St Philomena the Wonder Worker
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
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
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
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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