition states “During the High and Late Middle Ages, the Eucharistic wafer and its Elevation became the focus of the ceremony (i.e., the Mass). During this era the wafer achieved cultlike status, and lay people were provided with opportunities to worship the host outside of Mass at expositions and processions”. 1

In an era when reception of Communion was infrequent, seeing the Host was a major way in which Christians could unite themselves to Christ. And it remains so today. Although today’s Church members experience more frequent reception of Communion than was common in the Late Middle Ages, one need only think back to yesterday (June 2, 2013, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi) to experience the intense devotion to the Eucharist that unites our time to theirs. This includes the many Eucharistic processions that took place in and outside of Catholic churches yesterday and the innovative worldwide hour of adoration organized by the Vatican, so that every continent and country might offer adoration to the Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist at a unified point in time.

It must be remembered that Catholics believe that the change in the nature of the bread and wine offered at Mass into the Body and Blood of Christ is a permanent one. It persists, so that the Presence of Christ remains permanently. While the Blood of Christ is always consumed immediately, Hosts may be reserved for distribution to the sick and dying and for adoration. Thus, the honor and adoration offered to the Host outside of Mass is honor and adoration directed to Christ Himself.

Master of the Morgan Infancy Cycle
Angels Adoring the Host in a Tabernacle
From a Book of Hours
Dutch (perhaps Delft), c. 1415-1420
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M866, fol. 105v
For the people of the Late Middle Ages the most frequently used prayer books were the Books of Hours, a kind of abridgment of the Liturgy of the Hours or Breviary, which was recited by the clergy. The Book of Hours contained several different devotional items, including Bible excerpts, litanies, psalms, “little” offices of various kinds, plus a calendar of the liturgical year. It was usually illustrated, often sumptuously. The illustrations were a focus of sight for their users, helping them to visualize the Mystery which was the subject of their prayer, even when the prayers were being offered in a domestic and not a church setting. In the case of Eucharistic adoration in a domestic setting, they also provided the image of the Host itself, reinforcing the Communion through sight that was the most common form in the period. It is these illustrations that the Morgan features.

Among the images highlighted in the Morgan exhibition are those that one might call “pure adoration”. These images show the Host, reserved in a monstrance or in an open tabernacle, which is supported and adored by angels.
Angels Adoring the Host
From a Book of Hours
Belgian (perhaps Bruges), c. 1420
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M76, fol. 161v

It is a pure and otherworldly participation in adoration, in which the human worshiper is joined with the angelic ones, and it occurs in both personal books of devotion and even in a large “choir” book to be used by many singers at once.

Francesco Bettini and others, Angels Adoring the Host 
From an Antiphonary (one of six "Lodi" Choir Books)
Italian (Milan), c. 1470-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M682, fol. 19v (det.)

Other images that could focus the mind on Eucharistic adoration were images of celebrations of the Mass, such as the three shown here, and especially on those moments that surround the Consecration.
Niccolo da Bologna, Priest Celebrating Mass
From Liturgical Miscellany
Italian (Bologna), c. 1370
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M800, fol. 40r

Priest Celebrating Mass  
From a Book of Hours
Northern French or Flemish, c. 1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M287, 29r

Simon Bening, Mass of the Five Wounds of Christ
from Da Costa Hours
Belgian (Ghent), c. 1515
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M399, fol. 36v

In addition, there were some popular images that linked the Eucharist to the Passion of Christ.
Wound of Christ (actual size), with the Man of Sorrows
from Book of Hours
French (Verdun or Paris), c. 1375
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M90, fol. 130r

Among the most startling to our modern eyes is the image, held in great reverence, of the wound of Christ, shown in actual size. As the label for this image reminds us, ancient tradition maintained that the mix of blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the dead Christ on the cross (John 19:33-34) were also references to the two Christian sacraments of Baptism (water) and Eucharist (blood) (see "Blood and Water From His Side").  Presented, as this image is, in conjunction with an image of the Man of Sorrows, which we have seen also has a Eucharistic reference; this is a powerful image of the Presence of Christ.

Christ in the Mystic Winepress 
From Hours of Ulrich von Montfort
South German,  c. 1480-1499
Vienna, Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek
MS Cod. 2748

Finally, the fairly common image of Christ in the Winepress (or the Mystical Winepress) in which the suffering Christ is being pressed by the winepress so that His blood flows out also relates directly to the Eucharistic experience of the Mass, although in this case to the precious Blood of Christ. (Note that the image displayed here is not from the Morgan exhibition. That image was unavailable.)

We can say with some certainty that these images, many of which were abandoned after the Council of Trent and even if somewhat strange to our eyes, have the capability of moving our own minds to adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ as effectively, if not more so, than the more language-oriented works that have succeeded them.

© M. Duffy, 2013
1. © The Morgan Library, 2013.

* Some images are available at

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Eucharist and the Old Testament at the Morgan Library

Last Supper and Manna in the Desert
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Belgium, Bruges, Mid-15th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M385, fol. 18v

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

In this section of the exhibition “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” the Morgan Library presents what is known as the typology of the Eucharist. Typology is one of the ways in which the early church and the medieval church meditated on the meaning of the Eucharist. In typology events and people in the Old Testament are related to events and people that they appear to foreshadow in the New Testament.

The use of typology to reflect on Jesus, His life, His resurrection and the Eucharist He left us begins at the very beginning of Christianity, with the New Testament. Several of the New Testament writers were the first to think of relating the events they describe to events from earlier Jewish history. As an example, in the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:30-58,  Jesus and his interlocutors refer several times to the manna which fed the Israelites in the desert, contrasting His Body and Blood, the real Bread from Heaven, with the ephemeral manna from heaven.

It is small wonder, then, that typology became a major tool in people’s thinking about theology and, especially, in presenting Christianity in a visual manner.

One of the most commonly used books in the later middle ages was the Speculum humanae salvationis (the Mirror of Mankind’s Salvation). This book was a manual of typology particularly popular with the laity, but also used by the clergy. Typically, the pages of the book would include an image from the life of Jesus and other images from the Old Testament, usually one from the Book of Genesis and another from the other books, from Exodus on. We have looked at some of these in previous articles. This kind of composition was also used in the sculpture and decoration, for example in the famous Klosterneuburg Altarpiece.

The Morgan’s current exhibition includes a copy of the Speculum which includes not just two Old Testament scenes, but three. The New Testament scene is the Last Supper. It is related to one scene from Genesis (the scene in which Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, the early name for Jerusalem, offers bread and wine to Abram in Genesis 14:18-20) and two scenes from the book of Exodus (the Paschal Lamb of Exodus 12 and the collection of manna from Exodus 16). Clearly, the message is that the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek and the manna from heaven prefigure the bread and wine offered at Mass and the Bread from Heaven, which the bread and wine become at the consecration. In addition, the Paschal Lamb is to be seen as a type of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in which each Mass participates.

The Paschal Lamb and Melchisedek and Abram
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Belgian, Bruges, Mid-15th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M385, fol. 19r
The Manna and the Lamb are also seen in the beautiful Book of Hours prepared for Catherine of Cleves in the mid-15th century.
The Paschal Lamb
From Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch, Utrecht, ca. 1440
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M945, fol. 140v
The Manna in the Desert
From Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch, Utrecht, ca. 1440
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M945, 137v
And the Last Supper is paired with the meeting of Melchisedek and Abram in another Book of Hours from the later part of the 15th century.  Here the Eucharistic typology of the story of Melchisedek is made explict.  He is dressed as a bishop and the bread and wine he offers to Abram are the Host and Chalice.

Last Supper 
From a Book of Hours
Belgian (probably Brussels), ca. 1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M485, fol. 40v
Melchisedek and Abram 
From Book of Hours
Belgian (probably Brussels), ca. 1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M485, fol. 41r (detail)

Other references to the Old Testament also occur in the show. One symbolically suggests that the New Testament has superseded the Old, the other suggests that both are necessary for salvation.
Master of Jacques de Luxembourg, Last Supper 
From Book of Hours
French (or northeastern France), c. 1465
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1003, fol. 13r

The first image shows the scene of the Last Supper seen as if it is taking place in a house from which the sides have been removed. As Judas (identified by the money bag he is holding) exits, the rest of the Apostles still sit at table with Jesus. As Judas leaves he is confronted with the image of a woman standing in a canopied niche, wearing a crown and holding in her right hand the familiar image of the Host surmounting a Chalice and in her left the shaft of a pennant which identifies her as the image of Ecclesia or Church. She represents the New Testament. In a niche on the other side of the “house” in a similar canopied niche, stands the figure of another woman. This one is blindfolded. In her right hand she holds the tablets of the Law rather limply. In her left hand is a pennant that identifies her as Synagoga. She represents the Old Testament. This pairing had a long history in medieval art.

Another, more unusual, image in the show comes from a Missal probably produced in Tours, France around 1400.

In this book, the left hand page depicts the Crucifixion.

From Missal
French (possibly Troyes), ca. 1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M331, fol. 186v
Christ in Majesty 
From Missal
French (possibly Troyes), c. 1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M331, fol. 187r

But, instead of an image of the Mass or of an Old Testament scene, such as the Paschal Lamb, the right hand page presents an image of Christ in Majesty. He sits in a central diamond-shaped space in the traditional pose for this image. The corners of the overall rectangle of the picture field are occupied by the four Evangelists and their associated beasts of Revelation 4:6-9 (themselves echoing four beasts from the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:5-10). Thus far this image is a typical image of Christ in Majesty, seen in countless medieval images. What makes this one somewhat unusual are the two altars seen to the right and left of Christ in the central diamond. To His right, below the hand which is raised in blessing is a Christian altar, identifiable from the Chalice and the Host, which lies on top of a corporal (a small square of folded linen used to cover the chalice during Mass). To his left, the hand holding the orb, which represents the world, stands an Old Testament altar. On it is placed the tablets of the Law. Here the Old and New Testament altars appear on an equal basis, as the two foundation stones of salvation. The Law is completed by the sacrificial offering of Christ and its continuation in the Mass.

© Margaret Duffy, 2013

* Some images are available at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sacrifice of the Mass at the Morgan

Elevation of the Host 
From the Tiptoft Missal
English (possibly Cambridge), ca. 1320
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M107, fol. 142r

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

The second segment of the current exhibition “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” deals with the Mass as a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross and with the liturgical developments that took place during the medieval period.

Introduced by a wall card that offers an orthodox explanation of the Mass as the re-enactment of Calvary through transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, the same as were offered on Calvary. It also emphasizes how, because of the importance of the action, precisely as re-enactment, it was recognized that it was extremely important for the priest to “get it right” and for the objects involved in the Mass to be of as high a quality and as beautiful as possible.

Further, the card explains that the intense respect which people of the time held for the sacrament resulted in their infrequent reception of Communion. This, in turn, led to the introduction of the elevation of first the Host and then the Chalice following the consecrations. The moment of the elevation became a moment of extreme emotion and devotion for the lay faithful. While reading this one certainly feels the historic gap that lies between the people of the high Middle Ages and ourselves, even though the faith remains the same.

Many of the manuscript images included in this portion of the exhibition focus on the preparation of priests for Mass and their actual activities during it. 

The first image comes from a manual of preparation for Mass that was commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel in 1520. It shows the seated Pope being presented with a pair of liturgical shoes, meant to replace those in which he had walked into the chapel, emphasizing the sacred nature of the space surrounding the altar.
Attavante degli Attavanti, Pope Leo X Prepares for Mass
From Preparatio ad missam pontificialem
Rome, 1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H6, fol. 1v
My favorite images from this section involve missals that I would call visual aids on “how to say Mass”. They offer us a very human view of our ancestors.

Italian, Teramo or Bologna, ca. 1375-1390
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G16, fol. 125v

Italian (Teramo or Bologna), c.1375-1399
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G16, fol. 126r
Master of the St. George Codex
From the Stefaneschi MissalItalian (Florence) or French (Avignon), Late 1320s
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 713, fol. 58r

One can see that the texts in these images are written in different color inks, blacks and reds. The texts in black are the words of the liturgy; the texts in reds are the instructions regarding the actions that should accompany the words. These red texts are known as “rubrics” from the Latin word for the red ocher pigment.  From this comes the saying "Say the black and do the red".

Another image that speaks to us over the centuries is an image showing the reaction of the congregation to the consecration. People strain forward eagerly to witness the moment of transubstantiation. This is echoed today by the total silence that commonly occurs during the very same moments in today’s liturgies. Perhaps today’s congregations do not strain forward to see, but they are certainly just as focused on what is happening as those in the 14th century.

Anticipation of the Faithful at the Consecration
Single Leaf from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX
Italian, 1330-1335
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M716, fol. 4r
Also included in this section is a display case that is set up to suggest an altar. It is covered by a linen altar cloth and includes several medieval liturgical vessels, as well as a very rare French late medieval-early Renaissance altar card and a gorgeous luxury missal. Unfortunately, images of the liturgical vessels (all of which come from the Morgan’s own collection) are not available online. I have included very similar vessels from other collections.
Spanish, 14th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the vessels are samples of both a Gothic ciborium and chalice and a very rare medieval pax.
Chalice of Peter of Sassoferrato
Italy (Siena), ca. 1341-1342
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
Cloisters Collection

The first two vessels are still used in today’s liturgies, but the pax has been out of use for centuries. This was an object, usually of metal or ivory, with an image of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of a saint. It was placed on the altar during Mass, up to the point at which the kiss of peace occurred. At that point it was kissed by the priest and then passed to the other clergy members and finally to the congregation, who passed it among themselves, each person kissing it before passing it on. Since few people received Communion frequently this was, in some ways, a substitute means of participation in the mystery of the Eucharist.

French (Limoges), 14th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
The altar card is an unusual survivor. Altar cards were used up until the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. They presented the non-changing prayers of the Mass and were placed in prominent locations on the altar as memory aids for the priest, again emphasizing the importance attached to “getting it right”.
Altar Card
French (Paris), 1515-1525
New York, Morgan Library
MS M1147

The missal is the book that includes the prayers used for Mass, both those that do not change and those that change every day. Similar volumes are still in use today, although none are likely to be as gorgeous as this beautiful book, painted by the artist Jean Poyer around 1500.
Jesus Awaits the Crucifixion
From the Lallemont Missal
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M495, fol. 85v

from the Lallemont Missal
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M495, fol. 86r

What I find most interesting about this section of the exhibition is the window it opens for us into the world of the clergy and laity of the middle ages as they prepared for and participated in the sacrifice of the Mass. This insight reveals that, in spite of a number of differences (most obviously the orientation of the altar); there is actually a great deal of harmony between our own contemporary liturgical world and that of a world that has now vanished.

© M. Duffy, 2013 

For information on liturgical developments see:  
Jungmann, Rev. Joseph, S.J., The Mass of the Roman Rite, New York, Benziger Brothers, 1959.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Illuminating Eucharistic Faith at the Morgan Library

View of the exhibition at the Morgan Library
New York

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

One of the summer exhibitions that recently opened at the Morgan Library in mid-town Manhattan is focused on a subject that is surprisingly relevant to the upcoming feast of Corpus Christi (Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). This feast is celebrated in some countries on its traditonal day, which is this coming Thursday, May 30th.  In the United States it will be celebrated next Sunday, June 2nd. The title of the exhibition is “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” and the results are impressive in several ways.

The exhibition is presented in a respectful and serious way, with wall cards and labeling providing orthodox explanations of the meaning of the Eucharist, including some words, such as transubstantiation, that are seldom heard in today’s culture. The more than sixty-five items in the show, drawn almost entirely from the Morgan’s own collections, offer views of many aspects of the iconography of the Eucharist, and go well beyond images of the Last Supper. It is organized around six themes: The Institution of the Eucharist; The Introduction of the Elevation; The Eucharist and the Old Testament; Domestic Devotion to the Eucharist; The Feast of Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Miracles. I will be discussing several of these themes in the next few days.

Last Supper
From Hours of Don Alfonso of Castile
Spanish (perhaps Burgos or Segovia)
New York, Morgan Library
MS M.854, fol. 202v
The first section, The Institution of the Eucharist, presents samples of what is probably the most immediately recognizable image of the Eucharist for the majority of people, the Last Supper. The exhibition points out that even in supposedly simple medieval images of the Last Supper there are references to the primary experience of Eucharist for most of us, which is the Mass. For example, in the very first image chosen for the show, from a 15th-century Spanish manuscript, we see the Apostles seated around a circular table, draped in white. Christ holds the familiar circular white host in one hand as he blesses it with the other. The round white host is clearly different from the other breads on the table, which are a light brown color, and the cup of wine is clearly modeled on the chalice used at Mass.

Last Supper
From Miniatures of the Life of Christ
French (perhaps Corbie), ca. 1175
New York, Morgan Library
MS M44, fol. 60v

References to the actions of the priest at Mass are also evident in an older manuscript, painted in France, probably at the abbey of Corbie in the late 12th century. Here Christ stands, holding up the host and the chalice, just as the priest does during the elevations of the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass.
n another image, one from a large choir book, a Gradual, painted by Silvestro dei Gherarducci in late 14th-century Florence we also see the effects of an unworthy reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. Judas, still with the other Apostles, sits opposite Jesus at the circular table as Christ makes a sign of blessing. However, unlike the other Apostles the halo around Judas’ head reveals him to be the betrayer. It has turned black and is covered with scorpions. This relates to the images of Judas composed by Giotto at the beginning of the century. There Judas wears a halo that is made of dark smoke. Both darkened haloes depict the darkness of the soul that resists the grace of God.

Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Last Supper
Single leaf cutting from Gradual Choir Book
Italian (Florence) 1392-1399
New York, Morgan Library
MS M653.4

Christ in Gethsemene 
From Book of Hours
Belgian, 1400-1415
New York, Morgan Library
MS M259, fol. 12v
This section of the exhibition also includes images that are the direct ancestors of our most commonly recognized “shorthand” image for the Eucharist. That is the Host elevated above the Chalice. This image appears first in images of the Agony in the Garden, where Jesus prays that He will be spared the bitter cup of the Passion. In these images the “cup” has been interpreted in the light of the Eucharistic celebration, as the Chalice of the Precious Blood and the consecrated Host.

Christ in Gethsemene 
From Beauchamp Hours
English (perhaps London), 1420-1445
New York, Morgan Library
MS M893, fol. 17r

The preciousness of the Precious Blood is emphasized in other images from the show. In one image the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, flows down to the skull of Adam, whom legend said was buried on Calvary (see my article about the Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca at Arezzo for this). This image symbolizes the redemption from Original Sin that was the effect of Christ’s Passion.

The Blood of Christ Cleanses the Skull of Adam
From a Missal
Italian (Ferrara), 1463
New York, Morgan Library
MS M518, fol. 128v
Similarly, in several images angels hold up vessels in which to catch the Blood flowing from Christ’s wounded hands and side, just as angels did this in Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua at the beginning of the 14th century.
Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, Crucifixion
From a Missal
Italian (Perugia), 1472-1499
New York, Morgan Library
MS M472, fol. 131v
The connection between Calvary and the Mass is made explicit in a luxury manuscript commissioned by Cardinal Domenico Della Revere, a member of the clan that included Popes Sixtus IV, for whom the Sistine Chapel is named, and Julius II, the patron of Michelangelo in that same chapel. In this beautiful book (now seriously damaged in parts), illuminated by an artist known as the Master of the Della Rovere Missals (i.e., the actual identity of the artist is currently uncertain) an image of the Crucifixion appears on the left hand page, juxtaposed by an image of the elevation of the Host at Mass in a contemporary chapel setting on the right hand page. Kneeling devoutly as the priest elevates the Host is the Pope and his entourage.
Master of the Della Rovere Missals, Crucifixion 
From a Missal (left hand page)
Italian (Rome), ca. 1483
New York, Morgan Library
MS M306, fol. 118v

Master of the Della Rovere Missals, Elevation at a Mass with the Pope in attendance
From a Missal (right hand page)
Italian (Rome), ca. 1483
New York, Morgan Library
MS M306, fol. 118r
Two other images, both favorites of mine, are introduced at the end of this section. One is the image of the Man of Sorrows.  This subject, which presents the viewer with the image of Christ bearing the wounds of His sacrifice, has a long association with the Eucharist.  In nothern Italy in particular, it was a frequent subject used in the decoration of tabernacles, structures which hose the reserved consecrated Hosts for use outside of Mass.

Another image is that of Christ in the Winepress, also called the Mystic Winepress. In this image, the cross becomes the cross beam of the winepress in which the suffering Christ is pressed as if He were a bunch of grapes. His blood flows out like grape juice from the press. And, as the grape juice is transformed into wine, so the wine becomes the Blood of Christ through the Mass.
Man of Sorrows
From a Missal
Spanish (Valencia), ca, 1468
New York, Morgan Library
MS M450, fol. 93v

Christ in the Winepress
From Tafel van den Dersten Ghelove
Dutch (perhaps Utrecht), ca. 1405-1410
New York, Morgan Library
MS691, fol. 5r

I will continue looking at the images from the exhibition in future articles. The show will run until September 2, 2013 at the Morgan Library, which can be entered on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th streets. Please see the Morgan Library website for information on hours and fees (

© M. Duffy, 2013 

* Some images are available at