After an “exhaustive biological analysis” of a consecrated host that turned blood red this summer in a St. Paul church, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that the cause of the phenomenon was a fungus, not a miracle.
“It appeared to be like the blood red of tissue,” Father John Echert told Pioneer Press in July. “If I had not known what it was, I would have thought that there was maybe a small, bloody piece of tissue. It was striking enough that there was no way I could have disposed of the remains of the host at that time with good conscience.”
The episode caused a flurry of excitement across the country and led the archdiocese to turn over the host to an independent laboratory for examination.
“This incident was the result of natural biological causes and should not be considered in any other way,” the archdiocese said in a statement Wednesday.
The decision to examine the host was made by Vicar General Rev. Peter Laird with the consent of Archbishop Rev. John C. Nienstedt, according to spokesman Dennis McGrath.
“It’s important to make sure when there’s a question like that,” McGrath said. “We can’t assume anything. It requires some investigation. You can’t just make an assumption. I mean…it isn’t beyond the realm of probability for a faith that believes in miracles.”
McGrath said he could not specifically name the fungus that caused the host to turn red because he had not seen the lab report.
Some bacteria, such as serratia marcescens, are said to grow on bread and Communion wafers that have been stored in damp places, according to the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University.
Similar incidents have occurred in recent years, such as in 2006 when a host turned red in a glass of water at a Dallas church. The Diocese of Dallas had the host analyzed by two University of Dallas biology professors who found the red color to be attributable to “a combination of fungal mycelia and bacterial colonies . . .”
H. Corby Kistler, a mycologist and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, said that Fusarium fungus might have caused the red pigment on the St. Augustine host.
“Fusarium species are common environmental contaminants and often infest wheat and wheat products,” Kistler said.
Father Echert declined to comment Wednesday on the specifics of the lab results.
“A number of parishioners were excited about the possibility [that a miracle had taken place],” Echert said. “I received numerous calls from newspapers and radio programs and websites about the matter. So there was a lot of interest, curiosity and enthusiasm locally and nationwide – thanks to the Web.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed, and we hoped that God had provided us with a miracle here, but our faith remains steadfast regardless.”
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