On November 30, 1433, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for public adoration in a small chapel cared for by a confraternity known as “the Gray Penitents.” Suddenly, Avignon was flooded when the Rodano, the river crossing the city, overflowed. By boat, two members of the confraternity managed to reach the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament had been left for adoration and was now unattended. When they entered the chapel, they saw that the waters were divided to the right and to the left, leaving the altar and the monstrance perfectly dry.
The Eucharistic miracle of Avignon occurred in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, home of the Gray Penitents, whose founding goes back to the time of pious King Louis VIII. This king, in order to celebrate his victory over the Albigensian heretics who denied the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, had organized a solemn act of reparation on September 14, 1226, the liturgical feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
In the official documentation of this event, which is still preserved in the chapel of the Gray Penitents, we read that on November 30, 1433, while the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the little chapel for public adoration, the city of Avignon was hit by a terrible flood. The Rodano river overflowed after days of heavy rain. In the confusion, Armand and Jehan de Pourzillhac-Fature, the latter being the head of the confraternity at the time, with great effort struggled to reach the chapel by boat in order to save the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.
From the gates the two men looked into the chapel toward the altar to see what had happened to the monstrance. They saw that the water, which was almost six feet deep inside the chapel, had parted to the right and to the left of the altar, like two walls, and the altar and the monstrance had remained dry and untouched.
News of the miracle spread rapidly, and all the people, together with the authorities, hastened to the place singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. Several hundred persons witnessed the miracle. The Confraternity of the Gray Penitents decided that the anniversary of the miracle would be celebrated each year in the chapel on the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.
Even today every November 30th the brothers gather at the Chapelle des Penitents Gris to celebrate the memory of the miracle. Before Benediction, the brothers sing a sacred chant taken from the Canticle of Moses, which was composed after the parting of the Red Sea. “I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant…At a breath of your anger the waters piled up, the flowing waters stood like a mound, the flood waters congealed in the midst of the sea… In your mercy you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling” (Exodus 15:1-18).
This scene is very interesting as it recalls the Lord’s power coming from the bible. The crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:19-22), the crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14-17), and the anointing of Elisha by Elijah (2 Kings 2:7-8, 13-14) shows that God has shown this sign before.