This is the third in a series of posts about the origins of the Bianchi movement. This time, I will translate the narrative of the three breads from the chronicle of Luca Dominici, my Pistoiese chronicler. His account in particular provides lots of information about the regulations participants in the processions were supposed to follow. Dominici was an eye witness to the Bianchi processions, and the entire first volume of his chronicle is dedicated to the Bianchi- more than 200 pages in the modern edition. The section on origins opens Dominici’s chronicle, explaining where he believed the movement came from.
It is true, oh good and devoted people, that in the year of our Lord 1399 in the month of May an event occurred in the Dauphiné region, about three days travel from Alessandria. Our Lord Jesus Christ, having decided to destroy the world on account of the sins of mankind, appeared there in the form of a young man with a noble appearance and bearing. A labourer was there, working in his field. As was the custom with these labourers, he stopped to rest, eating all of his bread and drinking all of his wine so that there was nothing left, before going back to work. Suddenly, Christ appeared to him, saying, ‘give me a bit of your bread.’ The labourer responded, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t give you any because I’ve just eaten and I have nothing left.’ Christ replied, ‘you do have some,’ but the labourer, not recognising Christ retorted, ‘I really don’t!’
Christ told the labourer that if he looked, he would find something, and indeed he did. According to some people, the labourer found three pieces of bread, and according to others, he found one piece of bread broken into three. The labourer marvelled at his discovery. Christ then told the labourer, ‘go over there to that tree, and throw this bread into the fountain you will find at its foot.’ The labourer said, ‘young man, I have worked here for more than twenty years, and I know that there is no fountain for more than a mile around.’ Christ replied, ‘go, because there is one there.’ And so the labourer, having witnessed the miracle with the bread, went off, and was amazed to find the fountain at the foot of the tree.
There, he found a weeping woman dressed in white, sat by the fountain, who was in fact the Virgin Mary. She asked the labourer, ‘what do you want to do?’ He responded, ‘ I want to throw this bread into the fountain- a young man over there told me to.’ She replied, ‘don’t throw any of it in! Go to the youth and tell him you found a woman at the fountain who won’t let you throw any in.’
The labourer returned to Christ, who told him to throw the bread into the fountain like he had told him to. The labourer went back to throw it in, but the woman cried, ‘for God’s sake, don’t do it! Go back to the man and tell him that his mother does not want it to be thrown in.’ So the labourer went back again, but Christ commanded him to throw the bread in this time without returning. Upon the labourer’s return, the Virgin placed herself before the fountain, but he said, ‘the youth has commanded me, and I want to obey him.’ And so he took one part of the bread and threw it over the woman and it fell into the fountain.
The woman began to weep, ‘you have done a terrible thing. For this, a third of mankind will suffer and if you throw in any more, more people will perish. I want you to know that the man who commanded you was Christ, and I am his mother. Christ decided to destroy the world because of the sins of mankind. I went before him to pray that he would not, as I have been successful before.’
The penitent labourer knelt before the weeping Virgin and said, ‘Madonna, what can I do?’ She replied, ‘you must go from city to city, place to place and town to town and tell this story. You will move the whole of Christianity to take up a devotion: every man, woman, chuld, priest, friar and every generation must dress in white linen, as I am clothed myself, with their heads covered. You must not remove this robe and must go barefoot. Women must wear a red cross on their heads, and men a red cross on their shoulders. Everyone must go whipping themselves in a procession for nine days, following a crucifix. You must shout misericordia and pace as loud as they can. You must not sleep in a walled town or in a bed. Each day, you must go to a new town and visit three churches, saying mass in one. You must not eat meat, and must only eat bread and water on Saturdays. You should sing the Stabat Mater and other laude and prayers.
If you do all of these things, I will go before my son and pray to him night and day. And perhaps Christ, who is full of mercy and grace, will revoke the sentence, at least for those of you who have carried out my instructions. Go and tell this to everyone, and do what I have told you. Do it with a good heart and a clear conscience, weeping day and night through every place. All of Christianity will act as I have instructed, and will repent, forgive each other and make peace.’ And so the worker went off and spread the story.
Source: Luca Dominici, Cronache di ser Luca Dominici: Cronaca della venuta dei Bianchi e della moria 1399-1400 (Pistoia: Cav. Alberto Pacinotti). pp. 50-5.