Last week I spent some time in Orvieto, a city a couple of miles north of Rome. In the time of St. Thomas Aquinas’ residence there, it was part of the papal state, and St. Thomas had access to the Holy Father’s libraries and was often asked to give him counsel, walking along streets like this one.
St. Thomas wrote some of his most important writings there and while I thought I was going to visit for this reason, it turns out that Orvieto is a major pilgrimage site and had actually been designated as a special place of pilgrimage for this year by Pope Emeritus Benedict, before his resignation changed this as it changed other things. The great Duomo or cathedral would have been inundated with tourists instead of quite free for exploration.
What happened in the Middle Ages was that a kind of heresy had taken hold of Orvieto, and was extremely divisive for the Church there. There were political overtones to the division as well, and a papal legate was killed.
One of the confusions of the heresy had to do with the Eucharist and whether the Blessed Sacrament was really the Body and Blood of Christ. So as often happens, the Lord provided a Eucharistic miracle, in which blood appeared on the corporal in which a host was being carried. Popular piety once again united around the Blessed Sacrament, and to this day, Corpus Christi is celebrated with great solemnity and processions through the streets of the city.
The miracle led to the promulgation of the Feast of Corpus Christi, and throughout the churches of Orvieto there are a number of depictions of St. Thomas’ offering of his written office to the Holy Father, as well as of the Lord’s speaking to St. Thomas from the crucifix, assuring him that he had spoken well of the Blessed Sacrament.
I’m glad I was able to follow the beloved Pope Emeritus’ prescription for the festal year, and to experience this extraordinary city. Yet on the way back from Orvieto to Rome, I had a nonviolent but still somewhat unsettling experience having to do with pickpockets, the 64 bus from Termini, and police, that makes me realize once again how the Lord takes care of his Church in all sorts of ways. The widespread problems of civic corruption in Rome cannot divide the Church if she is being carefully reformed and guarded, as Pope Francis and his coworkers are doing daily and with tremendously edifying courage. Cathars are one kind of mob, but there are others. May the Lord continue to bless us and keep us safe.
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