“This Year of Mercy invites us to discover the core; to return to what is essential. This time of mercy calls us to look at the true Face of Our King, the one that shines out at Easter, to rediscover the youthful, beautiful Face of the Church…” –Pope Francis, close of the Year of Mercy. November 20, 2016
Sunday, November 20th, 2016 will be the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and Living Face of the Father’s Mercy. The Jubilee Year of Mercy will be at an end.
“On that day,” says Pope Francis, “as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking Him to pour out His mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future….May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!”
I would be remiss if I didn’t express gratitude to God for this Year of Mercy and most especially for His incredible, miraculous gift of His Holy Face on the Veil of Manoppello–the Face of all faces–the Face of the Mercy of God! Look at His Face! Look at those eyes filled with mercy and peace! It has been said that His eyes look both like a lion’s and a lamb’s.
This has been a very turbulent year in the world, and the next may become even more turbulent, as the enemies of Christianity wage war against the followers of Christ. It is all the more necessary that we keep our eyes fixed on the Face of the King and the Lamb.
“They will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those who are with Him are called chosen and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14)
So, keep fighting the good fight and keep your eyes on His Holy Face, because…
A change in appearance of the Veronica of Rome and an appearance of a Veil in Manoppello
Before the Sack of Rome in 1527 everyone knew quite well what the Veronica looked like. The veil was displayed to the many pilgrims at the Vatican; it was carried publicly in procession; artists made reproductions of the image for the faithful to use for veneration, prayer, and contemplation. The specially made reliquary (which was later broken) had not one, but two panes of crystal, so that the veil could be viewed from either side. Prior to 1527, when pilgrims viewed the Veronica they saw these general characteristics:
“the Face of the living Christ on a sheer veil or cloth–a human face of a man who has suffered, with traces of wounds, bruises, and swelling visible, especially on the left cheek. His wavy hair is long and parted with a small, short lock of curls at the center. His beard is sparse as though torn, and divided in two. His open eyes are peaceful and looking slightly to one side. His mouth is partially opened.” (Pt. 1)
However, after the Sack of Rome, the image at the Vatican was shown less, and what was being presented as the Veronica Veil caused a change in the reaction of the pilgrims and in artists’ portrayals. The painted images began to depict the Face of Christ in more diverse and imaginative ways, more often with the Crown of Thorns, or as merely a veil with a reddish smudge, or even as the face of a dead man with eyes and mouth closed.
Giacomo Grimaldi, a canon who had the task of illustrating and recording inventory for the Vatican, recorded the Veronica Veil on an inventory document called the Opusculum (shown left with an obviously altered date of 1618). Grimaldi noted that the living face shown (with wavy hair, parted in the middle, and the eyes open) was faithful to the image that he saw in 1606 (before the first demolition of the Old St. Peter’s). A copy made in 1635 by Francesco Speroni of the Grimaldi Opusculum inventory shows a dramatically different drawing–with the Face of Christ appearing as a dead man. (below)
Pope Paul V, in 1616, had prohibited any copies to be made of the Veronica without permission and later Urban VIII ordered that all copies of the Veronica be handed in to a local priest or bishop under pain of excommunication. In 1629, the image with the death-like face was placed in the newly completed Veronica Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica–covered with another outer veil–and a notice was placed nearby stating that anyone who removed the veil covering the Holy Face without papal approval would be excommunicated. It was only shown once a year from a distance of 20 meters. All that could be seen was a dark cloth within a frame in the shape of a face. Not surprisingly, interest in the Veronica and therefore devotion to the Holy Face soon dwindled.
While one must be very careful not to ascribe any sort of malicious motive to the apparent incongruity and change of the appearance of the image; one must also be honest in saying that the two images on the Opusculum couldn’t be more different. It is certainly a great mystery which remains to be unraveled.
In 1638, on the other side of Italy, towards the Adriatic coast, “a devout and well-respected man” named Don Antonio Fabritiis donated a precious Veil bearing the Face of Christ to the Capuchin monastery in the small, isolated mountain village of Manoppello, Italy. A document entitled Relazione Historica re-telling the local legend of the Veil was written by Capuchin Donato da Bomba and notarized in 1646 and then, certified by sixteen local witnesses. The story told of the arrival of the Veil in Mannoppello, “in around 1506,”(the date was vague) in the hands of a mysterious stranger who was thought to have been a holy angel. (Aside from the “angel,” the main characters in the story have been historically verified.)
The recorded story told was this: “There lived in Manoppello the very famous Giacomo Antonio Leonelli, doctor in medicine…one day when he was out in the public square just outside of the door of the Mother church of the town of Manoppello, St. Nicholas Bari, in honest conversation with other peers, and while they were speaking a pilgrim arrived unknown by anyone, with a very venerable religious appearance, who having greeted this beautiful circle of citizens, he said, with many terms of manners, and of humility to Dr. Giacomo Antonio Leonelli that he had to speak with him about a secret thing which would be very pleasing, useful and profitable for him. And thus, taking him aside just inside the doorway of the church of St. Nicholas Bari, gave him a parcel, and without unfolding it told him that he ought to hold this devotion very dear, because God would do him many favors, so that in things both temporal and spiritual he would always prosper.” So the doctor took the parcel and turning towards the holy water fount carefully opened it, and “seeing the Most Sacred Face of Our Lord Christ…he burst into most tender tears…and thanking God for such a gift…turned to the unknown pilgrim to thank him…but he did not see him anymore.” When the good doctor, “shaken” and “filled with wonder,” went outside to his friends and asked where the man went, his friends replied that they never saw him exit the church. They searched high and low but never found the mysterious pilgrim, “hence all judged that the man in the form of a pilgrim to be a heavenly Angel, or else a Saint from Paradise.”
The Holy Veil remained the property of the Leonelli family for nearly a century, until a family member in need of money sold the Veil to Don Antonio Fabritiis, who in turn gave it to the Capuchins in 1638. The Holy Veil, called the “Il Volto Santo,” was kept in a dimly lit side chapel until the church was renovated in 1960, when it was decided that the Veil should be moved to a more prominent place behind the altar.
What did the Face on the gossamer-thin Veil look like? Here are portions of a description that Capuchin Donato da Bomba gave of the Holy Face: “He has a rather long, well-proportioned face, with a venerable and majestic look. His hair, or locks are long with thin twisted curls–in particular at the top of the forehead about fifty hairs wind into a little corkscrew, distinct from each other and well arranged. His left cheek is swollen and bigger than the other because of a strong blow across the cheek. The lips are very swollen. His teeth show. It seems the Holy Face is made of living flesh, but flesh that is afflicted, emaciated, sad, sorrowful, pale and covered in bruises around the eyes and on the forehead. The eyes of Christ are similar to those of a dove…He is serene and tranquil.”
“Those who gaze on it are never satisfied with contemplating it, and wish to always have it before their eyes. And when they eventually leave it, with heavy sighs full of love, they are forced to leave Him their hearts, bathed in tears.” –Capuchin Donato da Bomba 1646
On September 1, 2006, another pilgrim (some also may say an “angelic pilgrim”) came to Manoppello to see for himself the Holy Face of Jesus on the Veil–Pope Benedict XVI, who has elevated the status of the Shrine to a Sanctuary Basilica. “Your Face O Lord I seek–seeking the Face of Jesus must be the longing of all Christians, indeed, we are ‘the generation’ which seeks His Face in our day, the Face of the ‘God of Jacob.’ If we persevere in our quest for the Face of the Lord, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, He, Jesus, will be our eternal joy, our reward and glory forever.”–Pope Benedict XVI, September 1, 2006
The Face of Manoppello, which may be viewed from both sides, is described as “dark,” “light,” “bluish”, “golden” or it may even “vanish completely”…all are different, but, it is one Face!
In the crowd walking towards the place of Agony–did you open up a gap at some point or were you opening it from the beginning? And since when? You tell me, Veronica. Your name was born in the very instant in which your heart became an effigy: the effigy of truth. Your name was born from what you gazed upon. –Karol Woytyla
The Veronica–Although historians are still uncertain as to how the veil came to Rome, there is an interesting fresco in the grottoes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. The fresco, commissioned ca. 1608 by Paul V in the area near the tomb of St. Peter, was to preserve the memory of monuments of the old Basilica that had been demolished 12 years earlier. Among the frescoes is the Oratory (dated ca. 708) of Pope John VII. It protected the sacellum or small shrine containing the Holy Veil, which by some accounts, brought by John VII to Rome from Constantinople.
The inscription reads: SACALLVM SS. SVDARII VERONIC(ae), ET DEIP(arae) VIRG(inis) A IONNE VII—“The oratory of the Holy Sudarium Veronica and of the Virgin Mother of God, built by John VII” (Scholars dispute whether the shrine was actually built by John VII or much later by Celestinus III–which is another mystery–why would one pope build a shrine, then credit it to another pope?)
(The Latin word “Veronic” in the inscription means “True Image” and the word “sudarium” is Latin for “sweat cloth.” “Sudarium” is specifically used to refer to the two cloths that are associated with the Passion of Jesus: One is known as the “Oviedo,” which bears no image, but was used to soak up blood from Jesus’s Face after His death on the Cross; and the second is known as the “Veronica Veil.” The Shroud of Turin is known as the “Sindone”or burial cloth.)
“The Veronica” was the name given to the veil itself, but several legends sprang up about a woman named Veronica (who was sometimes associated with the woman Berenice, the bleeding woman, who touches the hem of Jesus’s garment in the Gospel). The oldest legend, tells a tale much like the Legend of Edessa—the Cura Sanitatis Tiberii, in which a woman named Veronica, having painted a portrait of the Lord, was summoned from Jerusalem to Rome by the Emperor Tiberius, who was cured of leprosy by touching the sacred image. Then there is a version that tells of Veronica wiping sweat from the Face of Jesus, written in 1191 called Joseph d’ Arimathie by Robert de Boron. The stories are many and varied, but the legend that most people are familiar with today is traced to a version by Roger d’Argenteuil in the 1300’s–it is that of Veronica, which is associated with the sixth station of the Cross–the compassionate woman, wiping the Face of Jesus on the way to Calvary with a cloth, upon which He leaves an image of His Face. The big question is– did a woman, later named for the holy Veronica Veil, exist? The Catholic Encyclopedia deftly answers the delicate question: “These pious traditions cannot be documented, but there is no reason why the belief that such an act of compassion did occur should not find expression in the veneration paid to one called Veronica.”
It was Pope Innocent III who brought the Holy Veil out of hiding, by instituting a procession with the Veronica on the Sunday after the Octave of the Epiphany, which was dedicated to the Wedding at Cana. The procession traveled from St. Peter’s Church to Spirito Santo Hospital in Rome. Alms were given along the way (3 denarii) to the poor, which was enough to buy milk, bread, and wine. (This procession was reenacted for the first time in many centuries in Rome on January 17, 2016. Details here.) Soon after Innocent III’s procession, the Veronica Veil became the most famous relic in Rome. Pilgrims flocked to see the Veronica and artists created many reproductions for the pilgrims. During next four centuries, the ordinary pilgrims included saints and other notable persons who saw the Holy Face for themselves and recorded their experience.
Dante, who came to Rome as a pilgrim and saw the Veronica Veil himself, later wrote in Paradiso of the Divine Comedy of“A pilgrim from Croatia, far indeed, comes to set his gaze on our Veronica, and cannot fulfill so long a hunger for that food. But while the relic’s shown he says, in thought, ‘And did you look like this, was this your face, O Jesus Christ my Lord and very God?'” (Canto 31,103-106)
The appearance of the Face on the Veil had mysterious, changeable attributes recorded in art and writing: The veil was described as sheer, almost transparent, and luminous. While the face of Jesus was sometimes suffering or serene, in color it was “dark,” “bright,” “bluish,” “black” or “golden”…or even vanished completely.
St.Gertrude the Great described the Veronica in 1289, explaining that both the darkness and brightness of the Veronica was related to the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus as well as the fact that Christ was both human and divine. St. Julian of Norwich wrote of the Holy Veil in Rome, “which He hath portrayed with His own blessed Face when He was in His hard Passion, with steadfast will going to His death, and often changing of color…diverse changing of color and countenance, sometime more comfortably and life-like, sometime more ruefully and death-like.”
Even Martin Luther gave a rather incredulous description of the Veronica, which he saw (or rather, didn’t see) on a visit to Rome in 1511: “It is simply a square black board on which a transparent piece of cloth hangs and above this is another veil. There poor Jena Hans cannot have seen anything more than a piece of transparent cloth that covers a black board. This is the Veronica which is shown.”
In 1506, Pope Julius II (the pope who harangued Michaelangelo to complete the Sistine Chapel) began the great renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica including the construction of a magnificent Veronica pillar, which was to contain the precious Veil. In 1527, Rome was sacked by the mercenary troops of Charles the V; within eight days homes, palaces, and churches were looted, pillaged, and destroyed, including the Vatican. (Sack of Rome) As in all times of crisis, the rumors flew…it was feared that the Veronica had been stolen. “A letter written to the Duchess of Urbino by her representative, Urban, dated May 21, 1527, reads, Holy relics have been thrown out onto the streets. The Veronica has been stolen and passed around in taverns from person to person without a word of protest‘”… (To be continued in “Four Stories – One Face, Pt. 4)
(The 14th century reliquary frame, built to display the miraculous veil. The frame was likely broken and the rock crystal cracked during the Sack of Rome in 1527. The crystal is the largest known example of rock crystal in the world.)