Four Stories – One Face, Part 2

13th Century Surrender of the Mandylion in Constantinople
13th Century Surrender of the Mandylion in Constantinople

”Does any one who has divine knowledge and spiritual understanding not recognize that [iconoclasm] is a ruse of the devil? For he does not want his defeat and shame to be spread abroad, nor the glory of God and his saints to be recorded.”

— St. John Damascene

Iconoclasm–the name means “image breaking”; it is a heresy which maintained that the veneration of religious images was unlawful.  It has been disputed as to whether it began due to Muslim influence, which regarded all representation of the human form to be an abominable idol, or, as some historians believe, whether it came about for political reasons. A resurgence of iconoclasm among radical Muslims is in fact prevalent today, as evidenced by statues and holy images that have been destroyed in churches across the face of the globe. However, there are also some Christians, even today, who believe that venerating images is idolatry.  Iconoclasm was condemned as unfaithful to Christian tradition at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

The iconoclast persecution was raging in the 8th century, and though iconoclasts destroyed images and tore evidence of the Holy Face of Camulia from holy books, there were also Early Church Fathers, who opposed iconosclasm like St. John Damascene, a Doctor of the Church who wrote many works strongly defending the use of such images.

The Mandylion of Edessa
The Mandylion of Edessa

“Previously, God, Who has not a body or a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image.  But now, that He has made Himself visible in the flesh, and has lived with people, I can make an image of what we have seen of God…and contemplate the glory of the Lord, His Face unveiled.”–St. John Damascene   

King Abgar with Veil, Monastery of St. Catherine Sinai, Egypt 8th Century
King Abgar with Veil, Monastery of St. Catherine Sinai, Egypt 8th Century

The Edessa-Another image “not made by human hand” of the Face of Jesus, was mentioned many times at the Council; It was known as the Mandylion of Edessa.  St. John Damascene wrote this regarding the Mandylion (which means “towel” or “handkerchief” in Arabic):

“It is said that King Abgarus of Edessa had sent a painter to make a portrait of Christ.  But he was not able to do it because of the light that shone out of the Lord’s Face. So, taking a veil and placing it before his holy and life-giving face, Jesus impressed his image on it and sent it to King Abgarus, thus satisfying his desire.” –St. John Damascene (source)

St. Jude Thaddues, holding the Face of Jesus
St. Jude Thaddeus, holding the Face of Jesus

According to one tradition (there are several), the poor King suffered from leprosy and gout and hearing of the miracles of Jesus, sent a letter to Jesus with his secretary Ananias, (who also happened to be the wonderful painter mentioned above). It was St. Jude Thaddeus who brought the Holy Veil to the King. After hearing St. Jude Thaddeus preach, and receiving the holy image the King was healed. King Abgarus, who brought Christianity to his kingdom, is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Church.

Reference to the Holy Face of Edessa has been found in historical sources dated back to 590.  “Arab sources also mention the cloth on which Jesus imprinted the image of His Face.” (source) Although there was disagreement over the centuries as to the question of how the image of the living face of Jesus was formed on the cloth, everyone agreed that it was indeed miraculous.

Christ Pantocrator, St. Catherine Monastery,
Christ Pantocrator, St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai 6th or 7th Century

Many reproductions were made of the image, some appearing miraculously on tile that had covered the sacred cloth. The Mandylion was brought eventually to Constantinople, “the queen of all cities,” on August 16, 944, which is still celebrated as a feast day in the Eastern calendar.  It was recorded as being kept in a golden vessel, and only taken out once a year from the Sacred Chapel, where other precious relics of the Passion were also kept until the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

There are many who believe that the image of Edessa was possibly The Shroud of Turin folded in four, others believe it may have actually been the Camulia . (source) The faint image, is difficult to see on the Shroud of Turin, and is not the face of a living man. (The face on the Shroud could not be seen clearly until it was first photographic negatives were produced in 1898.)

image-5-2(In attempting to untangle these intricate threads of history, one must look at references to the earliest icons derived from a common source–the “proto-image.” One of the earliest known icons is Christ Pantocrator, portraying the Face of Christ. There have been several versions of the icon since, each apparently striving to be faithful to a specific original “proto-image”–an image referred to as acheiropoieta “not made by human hands.” Often the icons also depict a unique characteristic and intriguing clue–a short tuft of hair at the center part, which becomes very important in discovering the “proto-image.”)

But what happened to the Camulia Veil? Before disappearing from the radar of historians during the iconoclast persecution, the Camulia Veil had been ordered by Emperor Justinian II to be brought to Constantinople. The Veil, sometimes carried as a standard in battle by the emperor, was for the most part hidden away, and taken out once a year for the emperor’s eyes only–but only after he had gone to confession and received communion.  Justinian’s reign was turbulent, however, and the wise patriarch of Constantinople, Kallinikos, who was later blinded by Justinian II (one hopes that Justinian went back to Confession), entrusted  the Veil to the hands of a Greek man to be brought to safety in Rome. In the year 705, that Greek man became Pope John VII and the new pope built a Chapel in St. Peter’s known as the “Veronica Chapel” to house a precious relic…(To be continued in “Four Stories – One Face, Pt. 3)

“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”

— St. John Damascene, Treatise

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

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