Four Stories – One Face, Pt. 3

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1483 - 1561 The Procession to Calvary ca. 1505, detail
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1483 – 1561
The Procession to Calvary
ca. 1505, detail, National Gallery

The Name

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

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, 1483 - 1561 The Procession to Calvary probably about 1505 Oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 166.4 x 161.3 cm Bought, 1883 NG1143 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1143

Fresco of ciborium that existed in 708 containing sudarium of the "Veronic" True Icon
Fresco painting of sacellum in the Oratory of John VII(ca. 1608)

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.)

Veronica displaying the Sudarium, Flemish ca.1450-1455 Getty Museum
Veronica displaying the Sudarium, Flemish ca.1450-1455 Getty Museum

“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 Edessathe 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.”

Holy Face, St. Lorenz, Nuremberg, Germany
Holy Face, St. Lorenz, Nueremberg, Germany

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.

Venice,The Beatific Vison of the Face of God. Dante, 13th Century "...that sole appearance as I changed by seeing/appeared to change and form anew/Within that brilliant and profoundest Being..." (Paradiso,Canto 31,112-113)
Venice, Illustration of the Beatific Vision of the Face of God for Dante’s Paradiso, 13th Century

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)

Flemish 15th Century
Flemish 15th Century

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.

Face of Jesus from Leonardo daVinci's "Salvator Mundi"
Face of Jesus from Leonardo daVinci’s “Salvator Mundi”

 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 reliquary frame which held the Veronica Veil on display in the Vatican Museum.
The reliquary frame which formerly held the Veronica Veil on display in the Vatican Museum.

(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.)

Book Sources: True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello, The Rediscovered Face, the Unmistakeable Features of Christ, and Witnesses to Mystery, Investigations into Christ’s Relics

Online publication sources: Holy Face of Manoppello Blogspot and “Salve Sancta Facies”

Thank you to Paul Badde for generously sharing his photo images!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Four Stories – One Face, Pt. 3

  1. Lois Pilkenton November 1, 2016 / 5:58 am

    Wonderful information!   This is so very interesting!  Thanks for all your research! 

    Like

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