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St Philomena the Wonder Worker

Chapter 5
A Visit to Mugnano

In 1909 I had the happiness of visiting the Sanctuary of St. Philomena, bearing a letter of introduction to the custodians from the Papal Nuncio in Portugal, Monsignor (afterwards Cardinal) Tonti. The good nuns, to whose care the Sanctuary of St. Philomena is committed, received me with such marked kindness and were so anxious that I should know everything about their great Saint that I was induced to prolong my stay for nine full days, listening with pleasure to the many beautiful incidents which the good guardians were pleased to recount. I spent a great part of each day in the Church of the Saint, and the good religious gave me every facility for venerating the precious relics as often as for as long as I pleased. Sometimes I accompanied the pilgrims who had come from afar and, with them, examined and kissed the reliquary containing the blood of the Martyr. Sometimes, when the chaplain was not present, it was my privilege to offer the relic for the veneration of the visitors, and frequently, when the church was closed, I was allowed to extract it from its repository for my private devotion.

The Blood of the Saint
The blood is not in a liquid state but quite dry and in appearance resembles ashes. It is preserved in a small crystal vase which allows the visitor to see it as perfectly as though it lay on the palm of one's hand. I had the happiness of examining this priceless treasure as many as thirty or forty times. Each time, without fail, I saw the blood change most marvelously, and the transformation was so clear and distinct as not to allow room for the smallest doubt or misconception.

Precious stones, rubies and emeralds, pieces of gold and particles of silver appeared mingled with the blood. One might shake the reliquary, and again the precious stones appeared, not always in the same way, but still clearly and distinctly. At times, too, small black particles appear, which are supposed to presage some cross or affliction or foretell impending evils. These black particles were very noticeable when the great Pontiff, Pius IX, venerated the blood of the Saint and were supposed to be prophetic of the sorrows in store for the Holy Father. At times the blood takes the form of black earth, and this appears to denote unworthiness of those who are venerating the relic. One very notable case was that of a priest whose life was far from what the sacred ministry demanded. When he knelt to kiss the reliquary, the blood became very dark. On his departure it regained its natural appearance. Some days after, he fell dead in the midst of a feast.

These extraordinary transformations are witnessed daily by the crowds who flock to the Sanctuary and have been verified and declared authentic by the highest ecclesiastical authorities.

The Miraculous Image
On the left-hand side of the church and in front of the chapel where the blood of the Martyr is preserved lies the wax figure containing the bones of the Martyr. This rests in a magnificent urn, the front of which consists of a crystal plate, enabling the visitor to see the image distinctly. The figure is clothed in rich robes, and on one of the fingers of the right hand is a massive gold ring, set with a large topaz, which is one of the many gifts sent by St. Pius X to the Saint. The image, like the blood, undergoes extraordinary transformations, which have been witnessed by large numbers of pilgrims and visitors and have been likewise duly authenticated.

The statue in which the bones of the young Martyr are encased was - when it first came from the hands of the artist - far from being a work of art. The figure was uncouth; the face was of a morbid white color; the lips were thick and a grimace was noticeable about the mouth. Unfortunately, the ebony case made to contain the statue, a gift of the Bishop of Potenza, was too short, and in consequence the position given to the figure was ungraceful. The case was, notwithstanding, closed and sealed and the key kept in Naples.

The first change noticeable in the statue took place almost immediately after the arrival of the Saint's relics in Mugnano. The 29th of September, 1805, was fixed as the day when the urn was to be placed on the altar prepared for it. To the surprise of all present, extraordinary changes were visible in the statue, though the seals were found to be intact and the key had remained, as we have said, all the time in Naples. The awkward position given to the statue was changed for one more graceful; the color of the countenance became delicate and bright; and the grimace about the mouth gave place to a pleasing smile. The form of the statue had become elegant. The hair, the hands and the position of the arrows were all changed.

The next great change took place twenty years after: In 1824 the first case was replaced by one more beautiful. The hair had again changed and was more abundant. The eyes opened several times during the public devotions, and when the statue was placed in the new case, which was nearly a foot longer than the former one, the feet, which at first were at some distance from the end, gradually extended themselves so as to touch the extremity of the case.

A new and very striking prodigy occurred in 1841: The statue was so placed that only the profile could be seen by those standing in front. What was not the astonishment of the vast concourse of people when one day the face of the Saint, in the presence of all, turned around, so that fully three-fourths of it became visible. On the 27th of May, 1892, the statue again changed its position in the presence of a whole pilgrimage, and the change was duly authenticated by the ecclesiastical authorities.

During my own stay in Mugnano, I saw the statue changing color very frequently, passing from pale to a light blush and again to a darker red. The lips were sometimes compressed and sometimes opened. No interference with the statue is possible, since it is placed in the wall and closed in by a thick plate of crystal glass and locked with three keys, which are held by three different authorities. One of these is the Bishop of Nola himself.

The Great Statue of the Saint
A third object of interest in the sanctuary of the Shrine is a magnificent statue in wood presented by Cardinal Ruffo-Scilla in 1806, which is used in public processions of the Saint. In the year 1823, during the procession, the bearers of the statue felt that it was unusually heavy, and the pilgrims at the same time remarked that the color of the face was much brighter than usual, giving the statue almost a lifelike appearance. On the following day a kind of sweat, which filled the air with a fragrant perfume, was seen oozing from the forehead and eyes and falling on the breast, where it gathered round the reliquary which rested on the bosom of the Saint. This prodigy lasted a long time and, as in the case of the others, was seen by multitudes of witnesses and duly examined and authenticated by both the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. For these reasons, the statue is naturally held in the highest veneration by the people.

The Special Sign
But the marvel which made the greatest impression on me during my visit was the following: On the ninth day, I was in a side chapel. The Reverend Mother was speaking to a contractor, further up in the church, regarding some repairs. One of the sisters of the Sanctuary approached me and said quite simply: "Father, have you seen the sign?" "What sign?" I asked. "I have seen so many wonders during the days I have been here." "Oh!" she said, "you haven't got the sign?" "If it is anything more wonderful than what I have already seen," I replied, " I would not dare to ask for it. It would be presumption on my part." "Oh! no, no," she answered. "You have come from a long distance and have remained here so many days; the Little Saint must give you the sign."

Saying this, she pulled me gently towards the altar where the urn containing the miraculous image is placed. She had not given me the slightest idea of what this sign consisted of. We knelt in front of the urn and began a short prayer. Suddenly, a sharp report rang out, as if the crystal glass had been struck sharply by something hard. The little sister jumped up, radiant with smiles, and said to me: "Now you have got it." The report was so distinct and sharp that the Reverend Mother, further up in the church, ignorant altogether of what we were about, jumped round and asked, "Whom is it for?" "It is for the Father," replied the sister.

This knock is a well-known sign given from time to time to clients of the Saint and is, I am happy to say, looked upon as a special mark of her good pleasure. And surely it was a harbinger of good for me. Arriving in Rome shortly afterwards, I had a private audience with the saintly Pontiff, Pius X, who manifested the greatest pleasure on hearing of my visit to Mugnano and gave me several marks of his favor, one of which was the permission to say a votive mass weekly in honor of the Saint.

The Multiplication of Books
Before closing this chapter, I will mention a last prodigy, namely, the multiplication of books, namely, those of the life of the Saint. The good priest, Don Francisco di Lucia, who had received the relics, wished to make known the wonders worked by them. For this purpose he wrote a short narrative of the principle events connected with the history of the Saint. This book was being sold rapidly, and the author, wishing to retain some copies for private distribution, sent to Naples for those that remained. They were in all 221. He placed them on the table in five little piles, four of which he covered so as to protect them from the dust. The fifth pile he left uncovered, as the book was in constant demand. For five or six months, he continued to distribute the books freely (to the number of several hundred), always taking them from the uncovered pile, without adverting to the fact that he was taking many more from the pile than it originally contained.

On his return to his house one evening, he was greatly astonished to find the floor of his room, which had been locked, covered with books. As there was no human explanation forthcoming, the good priest thought that it was St. Philomena who had scattered the books as a sign that they were not pleasing to her. However, on examination, he found that of the books on the table, those under cover were just as he had placed them, being forty-five in each group. In the fifth pile, from which he had already taken so many hundreds, quite unconscious that they were being multiplied, there were still nineteen copies left. He now looked over his accounts and found that from this pile he had taken more than 500 books. He next counted the books on the floor and found that they were seventy-two. Other miraculous multiplications took place several times, not only in Mugnano, but in other places as well. These were followed later on by multiplications of the Saint's pictures.

A far different kind of miracle occurred with regard to her relics. Some of those who had received relics did not treat them with sufficient love and respect. What was not their amazement when, on examining their reliquaries, they found that though these were sealed, the relics had disappeared - to be discovered in the urn containing the bones of the Saint when next this was unlocked.

Never have I seen a sanctuary so full of wonders, so alive with the atmosphere of the supernatural, where one sees so palpably heavenly manifestations, as in Mugnano. I do not mean to claim greater things for it than for other sanctuaries, but, as the dear Little Saint's special prerogative seems to consist in her amazing power of miracles and in the extraordinary abundance of favors which she so generously dispenses to her clients, so her sanctuary is especially distinguished for the constant, visible and striking signs which the Almighty is pleased to work in it.

Taken from St Philomena the Wonder Worker by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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