On our way to San Giovanni Rotondo, we made detours to visit Lanciano and Monte Sant’ Angelo. In Lanciano, we were like children not knowing what to expect. We’ve heard of Eucharistic miracles where the host and wine turned flesh and blood. But this 8th century miracle is recorded as the very first such Eucharistic miracle.
The miraculous host-flesh is preserved in a silver receptacle called ostensorium and housed in the Church of San Francesco in Lanciano’s Piazza Plebiscito. The story goes that the miraculous transformation happened as an unbelieving monk was reciting the Consecration rites during Mass. The monk had doubts about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. “This is my body. This is my blood”. And the bread changed into living flesh while the wine transformed into 5 globules of coagulated blood. The Church certified this as a Eucharistic miracle after intensive and exhaustive investigation.
From Lanciano, we proceeded to Monte Sant’ Angelo. There are 2 attractions here. The Cave where St. Michael the Archangel made an appearance, and the fortified 9th century Swabian Castle of Monte Sant’Angelo which was once used as residence for a royal mistress called Bianca Lancia whose ghost is said to haunt the Castle. The legend goes that one can hear her sighs more prominently during the winter season. Maybe hers, or that of a Swabian Princess who died here. For a time, the castle also served as State Prison.
It was raining and thus slippery when we visited. There were walkways all the way to the top where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the rest of Monte Sant’Angelo with its hilltops and verdant fields. But we didn’t linger on the open space of the ramparts and courtyard and instead sought refuge from the rain in the Castle’s tunnels, basement of the tower (the prison) and rooms with its rib vaults or vaulted ceilings. All these for a 2€ admission!
There was still a downpour when we crossed the drawbridge over a moat — this turns me into an excited 5 y.o. — and walked downhill to the Sanctuary of St. Michael Archangel. This is the oldest Shrine to San Michele Arcangel in Western Europe. Another pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Many saints, emperors and popes have made a pilgrimage to this site. St. Francis of Assisi is one but he stopped short of entering the cave, deeming himself unworthy, and simply prayed and meditated at the entrance to the grotto.
The grotto gave me goosebumps. I’m sure if St. Francis found himself unworthy, I am a trespasser and sinner with all the flaws and imperfections. I prayed. We prayed. Separately. The silence deadens your senses. I was so grateful for all these and the miracles in my own life. Gratitude is the memory of the heart. And I remember. Will never forget. 🙏🏻