The Orvieto’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (the Duomo) is famous for its architecture and for the program of mural paintings begun by Beato Angelico and completed by Luca Signorelli in the Chapel of San Brizio. Although the program of mural paintings in the Chapel of the Corporal is less interesting from the point of view of style, it is no less so from the point of view of iconography.
CHAPEL OF THE CORPORAL
The Chapel of the Corporal takes its name from the the miracle of Bolsena, which was supposed to have taken place in 1263. According to fourteenth-century accounts, a priest, tormented by doubts about the miracle of transubstantiation, traveled from Bohemia to Rome. On the way back, he stopped in Bolsena and witnessed the Host spilling blood on the Corporal (a linen cloth used during Mass). Eventually, the Corporal made its way from Bolsena to Orvieto and became its most prized possession.
The paintings in the Chapel of the Corporal are dedicated to various miracles performed by the Host. They were executed between 1357 and 1364 by two local artists, Ugolino di Prete Ilario and Giovanni Leonardelli, and their workshops.
The lower register of the West Wall of the Chapel of the Corporal contains three scenes representing the miracle of the Host converting the Saracens. On the left, there is a battle scene between the Christians and the Saracens. The Christians undress and swim across the river to safety. A priest is led to a Saracen King, who orders him to demonstrate how bread can turn into the Body of Christ (see the two photos below).
In the other two scenes, the priest celebrates Mass, Christ appears holding a cross and Saracens convert to Christianity. An inscription reads: “In what way, while a priest is consecrating the chalice on the same altar, a young boy appears walking up and down holding a crucifix: by this event the Christians were freed and many Saracens believed” (translation by D. N. Surh).
For better images (scroll down and ignore the descriptions) click here.
Orvieto makes for an excellent stop on the way from Rome to Florence.
Dominique Nicole Surh, Corpus Christi and the Capella del Corporale at Orvieto (PhD thesis, University of Virginia, 2000).