The Eucharistic Miracle of Assisi

This article was posted on: April 30, 2024

In 1240, an army sent by Roman Emperor Frederick II attacked the town of Assisi. During this attack, St. Clare of Assisi performed one of the greatest miracles of the Eucharist.

“I will always protect you!”

In 1240, an army sent by Roman Emperor Frederick II attacked the town of Assisi. During this attack, St. Clare of Assisi performed one of the greatest miracles of the Eucharist. Understanding the significance of the Eucharist to St. Francis and St. Clare enriches this dramatic story, so let’s start there.

A Burning Devotion to the Eucharist

Francis of Assisi had a profound love for Jesus in the Eucharist so intense that he could hardly contain it. He used to say “Let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult, when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest;” and “O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!”

Francis became so immersed when adoring Christ in the Eucharist that one day a rather worldly friend asked him, “Father, what do you do during those long hours before the Blessed Sacrament?” Francis replied, “My son, in return, I ask you what does the poor man do at the rich man’s door, the sick man in the presence of his physician, the thirsty man at a limpid stream? What they do, I do before the eucharistic God. I pray. I adore. I love.”

St. Clare of Assisi, who at the age of 18 followed St. Francis’ path of poverty and founded the Poor Clares, likewise had a deep devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. Bedridden from serious illness for much of the last 27 years of her religious life (she died at age 59), St. Clare had the Blessed Sacrament reserved in a silver pyx, or vessel, just steps from her monastery cell. In one of her writings, she urged, “gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.”

Deliverance From a Fearsome Foe

Now let us recount the dramatic story we referenced at the start, which was recorded by Tommaso da Celano, a Franciscan friar who lived during the time of St. Clare and was her first biographer.

It is the year 1240, and the Roman Emperor Frederick II is at war with Pope Innocent IV and the Papal States. One of his armies, consisting of Saracen mercenaries, is approaching the town of Assisi. They first arrive at the walls of the Poor Clare Convent of San Damiano, located on the outskirts of the town. The nuns of the convent see the soldiers climbing the outer walls of their contemplative enclosure and become terrified. They run to St. Clare, seeking help.

Clare is now 46 years old, sick, frail and bedridden. Despite her frailty, she rises, goes before the Blessed Sacrament and prostrates herself. As recorded by Celano, she prays, “Behold, my Lord, is it possible you want to deliver into the hands of pagans your defenseless handmaids, whom I have taught out of love for you? I pray you, Lord, protect these your handmaids whom I cannot now save by myself.”

Suddenly she and the sisters hear a clearly audible voice: ‘I will always protect you!’

Clare rises and carries the pyx holding the Blessed Sacrament to the convent entry doors, boldly opening them onto the plot of land between the convent and the outer walls being scaled by the Saracens. Clare holds up the pyx and suddenly the faces of the advancing soldiers are stricken with fear. They turn and flee in terror, retreating from the convent and abandoning their planned attack on the town of Assisi.

What did these fierce mercenaries witness that caused them so much terror? They certainly weren’t frightened away by the sight of a group of women wearing simple habits. Could they have seen a sudden flash of light or a blazing fire? Perhaps they saw a vision of angels armed with swords? We may never know for sure, but the presence of the eucharistic Christ had a profound effect on them, striking terror in their hearts and causing them to flee in fear like panicked mice.

Never Forget

One might wonder if this account is a colorful, pious myth. But no, it was etched so vividly in their memories that the Poor Clares have celebrated it ever since as “Covenant Day” (June 22), recalling the promise God proclaimed that day, that He would always protect them.

In this time of eucharistic revival, may we remember to receive the eucharistic body and blood of Jesus Christ with the same courage and trust, no matter the challenges we may face—for we face them with Him!

Story by Chris Ruff, Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns
Published in the May/June 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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