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

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