Journeying back into history – Orvieto, Italy

Journeying back into history – Orvieto, Italy

There are no coincidences for people of faith; so it is in faith that I make this journey to Orvieto, Italy. But this journey will also be historic for a gift given in love and passed from one hand to other will now journey back to be exhibited in the town that it was made and gifted.

Orvieto is a city perched on a volcanic rock cliff, a thousand feet above a valley that overlooks Cyprus trees, in Umbria, Italy. Orvieto was one of the major centres of Etruscan civilizations, a Roman town and thanks to its defensible position it became an important city of Medieval Italy. It is also home to the Duomo or cathedral named after the Assumption of Mary and is one of the most opulent pieces of Gothic architecture.  Five popes left Rome and resided in Orvieto, mostly in the time period from 1261 to 1304.

But the present Cathedral which replaced a dilapidated Church was built to house a precious relic of Eucharistic importance. In 1263, a German priest was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped at Lake Bolsena, near the Umbrian town of Orvieto, to celebrate Holy Mass. Though a pious priest, he found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host.

While celebrating Holy Mass above the tomb of St. Christina (located in the church named for this martyr), he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighbouring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him. He then sent emissaries for an immediate investigation. When all the facts were ascertained, he ordered the Bishop of the diocese to bring to Orvieto the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood. With archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great pomp, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto.

It is said that Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the Proper for a Mass and an Office honouring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ which includes the famous Panis Angelicus. One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the saint’s composition, and by means of a papal bull instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.

On August 11, 1964 , Orvieto had another important visitor, Pope (now Saint) Paul VI. To commemorate the 700th anniversary of this event the city commissioned its famous son, Marcello Conticelli also known as ‘the blacksmith of the Pope’ to design a chalice of gold which was aptly named the Golden Lilly for it looked like one.  1964 was also the year Saint Paul VI visited Mumbai in India on a historic pilgrimage. He wanted to bring with him ‘the most precious gift’ since he sat on the seat of Peter and decided to gift this chalice on the occasion of his ‘pilgrimage’  to the world’s ‘poorest of the poor.’  


Sometime ago the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum made contact with the Conticelli family to obtain a few more details regarding this chalice which is now on display in the museum. What began as a few questions ended up in an invitation to visit this historic city.

The Golden lily will be exhibited a week before the feast of Corpus Christi (23rd June 2019) in the Museum of the Cathedral. It will be used in the celebration of the Eucharist at the feast mass by our very own Cardinal Oswald Gracias. The mass will be followed by a procession in which the blood stained corporal will be taken in procession.

Over the next few days I will be blogging my experiences and sharing this historic journey with you. Till then, Ciao

Fr Warner D’Souza

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