To-morrow was to be the anniversary of the Cathedral’s founding. To-morrow was Corpus Christi Day. The fable that had inspired this glorious work of art should to-morrow be rehearsed in the eyes of all the people. The Monk of Bolsena, doubting whether or not the bread and wine became by act of consecration the very body and blood of the Lord, was convinced by a miracle; for lo! the napkin which he used at the time of celebration was suddenly stained with the veritable blood of the Lord which dropped from the five wounds in the scared wafer he was breaking! That napkin stained with blood was so precious to a whole Church that wished to clinch the doctrine of Transubstantiation as it was convincing to the poor monk; so it was most carefully preserved; and a glorious reliquary of silver-gilt and enamel was worked for it by Ugolino de Maestro Vieri and Viva of Siena. To-morrow it will be with much circumstance brought forth from the great marble shrine in the Cappella del Corporale, in the northern transept; it will be placed in the hush of early morning, by the light of a thousand candles and to the sound of litanies, on the High Altar; and after a great service it will go through the town on the shoulders of the priests with the Bishop and all the devout of the ancient city. Banners and music and incense will go along with it, to testify that the miracle that satisfied the Monk of Bolsena can satisfy the doubting still; to-morrow the Church that is its guardian will allow the most sceptical sight of the napkin that bears the blood-stains of the body of the Lord. (p. 739)….
And on, still on, the vast procession poured. At last silver trumpets and white cockades told me that the municipal band was in evidence. I knew they preceded the reliquary, and to the solemn sound of “The March of the Priests” the silver Shrine came slowly through the doorway, between the sculptured panels Pisano had carved. Behind came the golden mitres of bishops of other days, borne in solemn state by lads with napkins in their hands; and then closely following, and last feature in the procession, walked, supported by the clergy, for he seemed blind and looked ill, the present Bishop of “Urbs Vetus,” the Orvieto of our time. Very proudly his mitre flashed as he moved, and very gorgeously did the mauve or mulberry purple of the silken under-robes of the attendant priests sweep along beside him. (p. 743)
So the great pageant passed, and as the poor stained napkin came near, the people fell upon their knees and many lips moved in earnest prayer. There was no voice out of tune. The people believed in the Monk of Bolsena and his miracle, to a man; and there was in the air nothing but devotion and thanks, for that so the Christ had veritably and indeed vouchsafed to manifest His body and His blood to a doubting heart. (p. 743)….
After a few moments’ pause the burden was shouldered again, and the most picturesque part of the procession took place; for the reliquary with the Bishop and priests, flanked and preceded and followed after by the incense bearers, was carried through the long lane of lighted candles and painted banners up to the High Altar. As it neared its rest people fell upon their knees, and, from the side gallery, a great shout of praise, to organ accompaniment, was heard. The singers sang, so we were told, the very words that Bonaventura had composed for the singing; and very lustily and with a good courage they chanted their hymns of thanks. All the while, the candles dripped and deluged the floor with wax; all the while, little urchins on hands and knees scraped it up where it fell, for future use at home; all the while, the building hummed with the sound of feet coming and going; then there was silence. The music ended; a priest ascended the steps in front of the reliquary, and taking a monstrance, lifted it in sight of all the people. At that moment, the municipal band, which had separated itself from the procession and gone off to a part of the side aisle from which they were not visible, broke forth into the weird, bewildering and bewitching music of the San Graal refrain from “Lohengrin.” (p. 744)
Nothing that music could do to crown the most solemn moment of the day with its spell should be left undone. That enchanting strain of deep pathetic meaning, of tear-compelling sound, of agony of a soul that strives and will not be satisfied with less than God, came with a surprise, and must have touched the least devout heart in all that congregation. We want more than a blood-stained napkin to assure us of the Divine. After all, men’s hearts are the napkins in which Christ wraps the treasure of His blood, that is the life eternal. (pp. 744-745)
The great procession was over. The church that was witness to its cause might crumble back into its dust, but the wings of faith in the invisible as the Father of our spirits would still be strong to bear the true soul upward, and the music heard that day in Orvieto Cathedral seemed the very wind of God to take our hearts to heaven. (p. 745)
(Contemporary Review, 74 (November 1898), 737-45)