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