Did you know that there exists, in this world, a self-portrait of Jesus? Yes, it is true. Pope St. John Paul II has written about this self-portrait in Veritatis Splendor, and so did Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus painted this masterpiece of Himself on a mountain, where He prayed “face-to-face with the Father.” On the mountain of the Beatitudes, Jesus painted in deep, rich hues, a self-portrait of crucified love for us to contemplate and imitate:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt. 5:1-12)
The Beatitudes, Pope St. John Paul II says in Veritatis Splendor, “are a sort of self- portrait of Christ, and for this very reason are invitations to discipleship and to communion of life with Christ.” In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI describes the Sermon on the Mount as a “hidden Christology.” He writes, “Anyone who reads Matthew’s text attentively will realize that the Beatitudes present a sort of veiled interior biography of Jesus, a kind of portrait of His figure. He who had no place to lay his head (Mt. 8:20) is truly poor; he who can say, “Come to me…for I am meek and lowly of heart” (Mt. 11:28-29) is truly meek; he is the one who is pure of heart and so unceasingly beholds God. He is the peacemaker, he is the one who suffers for God’s sake.”
The brushstrokes of the Master are the Christian virtues by which He reveals His Face: Justice, Mercy, Humility, Meekness, Purity of Heart. Jesus painted this self-portrait as an invitation for those who seek His Face to follow Him as His disciples, calling us to communion with Him, accompanying Him to the Cross.
“If you say, ‘show me your God,’ I should like to answer you, ‘show me the man who is in you’… For God is perceived by men who are capable of seeing Him, who have the eyes of their spirit open…Man’s soul must be as pure as a shining mirror.” –Theophilus of Antioch
“O Lord, wealth of the poor, how admirably You can sustain souls, revealing Your great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once. When I see Your great Majesty hidden in so small a thing as the Host, I cannot but marvel at Your great wisdom.” –St. Teresa of Jesus
Adoro Te Devote
Jesu, quem vellum nuns auspício,/Oro, fiat illud, quod tam sitio,/Ut te revelata cernens facie,/Visu sim beatus tuae Gloria. Amen.
Jesus! Whom for the present veiled I see,
What I so thirst for, oh, vouchsafe to me:
That I may see Thy Countenance unfolding,
And may be blest…
Thy Glory in beholding. Amen
There is a wonderful book by Dr. Brant Pitre called “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist – Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper” which sheds light on the great Mystery of the Eucharist, and the connection to the Old Testament “Bread of the Presence” otherwise known in the Old Testament as the “Bread of the Face of God”–the earthly sign of God’s Face veiled–because no one could see the unveiled Face of God and live. Three times a year, Dr. Pitre writes, the priests in the Temple would “remove the Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence from within the Holy Place so that the Jewish pilgrims could see it.” (Exodus 34:23; 23:17) Then the priest would elevate the holy bread before the people saying, “Behold God’s love for you!” The Bread of the Face, was a sign of God’s love because it was a sign of His everlasting covenant. “…this holy bread was a living visible sign of God’s love for his people, the way earthly people could catch a glimpse of the ultimate desire of their hearts: to see the Face of God and live, and to know that He loved them.” “And just as the old Bread of the Presence was also the Bread of the Face of God, so now the Eucharist would be the Bread of the Face of God.” It is through His Face that we enter into the relationship of love with God.
“Behold, you do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him…to receive Him into your heart…He upon whom the angels look with fear, and dare not gaze upon steadfastly because of His dazzling splendor, becomes our Food; we are united to Him, and are made one body and one flesh with Christ.” –St. John Chrysostom
Burn within us, Holy Fire, so that chaste in body and pure of heart, we may desire to see the Face of God.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2Cor 3:17-18)
Be sure to see the video from the previous post of Cardinal Tagle. The light and fire of the Holy Spirit shines on his face as Cardinal Tagle speaks of his experience of seeing the Holy Face of Manoppello in person for the first time. (or click here)
Was there actually a St. Veronica? It is an important question, and a very personal one to me, as Veronica was my chosen patron Saint for Confirmation as a child; the name is part of my own identity and life’s devotion to the Face of Jesus Christ. “Bernice Veronica” is a family name–both names referring to the Woman who wiped the Face of Jesus, commonly depicted in every Catholic church, at the Sixth Station of the Cross. Veronica is now also the name of one of my granddaughters. So, whether there is an actual person, a saint named “Veronica” who wiped the Face of Jesus, is a question that I have sought to know the truth about for most of my life. Did she exist? And what does it mean to be “a Veronica?”
The Catholic Church tells us that a veil bearing a miraculous image of the Face of Jesus has existed since the earliest centuries, recorded in history and in art. Explanations for the existence of such a veil were all different (see “Four Stories, One Face“). About the time this miraculous veil first appeared in Rome, in the Middle Ages, the name “Veronica” referred to the veil itself–“Veronica” meaning “vera” or true, and “icon” meaning image, or even more precisely, “to be present.” Those who gazed upon the veil bearing the true Face of Jesus stood in God’s presence. They were turned toward His Face.
Legends sprang up sometime later about a woman named “Veronica,” who was sometimes associated with the woman “Berenice” or “Bernice,” the bleeding woman who touches the hem of Jesus’s garment in the Gospel. There is a version, written in 1191 by Robert de Boron, that tells of a woman named “Veronica” wiping sweat from the Face of Jesus. 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 1300s, which tells of a woman “Veronica,” 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.
“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.” —The Catholic Encyclopedia
Pope St. John Paul II expressed the answer to the question of Veronica most beautifully in his poem, “The Name:”
In the crowd walking towards the place
[of the 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.
Since the detailed historical facts about the veil itself cannot be verified with absolute certainty in this life, the more important and answerable question is, “What does it mean to be a Veronica?”
“Your name was born from what you gazed upon.”
When a soul performs an “act of compassion,” Jesus leaves His image on the “veil” of the soul. In other words, while contemplating the Face of Jesus in an image, in the Word of God in the Scriptures, in a person made in the image and likeness of God, or above all, in the Eucharist, the soul places itself in the Presence of God. When we are turned completely toward the Face of God, through a daily face-to-face encounter in prayer–by the power of the Holy Spirit–God gradually transforms the soul into the “True Image” of His Son, Jesus Christ. As Pope St. John Paul II says, our hearts must become an “effigy of truth,” a “true icon.” Then our name too will be born from what we gaze upon. It will be “Veronica.”
The Lord opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard: My Face I did not shield from buffets and spitting, The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50: 4b-7)
What does it means to be a Christian?
“A Message to Those Who Kill Us” – Father Boules George gives a sermon during the Eve of Monday Pascha following the two bombings on Palm Sunday that took place at Saint George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta and Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria.
“Do you see how I suffer? Yet, very few understand me. Those who say they love me are very ungrateful! I have given my HEART as the sensible object of my great LOVE to men and I give my FACE as the sensible object of my sorrow for the sins of men. I wish that it be venerated by a special Feast on Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. I wish that the feast be preceded by a novena in which the faithful make reparation with Me, joining together and sharing in my sorrow.” –Words of Our Lord to Bl. Mother Maria Pierina de Micheli
At the time that Bl. Mother Maria Pierina De Micheli was beatified in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI noted “her extraordinary devotion to the Holy Face of Christ.” Archbishop Angelo Amato, who presided over the beatification at St. Mary Major remembered Bl. Pierina for “a concrete sign” she left in history of the Triune God and her “invitation to all people to see the attraction of Divine Beauty.”
Bl. Mother Pierina was born in Milan, Italy, in 1890. She had mystical experiences since her childhood. She became a Daughter of the Immaculate Conception Nun and was sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1915, then returned to Italy in 1921. In 1936, during night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the first Friday of Lent, she received a messages from Our Lord and the Blessed Mother, telling her to spread devotion to His Holy Face. At that time she was told to have medals made with the image of the Face of the Shroud of Turin on one side and a radiant Host on the other. The words on the medal read, “Illumina Domine Vultum Tuum Super Nos” (“May, Lord, the light of Your Countenance shine upon us”) on the front and “Mane Nobiscum Domine”(Stay with us Lord”) on the reverse.It was this medal of the Holy Face that inspired Pope St. John Paul II to dedicate the millennium to the Holy Face of Jesus.
The Blessed Mother also spoke to Mother Pierina about the Holy Face Medal: “Listen carefully and refer everything to Father: This Scapular [or medal] is an armour of defence, a shield of strength, a pledge of mercy which Jesus wishes to give to the world in these times of lust and hatred against God and His Church. There are very few true apostles. A divine remedy is necessary, and this remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus. All who shall wear a Scapular [or medal] like this and make, if possible, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday in reparation for the outrages that the Holy Face of my Son Jesus received during His Passion and is still receiving in the Holy Eucharist every day,
– will be strengthened in the Faith, and will be made ready to defend it,
– will overcome all difficulties, internal and external
– and they will have a peaceful death under the loving gaze of my Divine Son.”
The Blessed Mother also requested the sanctification of Tuesdays by making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and that a special feast be instituted in honor of the Holy Face on “Shrove Tuesday” which is the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. On that day“we should make expiation for our own sins and the sins of others who dishonor the Sacred Face of Jesus by their ingratitude and sinful lives.”
Our Lord told Mother Pierina:
“By my Holy Face, you will obtain the conversion of numberless sinners. Nothing that you ask in making this offering will be refused you. According to the care you take in making reparation to My Face, disfigured by blasphemers, I will take care of yours, which has been disfigured by sin. I will reprint upon it My Image, and render it as beautiful as it was on leaving the Baptismal Fount. I promise personal and spiritual protection to all who venerate this (Holy Face) medal.”
To obtain the permission and funds to have the medal cast was very difficult for Bl. Pierina, but, miraculously, she found on her desk an envelope with the exact amount of the bill, 11,200 lire. Her biography stated that “The evil spirit showed his chagrin and rage at the medals by flinging them down and burning the pictures of the Sacred Face, and beating Sister Pierina savagely.” The Holy Face medal became famous during World War II for its miracles and countless spiritual and temporal favors.
Our Lord referred to the work of reparation to the Holy Face as“The most beautiful work under the sun!”which He revealed as being destined to be the means of defeating atheistic Communism and restoring peace to the world.
Bl. Mother Pierina implored her sisters to make this novena, preceding the Feast of the Holy Face on Shrove Tuesday, with all the fervor of their hearts.Please join in this year’s Holy Face Novena, which will be posted each day on this site (and may also be found on the Novena tab above), beginning February 19 and continuing to the 27th. The Feast of the Holy Face for this year is Tuesday, February 28.(Locally, in Madisonville, Louisiana, St. Anselm Parish is inviting all to an evening of Adoration, Sacred Music, Prayers, and Benediction in honor of the Holy Face of Jesus, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 6:00p.m. to 8:30 p.m. We will be offering free Holy Face medals until they run out.)
Our Lord’s words to Bl. Mother Maria Pierina De Micheli:
“No one gives me a kiss of love on My Face to make amends for the Kiss of Judas.”
“I wish that my Face, which reflects the intimate sorrow of my soul, and the suffering and love of my Heart, be better honoured. He who contemplates me consoles me.”
“Oh Savior Jesus, who didst will that reparation should be as public and universal as had been the offense, penetrate us with the true spirit of reparation. Give us the grace to love Thy Divine Face, to make it known and loved by the whole world, in order that it may be to us a source of light and means of salvation. Amen. ” ~ Prayer of Blessed Mother Maria Pierina De Micheli
Since ancient times processions have been a reminder that our Christian life is a constant movement toward God and our eternal home. A procession is a type of pilgrimage and expression of piety that flows from the liturgy. Solemn processions can be quite beautiful–accompanied by hymns, prayers, and lit candles– flower girls dropping roses petals, lines of freshly scrubbed altar servers, Knights of Columbus in plumed hats and capes, bearing their swords (the envy of every little boy), priests accompanying the Eucharist or precious relics, acolytes surrounded by clouds of incense, and the faithful holding their rosaries trying to keep their place as they walk slowly behind. But make no mistake, a procession is not a pretty parade. There is power in procession that terrifies the infernal foe and makes all of hell tremble.
Fr. Frederick W. Faber in his treatise on the Blessed Sacrament wrote:
“We process toward our heavenly home in the company of God. Procession is the function of faith, which burns in our hearts and beams in our faces, and makes our voices tremulous with emotion as our ‘Lauda Sion’ bids defiance to an unbelieving world.”
The world is not only unbelieving but publicly blasphemes God to His Face, and it is for this reason that He must be honored publicly. Whether it is within the confines of a church or through the city streets, the procession is a public function of faith, hope, and love. It is an antidote to the poison disseminated by our culture which falsely asserts that religion is “private” and not something to be brought up in polite society or in the public square. By solemn procession the Church loudly proclaims to all the world that Jesus is Lord!
On the occasion of the first “Omnis Terra” procession in 1208, Pope Innocent III wrote this beautiful prayer of devotion to the Veil of Holy Face of Jesus:
“O God, who has marked us with the light of Thy Face as your memorial, and at the request of Veronica, left us Thy Image imprinted on the sudarium; grant we pray, that by your passion and death, to adore, venerate and honor you, in mystery and as through a mirror on earth, so that we might be able to certainly see you, face to face, when you come as our judge.”
This year, on “Omnis Terra” Sunday, January 15, 2017, history will be made once again at the Basilica Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy. A third solemn annual procession will be introduced–in addition to the two solemn processions already observed in May (commemorating the arrival of the Holy Veil to Manoppello), and the solemn procession in August (on the Feast of the Transfiguration). (Details may be found here on the Holy Face of Manoppello blogspot)
The addition of a third procession of the Holy Face at the Shrine of Manoppello is not only Trinitarian, it is a deeply significant and public witness of honor paid by the faithful to His Holy Face and thus also to the Holy Name of Jesus! May all of hell tremble at the sight of His Holy Face!
A Hymn composed by Pope Innocent III from the year 1216:
“Sancte Salve Facies”
Hail Holy Face of Our Redeemer on which shines the appearance of divine splendor impressed upon a little cloth of snowy radiance and given to Veronica as a standard of love.
Hail beauty of the ages, mirror of the saints, which the spirits of the heavens desire to see. Cleanse us from every stain of sin and guide us to the fellowship of the blessed.
Hail our glory amidst this hard life, so fragile and unstable, quickly passing away. Point us, O happy figure, to the heavenly homeland to see the Face that is Christ indeed.
Hail, O sudarium, noble encased jewel, both our solace and the memorial of Him who assumed a little mortal body–our true joy and ultimate good!
*The precious miniature manuscript “Liber Regulae Sancti Spiritus in Saxia,” was published around 1350 and is preserved in the State Archives in Rome. The illustration at the bottom of the first page of the Liber is one of the oldest illustrations of “the Veronica,” which depicts Pope Innocent III with “the Veronica” in his right hand and the Rule granted to the brothers of the hospital in his left. Prior to the Jubilee of 2000, the French medievalist Jacques Le Goff wrote, “Over the centuries Rome was enriched with notable relics. One in particular acquired an exceptional prestige: the sudarium of Christ known and revered by the name of “the Veronica.” The circumstances by which the image first came to Rome is a mystery but was mentioned for the first time under Pope John VII (705-707)
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.)
There are at least four separate historical accounts of a veil or cloth of miraculous origin, “not made by human hands,” bearing an image of the Face of Jesus Christ. Each account relates, in its own way, that the Sacred Image came into contact with the living Face of Jesus. Human nature, being what it is, has altered the story, over the centuries, like the old game of “telephone” where one child whispers a story to the first child in line and by the time it has reached the last child the narrative has become very different.
Humanity has journeyed through millennia of dangers, persecution, wars, and intrigue since Christ walked on the earth (and on water), which obscured the facts of the origin of the Holy Veil of the Face of Jesus. The stories of the Veil were handed down to us today by way of history, tradition, literature, art, and music. Somewhere within these intertwined stories is the truth, but, one must have the humility to acknowledge before such a great mystery that we don’t know the whole of the story because God, whose “ways are not our ways,” has allowed them to be hidden.
There are many clues (read anything written about the Holy Face by Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope Francis to find those clues) as to why the Holy Face is taking such a prominent role at this particular point in history to draw humanity back out of the abyss of darkness it now finds itself submerged in. It seems that God, in His Mercy, is “drawing back the veil,” in these dark days, allowing facts to come to light. The four stories point us to one image in particular.
To begin, each are said to depict 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. The images each were reported to have been miraculous not only in appearance, but also as an instrument of healing.
The history of the Camulia overlaps with another historical narrative, also originating in Turkey, of an image of the Face of Christ–The Mandylion of Edessa– which will be continued in the next post, “Four Stories – One Face, Part 2.”