Sienna, Italy -- 1730
The second Eucharistic miracle of Sienna has roots in the 13th century when
special services and festivities were introduced in honor of the feast of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These observances became traditional and
were still conducted at the time of the miracle. So it was that on August 14,
1730, during devotions for the vigil of the feast, while most of the Sienese
population and the clergy of the city were attending these services, thieves
entered the deserted Church of St. Francis. Taking advantage of the friars'
absence, they made for the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was kept, picked
the lock to the tabernacle and carried away the golden ciborium containing
The theft went undiscovered until the next morning, when the priest opened
the tabernacle at the Communion of the Mass. Then later, when a parishioner
found the lid of the ciborium lying in the street, the suspicion of sacrilege
was confirmed. The anguish of the parishioners forced the cancellation of the
traditional festivities for the feast of Our Lady's Assumption. The Archbishop
ordered public prayers of reparation, while the civil authorities began a search
for the consecrated Hosts and for the scoundrel who had taken them.
Two days later, on August 17, while praying in the Church of St. Mary of
Provenzano, a priest's attention was directed to something white protruding from
the offering box attached to his prie dieu. Realizing that it was a Host, he
informed the other priests of the church, who in turn notified the Archbishop
and the friars of the Church of St. Francis.
When the offering box was opened, in the presence of local priests and the
representative of the Archbishop, a large number of Hosts were found, some of
them suspended by cobwebs. The Hosts were compared with some unconsecrated ones
used in the Church of St. Francis, and proved to be exactly the same size and to
have the same mark of the irons upon which they were baked. The number of Hosts
corresponded exactly to the number the Franciscan friars had estimated were in
the ciborium -- 348 whole Hosts and six halves.
Since the offering box was opened but once a year, the Hosts were covered
with the dust and debris that had collected there. After being carefully cleaned
by the priests, they were enclosed in a ciborium and placed inside the
tabernacle of the main altar of the Church of St. Mary. The following day, in
the company of a great gathering of townspeople, Archbishop Alessandro Zondadari
carried the Sacred Hosts in solemn procession back to the Church of St. Francis.
During the two centuries that followed it has sometimes been wondered why the
Hosts were not consumed by a priest during Mass, which would have been the
ordinary procedure in such a case. While there is no definite answer, there are
two theories. One explanation is that crowds of people from both Sienna and
neighboring cities gathered in the church to offer prayers of reparation before
the sacred particles, forcing the priests to conserve them for a time. The other
reason the priests did not consume them might well have been because of their
soiled condition. While the Hosts were superficially cleaned after their
discovery, they still retained a great deal of dirt. In such cases it is not
necessary to consume consecrated Hosts, but it is permitted to allow them to
deteriorate naturally, at which time Christ would no longer be present.
To the amazement of the clergy, the Hosts did not deteriorate, but remained
fresh and even retained a pleasant scent. With the passage of time the
Conventual Franciscans became convinced that they were witnessing a continuing
miracle of preservation.
Fifty years after the recovery of the stolen Hosts, an official investigation
was conducted into the authenticity of the miracle. The Minister General of the
Franciscan Order, Father Carlo Vipera, examined the Hosts on April 14, 1780, and
upon tasting one of them he found it fresh and incorrupt. Since a number of the
Hosts had been distributed during the preceding years, the Minister General
ordered that the remaining 230 particles be placed in a new ciborium and forbade
A more detailed investigation took place in 1789 by Archbishop Tiberio
Borghese of Sienna with a number of theologians and other dignitaries. After
examining the Hosts under a microscope, the commission declared that they were
perfectly intact and showed no sign of deterioration. The three Franciscans who
had been present at the previous investigation, that of 1780, were questioned
under oath by the Archbishop. It was then reaffirmed that the Hosts under
examination were the same ones stolen in 1730.
As a test to further confirm the authenticity of the miracle, the Archbishop,
during this 1789 examination, ordered several unconsecrated hosts to be placed
in a sealed box and kept under lock in the chancery office. Ten years later
these were examined and found to be not only disfigured, but also withered. In
1850, 61 years after they were placed in a sealed box, these unconsecrated hosts
were found reduced to particles of a dark yellow color, while the consecrated
Hosts retained their original freshness.
Other examinations were made at intervals over the years, the most
significant being that of 1914, undertaken on the authority of Pope St. Pius X.
For this inquiry the Archbishop selected a distinguished panel of investigators,
which included scientists and professors from Sienna and Pisa, as well as
theologians and Church officials.
Acid and starch tests performed on one of the fragments indicated a normal
starch content. The conclusions reached from microscopic tests indicated that
the Hosts had been made of roughly sifted wheat flour, which was found to be
The commission agreed that unleavened bread, if prepared under sterile
conditions and kept in an airtight, antiseptically cleaned container, could be
kept for an extremely long time. Unleavened bread prepared in a normal fashion
and exposed to air and the activity of micro-organisms would remain intact for
no more than a few years. It was concluded that the stolen Hosts had been both
prepared without scientific precautions and kept under ordinary conditions which
should have caused their decay more than a century before. The commission
concluded that the preservation was extraordinary, ". . . e la scienza stessa
che proclama qui lo straordinario."
Professor Siro Grimaldi, professor of chemistry at the University of Sienna
and director of the Municipal Chemical Laboratory, as well as the holder of
several other distinguished positions in the field of chemistry, was the chief
chemical examiner of the holy particles in 1914. Afterward, he gave elaborate
statements concerning the miraculous nature of the Hosts, and wrote a book about
the miracle entitled Uno Scienziato Adora (A Scientific Adorer). In 1914
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.
In 1922 another investigation was conducted -- this one in the presence of
Cardinal Giovanni Tacci, who was accompanied by the Archbishop of Sienna and the
Bishops of Montepulciano, Foligno and Grosseto. Again the results were the same:
the Hosts tasted like unleavened bread, were starchy in composition and were
In 1950 the miraculous Hosts were taken from the old ciborium and placed in a
more elaborate and costly one, which caught the eye of another thief. Thus,
despite the precautions of the clergy, another sacrilegious theft occurred on
the night of August 5, 1951. This time the thief was considerate enough to take
only the container and left the Hosts in a corner of the tabernacle. After
counting 133 Hosts, the Archbishop himself sealed them in a silver ciborium.
Later, after being photographed, they were placed in an elaborate container
which replaced the one that had been stolen.
The miraculously preserved Hosts are displayed publicly on various occasions,
but especially on the 17th of each month, which commemorates the day they were
found after the first theft in 1730. On the feast of Corpus Christi the Sacred
Hosts are placed in their processional monstrance and triumphantly carried in
procession from the church through the streets of the town, an observance in
which the whole populace participates.
Among many distinguished visitors who have adored the Hosts was St. John
Bosco. They were likewise venerated by Pope John XXIII, who signed the album of
visitors on May 29, 1954, when he was still the Patriarch of Venice. And
although unable to visit the miraculous Hosts, Popes Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius
Xl and Pius Xll issued statements of profound interest and admiration.
With a unanimous voice, the faithful, priests, bishops, cardinals and popes
have marveled at and worshiped the holy Hosts, recognizing in them a permanent
miracle, both complete and perfect, that has endured for over 250 years.
By this miracle the Hosts have remained whole and shiny, and have maintained
the characteristic scent of unleavened bread. Since they are in such a perfect
state of conservation, maintaining the appearances of bread, the Catholic Church
assures us that although they were consecrated in the year 1730, these
Eucharistic Hosts are still really and truly the Body of Christ. The miraculous
Hosts have been cherished and venerated in the Basilica of St. Francis in Sienna
for over 250 years.