ITALY – Almost 800 years ago, a group of monks were snowbound and starving inside the Friary of Folloni near Montella in Italy. Legend says that Saint Francis of Assisi, who was in France at the time, sent the sack of bread to the monks, delivered by the hands of angels.
The cloth bag filled with French bread saved the monks from starvation during that cold, winter. This week, scientists in Denmark are saying that legend could be true.
After eating the bread, the monks saved the miraculous sack and used it as an altar cloth until 1732. Even though earthquakes ravaged the monastery in the 18th century, the monks rebuilt their monastery and kept the sack safe in a shrine through the centuries. Only half of the original sack remains intact, despite the monks meticulous care.
A team of Danish, Italian and Dutch researchers directed by Associate Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark conducted a series of tests on the sack. Their study was recently published in the scientific journal Radiocarbon.
An analysis of the fabric from the bread sack reveals that the fabric indeed dates back to in between 1220 and 1295 – and that the fabric did come in contact with bread. Researchers looked for ergosterol, which is a steroid alcohol that occurs naturally in protozoa and indicates brewing or baking.
“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 inmured 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,” Associate Professor Rasmussen said in a press release.
The scientific research did not address the question of how the sack of bread arrived at the monastery all those years ago. “This is is maybe more a question of belief than science,” Professor Rasmussen said.