“The Word will imprint in your soul, as in a crystal, the image of His own beauty, so that you may be pure with His purity, luminous with His light.”
Ten years before entering the Carmelite Convent in Dijon, France, eleven year-old Elizabeth Catez met the prioress on the afternoon of her First Holy Communion. What the prioress told her on that occasion left a deep impression in her soul; upon learning Elizabeth’s name, the prioress told her that her name meant “House of God.” She later wrote on the back of a holy card for Elizabeth: “Your blessed name hides a mystery, accomplished on this great day. Child, your heart is the House of God on earth, of the God of love.”
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)
Upon entering Carmel at the age of twenty-one, Elizabeth sought God’s Face within the temple of her own soul, in prayer and silence, with a growing desire to be united with Jesus, to share in His life and sufferings–to be transformed into His image–so that God the Father would find in her the image of His Son, in whom He was well-pleased. Elizabeth wrote, “God bends lovingly over this soul, His adopted daughter, who is so conformed to the image of His Son, the ‘first born among all creatures,’ and recognizes her as one of those whom He has ‘predestined, called, justified.’ And His Fatherly heart thrills as He thinks of consummating His work, that is of ‘glorifying her by bringing her into His kingdom, there to sing for ages unending’ the praise of His glory.” She prayed that the Holy Spirit “create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery.”
“We must become aware that God dwells within us and do everything with Him; then we are never commonplace, even when performing the most ordinary tasks.”
This was the fruit of contemplation that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wanted to share with everyone; the secret of transforming love hidden within our own hearts. By gazing steadfastly upon God, in faith and simplicity, the Word of God, Jesus Christ–as in the legend of St. Veronica’s Veil–will leave the imprint of His image on the veil of the soul. By her continual loving gaze at Him, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity was transformed into His image. When she died at the young age of twenty-six, she had already fulfilled her mission in the Church as a ceaseless “Praise of Glory,” reflecting the luminous, pure light of the Holy Trinity.
“It is Your continual desire to associate Yourself with Your creatures…How can I better satisfy Your desire than by keeping myself simply and lovingly turned towards You, so that You can reflect Your own image in me, as the sun is reflected through pure crystal? …We will be glorified in the measure in which we will have been conformed to the image of His divine Son. So, let us contemplate this adored Image, let us remain unceasingly under it’s radiance so that it may imprint itself on us.” –Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D.
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.)
”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.
“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
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)
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.
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.)
(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.”
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.
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.”