Vincenzo Foppa
St. Peter Martyr and the False Madonna

Portinari Chapel
Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio, Milan, Italy

This legend is recounted in Thomas of Lentino's vita (¶¶ 26-27). St. Peter Martyr is told by some of the townspeople of Milan that the Madonna has appeared in a church of the Cathars, denouncing Peter and affirming the truth of Catharist doctrine. A Milanese noble and many others have been persuaded by this vision to abandon the Catholic faith and join the Cathars.

The following day when he says Mass, Peter puts one of the consecrated hosts in his mantle and goes to the Catharist church. Catholics believe that the host is the body of Christ. Cathars do not. So when Peter arrives in their church he holds up the host and says, "If you are truly the Mother of God, here, adore your son." At that, the false Madonna, who was actually a devil, disappears in a great noise and stench, and the walls of the Catharist church are split from top to bottom.

The fresco pictures the moment when the saint has held up the host and made his challenge. The viewers will see that this is no ordinary elevation of the host at an altar when they notice the false Madonna's horns.

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Photographed at the chapel by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.