Miracle of the Eucharist of El Escorial Spain
Our God Reigns
We were bringing a group of pilgrims on a Journey of Faith through Spain, when we stopped in the main church of El Escorial. We were on our way to the shrines of Saint Teresa, in Avila and Alba de Tormes. We had visited the Shrine of the Miracle of the Eucharist in Daroca, prayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Zaragoza, and continued across the country to Madrid. Now, the next day, we were heading towards Avila. But between Madrid and Avila are a memorial and a shrine not to be missed. The memorial is called The Valley of the Fallen, a tribute to those spanish soldiers who had fallen in the Spanish Civil War of 1936. You can tell that you are approaching it, when you see an immense cross (430 ft. of reinforced concrete) looming majestically in the sky, miles in the far distance. There is a huge underground church there which is beautiful. There is also Franco’s tomb, his final resting place. But what we want to tell you about, is to be found in the magnificent Shrine of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial.
We arrived early in the morning at the Monastery of El Escorial, having left Madrid before the rush-hour traffic began. We walked through the big church to the sacristy, to arrange for our priest to celebrate Mass, for our group. This day, the very first time we ever visited the Sacristy, the Lord would give us a very special gift. Because we were not a large group, only about thirty or so, they told us to celebrate Mass at the little chapel in back of the sacristy. While we were waiting for our priest to vest up, we looked at the various paintings on the walls of the sacristy. One of them portrayed the theft of some Consecrated Hosts. Another showed a large assembly of dignitaries. One of them, perhaps a Bishop or Cardinal, was presenting a King with a Monstrance, inside of which was a Consecrated Host. There were two unusual things about one of the paintings in the sacristy. One was that everything that was taking place, in the room in the painting, appeared to be happening in the sacristy in which we were now standing. The other was that the Host in the Monstrance, in the painting, had three red dots on It.
We asked the priest in our broken Spanish what was the significance of the two paintings. He told us, the one took place in Holland, and portrayed heretics desecrating Consecrated Hosts. The other, showed a Monstrance with the Miraculous Host being adored by the King of Spain, here in the sacristy of El Escorial. We asked where the Miraculous Hosts were kept, now. The man pointed to the Altar in front of us, the very Altar where we would be celebrating Mass. Well, you have never seen such a group of excited, happy pilgrims as we. We were given the gift of celebrating Mass at the Altar of the Miracle of the Eucharist, and to venerate the incorrupt, bleeding Host.
What is El Escorial?
It was originally a grand monastery, the Royal Monastery of Spain in honor of the Spanish Martyr, San Lorenzo, or St. Lawrence. The concept of this masterpiece of Spanish architecture came to King Philip II, as he fought a fierce battle against the French in St. Quentin, France in 1557. He vowed, if he were victorious, he would build a splendid Monastery in honor of the Saint, on Spanish soil. Actually, he accomplished a double task with one action. He had also promised his father, Charles V, that he would provide a burial place for him and his ancestors to come. The cornerstone was placed on April 23, 1563. Four years later, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 1567, the first six Religious brothers were admitted to the Monastery as custodians.
It became the pet project of King Philip of Spain. Various queens and princesses were the first to be buried inside the tombs of the Monastery. During a visit of the King to the Monastery, on June 14, 1575, the foundations of the main church were begun. The same month, the King donated the Library to the Monastery. It contained 4,000 volumes. And then the King was given a special Gift, which he in turn, gave to the Monastery of El Escorial. It was a Miracle of the Eucharist.
The Story of the Miracle of the Eucharist of El Escorial
The lies and errors of Martin Luther spread rapidly throughout Europe. Bad news has always drawn more attention and been more popular than Good News. In Switzerland, his followers were led by a man called Zwingli. Their influence spread outside the borders of Switzerland and spilled into Holland. We go to the Cathedral in Gorcum, a town in southern Holland. This is where our story begins in 1572. The followers of Zwingli hated the Eucharist, more than their mentors, the followers of Luther and Calvin, if that’s possible. Wherever feasible, they did whatever they could to attack the Church, and desecrate the Eucharist. Their goal was to take away all that Catholics held dear, whether by ridiculing all they, and their ancestors before them; believed, or by debilitating them, showing their disdain for Jesus in the Eucharist, profaning Consecrated Hosts, every chance they had. Their hatred for Jesus in His Eucharistic Form held no bounds. Why did they hate Him so very much, if they did not believe He existed? There is no logic in desecrating a symbol. If they truly, sincerely believed that the Eucharist is merely a piece of bread, then why did they go out of their way to destroy Consecrated Hosts?
These heretics broke into the Cathedral of Gorcum with the intention of desecrating the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in whatever way they could. They stole into the Tabernacle. They opened the Monstrance, and took out the Consecrated Hosts. The more contemptible and horrible their vile actions became, the more excited they got, the more outrageous their behavior. It was an escalating madness, a craze which accelerated, the more they profaned the Eucharist. They built up this great fever, and smashed the Hosts with a vengeance. It was the scourging of Jesus once more, at the Pillar, the crowning with thorns, the mockery He and His Mother endured at Calvary. The final blow came when one of the heretics threw a Consecrated Host on the floor, and stomped on It with his boots. The bottom of the boot had spikes on the sole, to help grip the road when there was mud on the ground. The spikes punctured the Host in three places, and small drops of Blood emerged from the Consecrated Host.
The attacker went into shock. He couldn’t believe his eyes, the sight before him. He looked around. His companions behaved in the same way, staring in amazement at what had happened. He went down on his knees to pick up the Host, but was afraid to touch It. He knew now that there was a living Being inside that Host, and that Being was God. He began to sob loudly. He got up and ran for all he was worth. He wanted to put as much distance between him and what he had done, as possible. His friends followed suit, and in a matter of minutes, the Cathedral was as empty and silent as it had been before the molestation had taken place. There was only one big difference now; a bright shining Host was laying on the floor, with three drops of crimson blood slowly oozing from it.
Once in the vestibule of the Cathedral, the heretic and perpetrator could go no farther. He didn’t want to be here; his friends didn’t want him to be here. They kept warning him that they needed to escape or the authorities would be coming soon. But try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the Lord alone in that condition. He had to do something; tell someone. The Lord was melting his heart of stone. Did he see the Lord bleeding instead of a Host? He shrugged off the warnings of his friends, and went in search of a priest. He found John Van der Delft, a Dean of the church. He confessed his crime to the Dean. Together they went back to the Altar, where the Body of the Savior lay on the floor, gleaming in the light, the red blood spots glistening against the moonlight which poured in the window.
Both men realized that it would not be safe to leave this miraculous Form of the Body of Christ here in this church. The climate of the city was so anti-Church, they were sure the Host would come to harm. They got on their horses, and left the city, the Miraculous Host wrapped carefully in a sack. They went through the dark night to the imperial city of Malines, and the convent of St. Francis. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Miracle of the Eucharist of Holland became very famous. People came to the Franciscan convent from all over the country to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in this Miraculous form. That was the fortunate part. The unfortunate part is that It became too celebrated, too well-known for Its own safety. The custodians of the Miraculous Host knew they had to protect It from those who would destroy It and the Church.
After two months, the situation became turbulent in Malines. There was a great hostility against the Church. Also, those heretics who had not converted over to the Faith had heard about the Miracle which had taken place in the Cathedral at Orcum, and wanted to get their hands on the Miraculous Host. They wanted to desecrate It horribly, and then destroy it. It had become an obsession with the heretics by now. The Dean and the Franciscan took the Miraculous Host from Malines into Anvers in Belgium. It was thought that, at least temporarily, the Host would be safe in Anvers. Again, in the dark of night, with the Angels as protectorates, the vulnerable Jesus was brought to Anvers, Belgium by a trusted, pious man, Andres de Horst.
The plot thickens. A German noble, very influential in the court of Vienna, heard of the Miracle of the Eucharist. He wanted desperately to have the Miracle of the Eucharist in his possession. You’ve got to remember that there was a great deal of prestige for a city, or a country, or even an individual to have in their possession, these great relics, such as the bodies of incorrupt saints, and in this instance, a Miracle of the Eucharist. This German noble, Ferdinand Weidner, argued that he needed something, as powerful as a Miracle of the Eucharist, to use against the non-believers who were running rampant in Germany. He may have been sincere, and that may truly have been his reasoning. At any rate, he pressured the same holy, pious man who had brought the Miracle of the Eucharist to Anvers, Andres de Horst, to get the Host out of Belgium and bring it to him in Vienna. He even used the influence of the custodian of the Franciscan convent in Malines, where the Hosts had been brought originally when it was determined they were in danger. So, very clandestinely, the Miracle of the Eucharist went once more in the same year, 1572, to another country, Austria, and another city, Vienna.
From 1572 to 1579, the Miraculous Host remained in Vienna, hopefully converting unbelievers by the miraculous evidence of Jesus physically present, through His drops of Blood on the Host; and the fact that the Host had not decomposed after seven years. There was power in the Eucharist, for all to see. We know the Lord allowed Himself to be brought to this country for a reason. We know that all hell had broken loose in the earlier part of the century because of Luther and the German princes. And it was accelerating wildly, especially in the Germanic countries.
Now, from 1572 to 1579, was a crucial period for the Church in that area. A Miracle of the Eucharist, with the power to change mens’ hearts, even in the highest circles, was needed in the front lines. There’s no question about that. The only fear, or apprehension we have is for the safety of the Body of Christ in that atmosphere. Who was taking care of the Lord? He was most likely in the hands of the German noble, who, while he probably had the best intentions, was not a priest. Was the Miraculous Host reserved in a Tabernacle with a priest, a bishop or a religious safeguarding It? We don’t know. That’s the scary thing; we just don’t know.
But one thing we do know, God’s in charge. He’s always in charge. He can turn anything around, and in this instance, we’re sure He used the power of His Presence in the Miracle to melt mens’ hearts of stone into hearts meant for Him alone. At a given time in 1579, or the early part of 1580, it was part of the Lord’s plan for the Miracle of the Eucharist to leave Vienna, and be brought to Spain. Ferdinand Weidner received a visit from an old friend, also a noble and ambassador, Baron Adam Dietrichstein. With him was a very powerful and persuasive lady, Doña Margarita de Cardona, of the noble Spanish family of the Duchy of Cardona. The two, but especially Doña Margarita, expressed a sincere interest in the Miraculous Host. They put a great deal of pressure on Ferdinand Weidner to let them have the Sacred Species. It was intimated that they intended to bring It back to Spain, as an offering to King Philip II of Spain. They let Weidner know in no uncertain terms how appreciated this would be, by them and the King, and how they would spare nothing to show their appreciation to Ferdinand.
Weidner felt the great pressure coming from his two guests, but didn’t want to give in to it. However, it never let up, to the point where he felt himself in a no-win situation. He had no other choice but to let them have it. Seeing as he was in this situation, he decide to make it work for him. He made a great, noble gesture, explicitly designed to insure him of receiving the greatest reward for his generosity. He stated, he would not relinquish this priceless treasure to anyone but them, and of course the King. He shared with them the danger and great cost, involved in getting the Miraculous Host, in the first place, from the Dutch. He told of clandestine meetings, and exchange of bribes, and life-threatening near-misses with the heretical Protestants who would kill to get their hands on the Miraculous Host. His guests gave him the proper amount of attention and importance, consoled him, cajoled him, and then promised him that the King of Spain would be made aware of all that Ferdinand Weidner had done to preserve the Miraculous Host.
Grasping the moment, lest he repent and go back on their agreement, they then proceeded to take the Miraculous Host quickly from Ferdinand Weidner and go directly from Vienna to their home in Prague, Czechoslovakia. We do not know if the original intention was to keep the Miracle of the Eucharist for their own veneration and adoration; and then use It later as a political tool. Or was it, rather than rushing off to Spain to give It to King Philip II, they would wait until the time was right. We’re sure that in the back of their minds, they truly intended to bring it to the King, someday, but not just yet. As a matter of fact, not for thirteen years.
Now we know the Lord had a plan for this Miracle of the Eucharist. It wasn’t just to convert the violent heretic in Holland who brought about this heinous act, many years before, although that was accomplished. There was more to it than that. We don’t know if the long trip from Holland to Vienna to Prague was part of the Plan, or just tolerated by the Lord, a detour which He would use to glorify His Holy Name. And while we believe the Lord is not limited by time and space, has all the time in the world, and is not pressured by anything to have His will accomplished, it may have become a time for action, especially after thirteen years. We’re sure mass conversions took place in Germany and Czechoslovakia during the time the Miraculous Host was adored and venerated by the local people, but they were such a select few. What we considered the enemies of God, the people who had originally set out to destroy the Eucharist, and the Church, these were the first ones whom the Lord wanted evangelized. Although He was saddened by the harm they had done to themselves and the poor sheep who unwittingly had followed them, He still loved them. He had died for them, too, and he wanted them to come back home to His Church. We don’t think it was happening to the degree the Lord had intended, in that very nice, socio-political atmosphere in Prague. And so, like the Holy House of Loreto, the Miracle of the Eucharist had to move again.
The Lord began working on Doña Margarita de Cardona. She was inspired to send the Miraculous Host to her daughter, the Marquise of Navarre. She had to be very cautious about how to get the Miraculous Host out of the country. It had to be politically correct. The only way that this could be done would be to make believe it was a gift from Rudolph II, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. In this way, the people of Prague would not be as upset about losing the Miraculous Hosts and she would have clear entry to the King of Spain.
But before she did this, the Lord inspired her to document the Miraculous Host, and Its journey: from whom she received it (Weidner), and from whom he received it (the custodian of the Franciscan monastery at Malines), and from whom he received it (John van Delft). This was notarized, and became a crucial part of the history of the Miracle. Once this was done, Doña Margarita had a beautiful silver chest made, into which the Miraculous Host was placed on a felt bed, with the documentation tucked in the back.
Now here’s where it becomes like a ballet. Doña Margarita was sending the beautiful gilded silver box to her daughter, the Marquise of Navarre. The daughter then had the Austrian envoy to Spain, Baron Quevenheler take it from her, and bring it directly to the King. As a high dignitary of Austria, he had clearance to the King, but as bearer of so precious a gift from his King to the King of Spain, the doors would swing open, wider, more quickly expediting his meeting with King Philip II.
Now, the King was at his Royal Monastery in El Escorial. It had been ten years since he had begun construction on it, in thanksgiving to Our Lady for having defeated the French at San Quentin. King Philip II was a very holy man. He had his apartment right next to the chapel in the Monastery of El Escorial, actually in a place which would normally have been reserved for the sacristy. In this instance, the sacristy was placed on the other side. Philip wanted to be able to attend Mass privately from his room, especially when he was ill. Thus, we have a justification for the apartment next to the Chapel. He was very spiritual, and desirous to surround himself especially here, with as many relics and spiritual things, as possible.
When word came to the King that Baron Quevenheler of Austria was coming to present him with an actual Miracle of the Eucharist, he became elated. The King of kings, His Lord and Master was coming to his palace, to dwell with him. It was more than the holy man could do to contain himself. To think, the Lord would be coming there! He planned a formal grand affair, for the welcoming of the Miraculous Host to the royal court. There’s no question that Doña Margarita became known as the person who actually engineered the gift being given to the King, and that she became a person very close to the King, as a result of this magnificent gift.
The Miracle of the Eucharist became the most prized Treasure of King Philip II. He prayed often for the Lord’s intervention in aiding him how to rule over his kingdom of Spain and its people, and implored His help in handling all the problems in which the Church and state found themselves, especially in the New World, America, and in the problems of the Inquisition, which had flared up again during his monarchy. Philip gathered a great deal of comfort from having this radiant Miracle of the Eucharist at his side, and kept The Host exposed in the beautiful case which Doña Margarita had designed for the Miracle. Four and a half years, after the Miraculous Host had been delivered to King Philip II, he died, his confessor by his side, and the Miracle of the Eucharist before him, in plain sight. He had spent his life protecting and defending the Church. At his last moments, his Church and his God protected him from the enemy, through the Sacraments of the Church he so dearly loved, as he prepared to enter into the Kingdom.
The Miracle of the Eucharist, still incorrupt, was kept in the Shrine of the Annunciation in the Basilica, in the same reliquary in which it had been brought from Prague to the King. The Lord gave us another great believer in the power of the Eucharist, and the Miracle of the Eucharist in King Charles II, the last of the Austrian kings in Spain. He had a great devotion to the Miracle of the Eucharist, which he had been privileged to pray before, many times, being of the Royal family. But he wasn’t satisfied with the silver chest, nor the place of veneration of the Miracle. He wanted the people to be able to view and venerate the Miracle of the Eucharist. He ordered an exquisite Monstrance to be made which would better show the Miracle of the Eucharist to the Faithful. Feeling the need to build a more splendid chapel in honor of the Miracle, he began construction on the “Chapel of the Sacristy ” in the main church. The chapel in the sacristy was made of precious marble, fine woods and decorated in brass and gold leaf. The philosophy of the King was that this had to be the most magnificent chapel to venerate the most precious gift the country had ever been given.
It is a beautiful chapel, in which the Miracle of the Eucharist has a prominent place of honor, although it’s only on display to the Faithful twice a year. It was in 1684 that the great translation of the Miraculous Host, in its new Monstrance, was transferred from the chapel of the Annunciation in the Basilica to the new chapel in the sacristy. The painting, which shows King Charles II adoring the Miracle of the Eucharist, is the major painting on display in the sacristy. Great devotion to the Miracle of the Eucharist took place under King Charles II. At his own personal cost, candles were always to be lit on either side of the Miracle at the main Altar. The two days devoted to public veneration of the miracle are September 29th, Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, and October 28th, Feast of St. Jude, patron of hopeless cases. A plenary indulgence was given on those two days.
Satan strikes again
We can’t say the wrath of Satan, which was unleashed on the European continent in the last decade of the Eighteenth century, was because of the Eucharistic Miracle of El Escorial alone, but we’re sure it had something to do with it. There may have been too many signs of the Lord here on earth to suit the evil one, so he let loose with the French Revolution in 1789, which dealt a devastating blow to the Church. The Reign of Terror was followed by the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who, while he never said he was against the Church, may have caused more damage in (his way of) not persecuting the church, than the French Revolution did (in their way), persecuting the church.
Napoleon and his French troops descended on Spain, their neighboring country to the south, and sacked and looted and raped anything in their path. It was one of the most despicable acts taken against priests and nuns, all in the name of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. We can never figure out, however, whose liberty, equality and fraternity we’re talking about, and why liberty, equality and fraternity have to be bought at the cost of attacking another country and always the Church. So we must give credit where credit is due, to Satan. In this vein, with this pretense, the French attacked Spain, looking for as much loot as they could possibly find, and what better place to look than in El Escorial, reputed to have more riches than any complex in Europe, with possible exception of the Louvre and the Vatican.
They descended like locusts on the holy place. Thank God, the custodians of the Shrine had advance warning of the onslaught of the French which was imminent. They began hiding things, especially expensive art-work, statues, anything which was not replaceable, in the attic between two beams above the crucifix near the door where the processions entered. The Miraculous Host was also hidden in a place which was out of the line of fire. The Miraculous Host, along with items of less importance, was left in that attic-type hiding place for 18 months, and then some. Then it was removed and put in a hideaway in the office of the Custodian, for another four years.
During this time, care had to be given also to living human treasures, the Friars, who had to be hidden, and it was not as easy as with the gold and silver, and even the Miracle of the Eucharist. The brothers needed to be hidden in a place where they would be safe from the enemy, and could also function, breathe, eat, sleep, and all the little things that make up a person. They needed a place to stay, out of the reach and sight of the enemy. The Lord provided this as well as for the brothers. He gave them a chapel, where fourteen friars lived in hiding until the Napoleonists left.
After Napoleon’s defeat, much of what was stolen was given back to the Monastery of El Escorial, but no gold, jewels or precious stones. The chapel of the Sacred Host was refurbished, and devotion began again. But Satan was not finished yet. In 1837, there was a suppression of religious orders in Spain, yes, Catholic Spain. The two day Feast of the Miracle of the Eucharist, begun by King Philip II in honor of graces granted to him and the people of Spain, was reduced to a simple adoration and exposition after the High Mass with perhaps a homily, and a benediction afterward. This practice remained in El Escorial for almost half a century. The original devotion to the Miracle of the Eucharist was reinstated under King Alfonso XII in 1885.
Once again Satan reared his ugly head in this century. From the years 1936 through 1939, the period of the Spanish Civil War, the chapel of the Miracle of the Eucharist was closed, and devotion of any kind was forbidden under pain of imprisonment, and punishment. The Augustinian community at El Escorial, all 106 members, were taken from the monastery, and brought to Madrid where they were subjected to night and day interrogation and harassment by the head of Secret Service. In 1939, after the hostilities were over, a few people, grateful for the gift of being alive, went back to El Escorial, and began devotion to the Miracle of the Eucharist.
There had been a beautiful Monstrance given to the Miracle of the Eucharist by Queen Isabella II, and Francesco d’Assisi,1 her consort. It was stolen during the Spanish Civil War, and never returned, along with many other jewels. The thief, who really had a fear of the Lord, left the Miraculous Host in the little chapel, where they had hidden It during this skirmish. A new Monstrance was built again, only this time, they were more cautious. They built a safe, as well. The Miracle of the Eucharist is still only on display those two days a year, September 29th, and October 28th. The rest of the time, it reposes in back of the sacristy, where there is a very small chapel.
There is a beautiful Crucifix with two Angels and a Tabernacle for the Miracle, which is in its beautiful Monstrance. The painting which tells the story of the desecration of the Hosts, comes down and covers the Altar of the Miracle of the Eucharist. When you celebrate Mass at the little chapel in back of the Sacristy, you can see the Altar with the crucifix and Angels, but the Monstrance is not there, visible.
The miraculous Host is incorrupt to this day, over four hundred years later.
Why is the Miracle of the Eucharist of El Escorial so important to us today? What is the great significance? We really believe that Jesus is telling us, He is with us and will be with us till the end of the world, through wars and plagues, never giving up on us. By the evidence of the Blood He left us on the Host, the three drops of His Blood, He is telling us perhaps that He is once again bleeding for us, taking the blows due us, out of love for us. We believe He is also affirming that the Trinity is present on the Altar, as Jesus once again offers Himself to the Father for us. The sign of the Three drops of Blood could be Our Lord reminding us of the three days He spent, from the time of His death to His resurrection, reassuring us that we too will rise with Him.
He is telling us to be not afraid! He is with us. Satan can bring out all his best guns, over a period of what seems like forever, yet the Lord won’t be defeated. We need this Miracle of the Eucharist today. We need the courage to know that no matter what guns are aimed at us, we’ll prevail. We go back to Scripture, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”2 Might we add to that, “In My name, they will have courage!” Why not?
1Named after St. Francis of Assisi