An amazing discovery was made inside the Chapel of St. Roch Cemetery No. 1, in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2017. Hidden away where the tabernacle had been was an old, deteriorated painting of the suffering Face of Jesus. St. Roch’s Chapel had been badly damaged by water and termites following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although the chapel had been built in the 1870’s, the age of the painting could not be determined. The challenging restoration, completed in 2021, revealed that the painting had been restored at least once before, and re-stretched on a frame, losing what appears to have been a painted cloth veil surrounding the face, as well as the date or signature of an artist – if indeed there was a signature on the original. (See the full Clarion Herald article by Beth Donze, and photos of damaged painting and restoration: Link to article )
Devotion to the Holy Face has long held a special place in the hearts of the faithful of Louisiana. The Confraternity of the Holy Face of Jesus, which originated in France, was established in New Orleans in 1883 — the first in the Americas — inspiring souls to contemplate the Face of the suffering Christ in reparation for blasphemy, and as an antidote to the atheistic revolution rearing its ugly head in the world, which became known as communism. Tens of thousands of people joined the confraternity and traveled to pray in the little Carmelite Monastery Chapel dedicated to the Holy Face on Barracks Street in New Orleans.
What is so fascinating about the painting of the Face of Christ from St. Roch’s Chapel are the eyes – which the viewer is immediately drawn to. The painting portrays Jesus with His eyes open, as it was commonly seen in works of art centuries before, when the actual relic of the true image, or ” Veronica,” could still be seen at the Vatican by pilgrims to Rome, and copied by artists. (History) After the Sack of Rome in 1527, it was reported that the Veronica had been stolen. Although the theft has never been admitted to by the Vatican – the loss of such a precious relic would have been scandalous – pilgrims were suddenly no longer able to view the veil.
(Link here to wonderful podcast by The Catholic Traveler on the controversial “veil” that is in Vatican.)
Later images of the face on the veil were more often portrayed in various ways: such as with a Crown of Thorns, as in the painting from St. Roch’s Chapel, or with the eyes closed, as in the image of the Holy Face of Tours. The restored image of the Face of Jesus in New Orleans seems to be a renewed invitation to look into the suffering eyes of Jesus with repentance, compassion and love.
It has been argued by some that it is more fitting to contemplate the Face of Christ with His eyes closed, as His Divinity is hidden. But didn’t those who knew Jesus look into His eyes and recognize their Savior? The Word became flesh. It was for this reason that God became incarnate, suffered, died and rose again, so that we may know and love Him.
“True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in Him our own humanity.
The earth–our earthly nature–should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer. The rocks–the hearts of unbelievers–should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones ripped apart. Foreshadowings of the future resurrection should appear in the holy city, the Church of God: what is to happen to our bodies should now take place in our hearts.”–Pope St. Leo the Great
“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human Face.” ~ Pope Benedict XVI