O LORD God of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. (Ps 80:19)
Why do the mysterious burial cloths of Jesus have such a tremendous impact on the faith of believers? After all, isn’t faith “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen“? (Heb 11:1) But Christ Himself left tangible evidence of the Resurrection for future generations to see in faith and hope. “Faith is both hearing and seeing” (Encyclical Lumen Fidei). The Apostles Peter and John knew Jesus, the man, who appeared as any other man: “There was no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him” (Isaiah 53: 2). They had heard and believed the words of Jesus; they were witnesses to His miracles, Passion and death; and yet, it was the burial cloths that were left behind in the tomb at the Resurrection of Jesus that caused the Apostle to see and believe “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead ” (John 20: 1-9).
After Christ’s Passion, in the darkest hours, when the first light of dawn appeared, Saints Peter and John were running to the tomb. One can imagine a gaze of wonder, as they found the tomb empty, except for the burial cloths. There are, in existence today, two miraculous cloths that are believed to be from Christ’s tomb which bear His image: an image on linen, of Christ’s Passion and death known as Shroud of Turin, Italy; and the shimmering, sudarium veil that covered His Face, woven from precious byssus. This fragile, transparent veil bears a changing, image of the living Face of Christ that still shows traces of the Passion, and is kept at the Basilica Shrine of “Il Volto Santo” in Manoppello, Italy. It is believed to be “the cloth” written about in Scripture that had covered the head of Jesus and had been rolled up in a separate place (John 20:7). These unfading, miraculous images exist to confirm and strengthen our faith, and to unleash the power of Christ’s Resurrection on the faithful who see and believe that Jesus Christ has truly risen indeed. Alleluia!
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead. (John 20: 1-9)
” The light of faith is the light of a countenance in which the Father is seen.”(Lumen Fidei)
“Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.”(John 12:44-46)
From the Encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith): …faith itself leads to deeper vision: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40). In the end, belief and sight intersect: “Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45). Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18).
How does one attain this synthesis between hearing and seeing? It becomes possible through the person of Christ himself, who can be seen and heard. He is the Word made flesh, whose glory we have seen (cf. Jn 1:14). The light of faith is the light of a countenance in which the Father is seen.”— Encyclical Lumen Fidei, Ch. 2,30
“The Cloth that Covered His Head”
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish law required several “cloths” to be used for burial, and as many as six for someone who had died a violent death. Christian tradition has preserved six cloths as relics that are associated with the burial of Jesus – 1.) The Shroud of Turin, 2.) the Sudarium of Oviedo in Spain, 3.) The Sudarium Veil of Manoppello, 4.) The Sudarium of Kornelimunster in Germany, 5.) The SindonMunda of Aachen, Germany, 6.) The Cap of Cahors in France.
Three of the cloths in particular stand out as extraordinary “witnesses” to the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and together they bear a powerful testimony to the truth of the Gospels. Each one bearing an imprint or image of the Face of Jesus. They are: The Sudarium of Oviedo, The Shroud of Turin, and the Sudarium Veil of Manoppello. The remarkable relationship between these three “cloths” leave little doubt that each came in contact with the face of the same man at the time of burial.
The Sudarium of Oviedo directly touched Jesus’s head following His Crucifixion. Blood was considered sacred to the Jews, so this cloth was used to soak up the Precious Blood of Jesus, by wrapping it around Jesus’s Head, as He was taken down from the Cross. The largest bloodstains are from the nose, other stains are from the eyes and other parts of the face. There is also an imprint on the sudarium of the hand of the person who held this cloth to Jesus’s Face to staunch the flow of blood. It takes one’s breath away to see that the bloodstains on the Sudarium of Oviedo, when overlaid with the Face on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium Veil of Manoppello, correspond perfectly. The blood type is AB, the same as on the Shroud of Turin.
“He went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there”
The Shroud of Turin; the sindone, or linen burial shroud, was believed to have been used to wrap the entire body of Christ. It is the most famous and studied of the three cloths. The faint but visible imprint on the Shroud of Turin gives witness to the violent torture of a man as described in the Passion and Death of Jesus in the Scripture. The world was amazed when Secondo Pia first photographed the Face on the Shroud in 1898; the negative of the photo incredibly became visible as a positive image. The Shroud of Turin caused an entire branch of science to be dedicated to its research called Sindonology.
The Sudarium Veil of Manoppello, Italy, is perhaps the least known of the three burial “cloths.” The Veil bears the image of the living Face of Jesus. This “miracle of light,” “not made by human hands,” was protected and hidden in an isolated church in the Abbruzzi Mountains for centuries. It is believed to be the “cloth” that covered the Face of Jesus in death, showing traces of the Passion: Bruises, swelling, wounds from the Crown of Thorns, and plucked beard. But, it is also believed to have recorded in light the Face of Jesus at the moment of His Resurrection. No, this is not a contradiction. Yes, the image changes. It shows suffering, but it also shows life!
“The cloth that had covered his head”
An explanation about the tradition of a face cloth for burial may be helpful in understanding its profound significance: In the funeral rites for priests in some Eastern churches, the veil which was used to cover the chalice and paten were placed on the face of the deceased priest. (The cloth used to cover the chalice and paten had a particular liturgical symbolism linked to the Face of Christ as well.) It was done as a symbol of both the strength and protection of God, and also of the tomb of Christ–an expression of belief in the Resurrection. In Jewish burial custom, a deceased priest’s face would be anointed with oil and then covered with a white cloth, and would have been done for Jesus.
When Pope St. John Paul II was being laid in his coffin, Archbishops Marini and Stanley Dziwisz had the honor of placing a white silk veil over the face of the pope. Poignantly, the choir sang the words from Psalm 42, “My soul thirsts for God, the living God; when will I come and see the Face of the Lord?” Many wondered about the action of covering the pope’s face with a veil because this was the first time it had been done, but was at the request of Pope John Paul II, who had dedicated the millennium to the Face of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI had also requested that a veil be placed over his face in death.
The cloth that would cover the Face of Christ would have to be made of a material fit for a King, a High Priest, and a God. Byssus, mentioned in the Bible forty times, also known as “sea-silk,” is more rare and precious than gold and it has an exceedingly fine texture which can be woven. Made from the long tough silky filaments of Pinna Nobilis mollusks that anchor them to the seabed, it is strong enough to resist the extreme hydrodynamic forces of the sea. Byssus has a shimmering, iridescent quality which reflects light. It is extremely delicate, yet strong at the same time. It resists water, weak acids, bases, ethers, and alcohols. Byssus cannot be painted, as it does not retain pigments, it can only be dyed; and then, only purple. It can also last for more than 2000 years.
The Sudarium Veil of Manoppello is also made of rare, precious, byssus silk. The skill needed to weave a byssus veil as fine as the Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello is exceedingly great. Chiara Vigo, known as “the last woman who weaves byssus,” has said that neither she nor anyone alive today could duplicate the gossamer-thin veil, which is sheer enough to read a newspaper through. The weave is so delicate, she says, that only the nimble fingers of a very skillful child could weave something so fine.
It is only through light that this shimmering image of the Face of Jesus may be seen, and at times appears as a “living image” as though it were reflected in a mirror, at other times the image completely disappears. Although no camera can adequately capture the image, thanks to the many amazing photos of journalist Paul Badde, the changes that occur when viewing the veil may be better appreciated. (Click here for more photos, and information about Paul Badde’s books and videos about the Holy Face.)
While the Face on the Shroud of Turin clearly shows the Face of Jesus in death with eyes closed, the Sudariam of Manoppello has eyes open–bearing witness to the Resurrection. That was the ardent belief of the former Rector of the Basilica Shrine of the Holy Face, Servant of God Padre Domenico da Cese.
There are many physiological reasons too for believing that the Face Cloth captures the first breath of the Resurrection. Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlomer, who shares that belief, has provided meticulous research about the Veil in her book JESUS CHRIST, The Lamb and the Beautiful Shepherd, The Encounter with the Veil of Manoppello. Sr. Blandina together with the late Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J., who had been Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, have each demonstrated that the Holy Face on the Veil of Manoppello is the proto-image of the earliest icons, and other works of art depicting the Face of Jesus.
“…and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
What did St. John see in the tomb that would cause him to believe? A cloth of blood, such as the Oviedo? The imprint of the crucified Lord as seen on the Shroud of Turin? The Shroud is a miraculous image, but shows the Face of a dead man, not a man who has ressurected. A third witness was needed in order for the disciple to believe. It could only have been evidence of something as astounding as the Resurrection; proof that Jesus was alive!
It is human nature to want to see things for ourselves. Many pilgrims, humble and great, have felt called to make the journey to visit the miraculous relic. If it is God’s handiwork, and I believe that is true, then one can only wonder at its existence, and gaze in silent contemplation, giving thanks for this tremendous gift of God… so we too may “see and believe.”
“We cannot stop at the image of the Crucified One; He is the Risen One!” –Pope St. John Paul II
“”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 Emeritus Benedict XVI
“Show us, O Lord, we pray you, Your Face ever new; that mirror, mystery-laden, of God’s infinite mercy. Grant that we may contemplate it with the eyes of our mind and our hearts: the Son’s Face, radiance of the Father’s glory and the imprint of His Nature (cf. Hb 1:3), the human Face of God that has burst into history to reveal the horizons of eternity. The silent Face of Jesus, suffering and risen, when loved and accepted, changes our hearts and lives. “Your Face, Lord, do I seek, do not hide Your Face from me.” (Ps. 27:8ff) How many times through the centuries and millennia has resounded the ardent invocation of the Psalmist among the faithful! Lord, with faith, we too repeat the same invocation: “Man of suffering, as one from whom other hide their faces.” (Is. 53:3) Do not hide your Face from us!” (Portion of a prayer in honor of the Holy Face of Manoppello by Pope Benedict XVI)
Jesus Christ has truly risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
To learn more about the history of the Holy Face of Manoppello, click here to read “Four Stories, One Face.”
Or watch this wonderful video below, “The Human Face of God.”
And a recent Vaticano episode: