Journalist Paul Badde has generously shared these beautiful photos of “Il Volto Santo” the Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy, taken on the 15th of May for the great Feast of Pentecost. The photo images of the miraculous veil capture so well the changeability and infinite beauty, mercy and peace found by gazing on the Holy Face. The gossamer-thin byssus veil is not painted but seems to be “written by the Holy Spirit” as an icon in light, which according to the light, may be clearly seen with blood and wounds, or as fresh and healed, or disappear. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, “Faith is seeing and hearing.” May those who contemplate His Holy Face, like St. Peter and St. John in the tomb on Easter, “see and believe,” and as we gaze upon His Face may we be attentive as well to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, who will lead us through Jesus to the Merciful Face of the Father.
A “Must Read” on the Holy Face: There is an excellent post “More than an Abstraction,” the text from a conference given by Fr. Daren Zehnle. It is a very clear, well-documented and informative history of “The Veronica,” and the miraculous “Veil of Manoppello” in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It can be read on his “Servant and Steward”blog. (click here)
“I never cease to implore blessings for you from Jesus, and to beg the Lord to transform you totally in Him. How beautiful His Face, how sweet His eyes and what a good thing it is to stay close to Him…”–St. Padre Pio O.F.M.Cap
St. Padre Pio, a Friar Minor Capuchin priest and mystic, was well-known for his many spiritual gifts such as the stigmata, bi-location, and for his ability to read the hearts of penitents who came to him in confession. During his life St. Padre Pio suffered as Our Lord did, not only through physical pain, but by humiliations, calumny, slander and mistrust that deeply wounded his heart, in this he shared in the suffering of the Face of Christ.
He wrote in his meditations on The Agony of Jesus of the Face of Jesus, the “Innocent Lamb,” “His Face covered with sadness and at the same time with love:”
“He [Jesus] seems to be at the extremity of suffering… He is prostrate with His Face to the ground before the majesty of His Father. The Sacred Face of Him Who enjoys through the hypostatic union the beatific vision of the Divine Glory accorded to both Angels and Saints in Heaven, lies disfigured on the ground. My God! My Jesus! Art Thou not the God of Heaven and earth, equal in all things to Thy Father, Who humiliates Thee to the point of losing even the semblance of man? …It is to repair and expiate for my haughtiness, that Thou bowest down thus before Thy Father.”
It is no wonder then, in the extremity of his own suffering, St. Padre Pio’s last case of bi-location was before the relic of the Holy Face of Jesus at the shrine of “Il Volto Santo” in Manoppello, Italy, 200 km north of San Giovanni Rotundo, where Padre Pio lay dying. His friend and fellow Friar Minor Capuchin, the Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese, was at that time the rector of the shrine. Padre Domenico gave testimony that at the dawn of the last day of St. Padre Pio’s earthly life, he unlocked the doors of the shrine of the Holy Face and was astounded to find Padre Pio in prayer, in the choir behind the altar before the Sacred Image of the Face of Jesus. St. Padre Pio spoke then to Padre Domenico saying, “I do not trust myself any more. I am coming to an end. Pray for me. Good bye until we meet in Paradise.” 24 hours later St. Padre Pio died in his cell in San Giovanni.
“If I know that someone is afflicted in body or in soul, what will I not do in the presence of the Lord to see him freed from these evils? I should willingly take upon myself all his sufferings, if I could only free him from them. I should surrender in his favor the fruits of these sufferings, if the Lord were to permit it.” — St. Padre Pio
Below are photos of the miraculous image “Il Volto Santo” that Padre Pio prayed before in his own agony. This “living image” is very difficult to capture in a photograph because it is a changing image, one face, an infinite number of expressions but always a Face of Mercy and Peace.
Jesus makes Himself our mirror – “He who never meditates is like a person who never looks in the mirror, therefore, not knowing that he is untidy, he goes out looking disorderly. The person who meditates and directs his thoughts to God, Who is the mirror of his soul, tries to know his faults, attempts to correct them, moderates his impulses, and puts his conscience in order.” — St. Padre Pio
Like St. Padre Pio let us “look into the mirror” and contemplate always the Face of Christ!
Alpha-Omega Holy Face of Jesus Novena Prayers and Consecration
Daily Preparatory Prayer
O Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, through the intercession of Holy Mary, whose soul was pierced through by a sword of sorrow at the sight of the passion of her Divine Son, we ask your help in making a perfect Novena of reparation with Jesus, united with His sorrows, love and total abandonment.
We now implore all the Angels and Saints to intercede for us as we pray this Holy Novena to the Most Holy Face of Jesus and for the glory of the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 51: 12-13
A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence not deprive me of your Holy Spirit.
May our hearts be cleansed, O Lord, by the in-pouring of the Holy Spirit, and may He render them fruitful by watering them with His heavenly dew. Mary, the most chaste spouse of the Holy Spirit, intercede for us, St. Joseph, pray for us.
Through the merits of your precious blood and your Holy Face, O Jesus, grant us our petition, …Pardon and mercy.
Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel *
O Victorious Prince, most humble guardian of the Church of God and of faithful souls, who with such charity and zeal took part in so many conflicts and gained such great victories over the enemy, for the conservation and protection of the honor and glory we all owe to God, as well as for the promotion of our salvation; come, we pray Thee, to our assistance, for we are continually besieged with such great perils by our enemies, the flesh, the world and the devil; and as Thou wast a leader for the people of God through the desert, so also be our faithful leader, and companion through the desert of this world, until Thou conduct us safely into the happy land of the living, in that blessed fatherland from which we are all exiles. Amen. (St. Aloysius)
Pray one (1) Our Father, three (3) Hail Mary’s, one (1) Glory Be.
O Bleeding Face, O Face Divine, be every adoration Thine. (3 times)
*[St. Michael, whose battle-cry is “Who is like God?” is the Patron of the Arch-Confraternity of The Holy Face, which was canonically erected in the Chapel of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of New Orleans by Archbishop Perche in 1883, the first in The United States. From that humble oratory, devotion to The Holy Face spread throughout the Americas. Recently, Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in New Orleans has commissioned an exceptional statue of St. Michael bearing a shield with the Face of Jesus “Il Volto Santo” of Manoppello.
Cody Swanson, is the artist of the awe-inspiring sculpture. Thanks to Mr. Paul Badde I’ve been fortunate enough to see photos of the color-study of the work. I have never seen a more powerful expression of St. Michael’s key question, “Who is like God?” Mr. Swanson, is an American Catholic convert and father of five, who has been described as “a young Michaelangelo.” Hmmm… Is that The Holy Spirit over his shoulder, or just a reflection on the glass? Either way, he certainly has been inspired!]
Ever since I first laid eyes on the Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy, I have wanted to paint it. Surely every artist who has looked upon the image has felt the same desire. The “Il Volto Santo” seems to be the prototype of ancient images of the Face of Christ in the Eastern and Western Church as there is abundant evidence in museums and churches. There were more than a few obstacles to fulfill this desire of my heart to paint His Face. For one thing, I didn’t attempt to take a photograph when I saw the “Il Volto Santo” as I had come to pray as a pilgrim to the Basilica in Manoppello, and made up my mind to get a picture or holy card at the Sanctuary’s small gift shop. Also, I had seen numerous photographs–all different, some strange, flat or distorted, the color itself varying greatly from one picture to another. Some photos are very dark and the image appears covered with wounds, as one would see Christ in His Passion. Others bright, beautiful and fresh, with wounds healed as it must have appeared at the moment of The Resurrection.
The changeability of the image itself posed a great challenge. When standing by myself before “Il Volto Santo,” I saw the face with wounds, from a crown of thorns, bruises, blood, torn beard and red inflamed skin. But, upon kneeling … words cannot express what is felt, a living face of a man, wounds very faint and the eyes…! The eyes filled with mercy and peace more deep and still than if Jesus had stilled the waters of the ocean to it’s depths… Again, nothing could compare to what my eyes beheld. In addition, seeing was one thing and experiencing another. I knew that trying to use paint to convey that experience of God’s Mercy and Peace would fall infinitely short of the goal. Still, the desire to paint His Face remained.
More than two years passed before I even began. As I said, no photo I’ve seen would do, but finally I decided to look at several and use the elements that, for me, came close to my memory of the veil. Even though I cannot paint icons in the traditional sense, I do paint them in my own fashion, not having formal art education. Being a wife and raising six children has been my primary vocation in life, and I’ve fit my painting in between the many things that fill a mother’s day. So, when I got fed up with my own excuses not to begin to paint the Face of Jesus, I prepared an icon board, selected a few pictures and began to draw.
Artists look at things a little differently, I think. I had planned on making a simple outline of the main features of the face from a relatively clear photo of the Veil of Manoppello that I came across, but my plan took a different turn. Come to think of it, that is often how the Holy Spirit works. Icons are said to be “written” by the hand of the artist through the Holy Spirit. I drew the lines, and as other faint lines and shadows appeared to my eyes, I drew them as well with the same value or darkness as the most obvious lines.
The results left me astonished. What isn’t readily apparent manifested itself in such a beautiful way. Faint marks on the forehead, for example, appeared as marks from thorns. Faint short lines on the face which turned this way and that were obviously the hair from a torn beard. Looking very closely and drawing each curved line became soft waves of hair. All were there, but faintly. The drawing just made the facts more noticeable. The concentration of the lines above the brow and below the nose accentuated the space surrounding the eyes as though a blindfold had protected them from some of the blows inflicted on the rest of the face.
I began the painting in silent prayer. Although sacred music can elevate the mind and heart, I greatly prefer the “language of heaven” which is silence. My family would attest to the fact that when I paint, I tune out all noise anyway. The house could come down around my ears and I probably wouldn’t look up. St. Teresa of Avila spoke of ignoring “the mad-woman running around the house” referring to distractions while she was trying to pray. We probably all have our own “mad-woman” who tries to distract us with many cares, anxieties and trivialities as we try to turn our attention to God. Painting is a wonderful way to shut the door on the crazy lady and focus solely on listening to God.
It is true that God’s Face can be found in the Scriptures and in our neighbor, but I seek Him most often in images of Jesus and in particular, I love the image of “Il Volto Santo,” in Italy. It is for me an icon which encapsulates the whole of Divine Revelation in one Face. As I select colors and brush and begin my work, I gaze at Him, the words of Scripture are ever present in my mind, beginning with the longing of all mankind, “Your Face, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your Face from me.” (Psalm 27) “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” “…a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity”(Isaiah 53:2 – 3), “For God so loved the world that He gave it His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) “The word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) With sorrow, I look at the terrible wounds on the face of Christ, and the words of St. Pope John Paul II echo in my heart, “We cannot stop at the image of The Crucified One. He is the Risen One!” and St. Paul’s words, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image.” (2 Cor 3:18) and more and more… There are no end to the depths of the treasures in His Face.
How could I hope a painting could ever match the beauties that are found in His Face? It can never be possible unless He painted it Himself, so I ask Him to paint His image in my heart. I knew at the outset I would be unsatisfied with the result of my painting, because only seeing Him face to face in eternity could satisfy that infinite desire. Still, I can look at the work of my hands, pray, and remember that there is always “more than meets the eye.”
The words on the icon are: Illumina, Domine, Vultum Tuum Super Nos. or “Shine the light of Your Face on us, O Lord.”
May His Face shine upon you always!
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” –Hebrews 11:1