After nearly 800 years, a team of scientists have conducted tests to partially confirm a miracle by Saint Francis of Assisi.
According to tradition, the year was 1224, and the brothers of the Friary at Folloni near Montella, Italy were snowed in from a particularly harsh winter. Unable to leave the friary, the brothers were starving because their food stores had run out. One night, they heard a knock on the door to the church. When they opened it they found only a sack containing bread marked with a lily flower symbol, typically associated with the French monarchy.
Tradition says the sack of bread was brought to the friary by an angel. Saint Francis of Assisi founded the friary, which is why it is believed he was the source of the life-saving bread even though he was in France at the time (thus the reason for the bread being marked with the French lily symbol) For 800 years the brothers guarded the sack. Initially, the sack was used to cover the altar until it began to wear down. The remaining fragments were then stored in a reliquary inside the church.
Associate Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark teamed up with Italian and Dutch researchers to conduct scientific studies on the textile fragments in hopes to verify the claim. Using carbon-14 radioactive dating, they were able to confirm the age of the fragments to between the years 1220-1295, putting its age in line with the harsh winter of 1224.
The team of researchers also conducted tests to verify if the sack contained bread, by testing for the chemical ergosterol. Ergosterol is contained within fungi and protozoa and can be used as a chemical biomarker to indicate the presence of baking and brewing products. From their studies, Rasmussen concluded that:
“Our studies show that there was probably bread in the sack, We don’t know when, but it seems unlikely that it was after 1732, where the sack fragments were immured in order to protect them. It is more likely that bread was in contact with the textile in the 300 years before 1732; a period, where the textile was used as altar cloth – or maybe it was indeed on the cold winter’s night in 1224 – it is possible”
While the team of researchers was able to partially confirm the miracle associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, they stated they cannot confirm scientifically just how it ended up outside the door of the church.
“Scientific measurements cannot prove a legend or belief. What they can do, is either to de-authenticate the object or show accordance between the physical/chemical evidence and the legend.”