The Veronica's Veil

Christian legend tells of a fabled, linen veil which inexplicably shows the face of Jesus. The veil has more intriguing mysteries surrounding it than just what caused the image. The Vatican claims it has been holding the cloth in its archive continuously since the twelfth century. According to legend, a woman from Jerusalem encountered Jesus along the Via Dolorosa on the way to Calvary. When she paused to wipe the sweat (Latin suda) off his face with her veil, his image was imprinted on the cloth. The woman’s name was Veronica, she is said to have kept the cloth and realised that it had holy healing powers.

Veronica holding her veil (Hans Memling)

However there is no reference to the story of Veronica and her veil in the canonical Gospels. The closest is the miracle of the woman who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:43-48); her name is later identified as Veronica by the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate". According to some versions, Veronica later traveled to Rome where she used it to cure Emperor Tiberius of a malady, and then left it in the care of Pope Clement and the Catholic Church.

It has often been assumed that the Veronica was present in the old St Peter's in the papacy of John VII (705-8) as a chapel known as the Veronica chapel was built during his reign, and this seems to have been the assumption of later writers. This is far from certain however as mosaics which decorated that chapel do not refer to the Veronica story in any way. Furthermore, contemporaneous writers make no reference to the Veronica in this period. It would appear however that the Veronica was in place by 1011 when a scribe was identified as keeper of the cloth. However, firm recording of the Veronica only begins in 1199 when two pilgrims named Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis) and Gervase of Tilbury made two accounts at different times of a visit to Rome which made direct reference to the existence of the Veronica. Shortly after that, in 1207, the cloth became more prominent when it was publicly paraded and displayed by Pope Innocent III, who also granted indulgences to anyone praying before it. This parade, between St Peter's and The Santo Spirito Hospital, became an annual event and on one such occasion in 1300 Pope Boniface VIII, who had it translated to St. Peter's in 1297, was inspired to proclaim the first Jubilee in 1300. During this Jubilee the Veronica’s Veil was publicly displayed and became one of the "Mirabilia Urbis" ("wonders of the City") for the pilgrims who visited Rome.

In 1608 the area of the Basilica displaying the veil was demolished in order to be redesigned, and the cloth was placed in the Vatican’s archives. Under tight security, it was brought out once a year for public viewing.

On 3rd June 1999, Professor Heinrich Pfeiffer, a Professor of Early Christian Art at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome,and official advisor to the Papal Commission for the Cultural History of the Church, revealed he had successfully completed a 13-year investigation to find the real Veil of Veronica. He explained that the artifact annually displayed was merely a copy that the Vatican had created so as not to disappoint pilgrims. He claimed to have actually found the true relic in an abbey in the tiny village of Manopello, high in the Italian Apennine mountains.

Manopello Image

Professor Pfeiffer says that during a rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica between 1506-1626, at one point involving Michelangelo who designed the Dome, the Veil was stolen from the Vatican and brought, eventually, to Manoppello. The claim is made that in 1506 during construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica, (as recorded in the Capucine Provincial Archive) - a mysterious stranger brought the Veil to Manoppello and gave it to a gentleman of the place, Dr. Giacomo Antonio Leonelli. The precious veil was kept in the Leonelli family for over a century. Then, in 1608, it was included in the nuptial gifts for Maria Leonelli for 400 scudi (an old Italian unit of currency), but the gift was never delivered. In 1608 Maria's husband, Pancrazio Petrucci stole it from his father-in-law's home. Later, in order to have her husband released from prison in Chieti, she sold the veil to Dr. Donato Antonio De Fabritis who placed it in a Walnut Frame adorned with Silver and gold between two pieces of glass and presented it to the Capuchins in 1638 who have kept it in the monastery and revered it as a sacred icon ever since, as recorded between 1640 and 1646 by Padre Donato da Bomba who wrote a "Relatione Historica”.

The description of the Veil at Manoppello is that it is 6.7 x 9.5 inches (17.5 x 24 cm) after having been trimmed in the early 1600’s by the Capuchins. There are 26 warp by 26 weft threads in a square centimeter not always at a regular distance from each other. The Veil is white, almost transparent, and is kept on a high altar in a silver monstrance. The fabric is made of a rare silk called Byssus - a precious thread woven from a fine, yellowish flax referred to as "sea silk" and used by ancient Egyptians and Hebrews. It is a kind of fabric found in the graves of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

The Face is displayed in a walnut frame adorned with silver and gold between two pieces of glass. This Manoppello image has two panes of glass with broken chips on bottom which the Vatican archivist Giacomo Grimaldi in 1618 indicated was true of the image that was believed to be in Rome. Also there are dark red features and open eyes and the face is asymmetrical like someone beaten and swollen. The mouth appears slightly open and the eyes are looking upwards.

The case against the Veil’s presence in Rome after 1608 stems from some information that Pfeiffer and others have noted:
  • The Veronica that was kept in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome no longer shows any image. Lorenzo Bianchi notes that: “The few scholars of the past who were able to see it close up, such as DeWaal and Wilpert …saw only a few brown stains. The people who have been able to observe it recently (including Pope John Paul II) found no trace of the image.”
  • Pope Paul V (1617) ordered that no reproductions of the Veronica in the 1600's (after the cloth was allegedly stolen in 1608) were to be made unless by a "Canon of St. Peter's." Pfeiffer believes the Pope made this statement because the Veil was stolen. They had no reason to give this order if they were in possession of the Veil in Rome.
  • The eyes on the reproductions of the cloth BEFORE the theft were OPEN. AFTER the theft, the eyes on reproductions of the Veronica are CLOSED. The original Veil showed the eyes open since Jesus was alive at the time Veronica wiped His face.
  • Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) not only prohibited reproductions of Veronica's veil but also ordered all existing copies to be destroyed. Pfeiffer believes that these orders by Pontiffs of no duplication and destruction of reproductions indicates that the Vatican no longer possessed the original. Further, the Vatican will allow no study of its possession. Vatican custodians have steadfastly refused all requests for any photographs to be taken.
It is interesting to note that Pope Benedict XVI visited Manoppello Sept. 1, 2006 recently after taking his office and prayed before the Image. Some interpret this as a possible concern by the Holy Father that the true image may not in Rome but rather in Manoppello.

However sceptics are not convinced. They believe the extremely thin nature of the cloth allowed the image to seep through to be the same on each side. Many believe the similarities between the veil and the Turin Shroud occur because the veil was a deliberate copy of the larger cloth. They also point out the fact that Veronica’s meeting with Christ has never been historically documented, and her name itself is a work of fiction – being an amalgamation of the Latin words for ‘true image’, or ‘vera-icon’. The only scientific way of determining the age of the cloth is by carbon dating, but its brittle, delicate state means it could be irreparably damaged during any such tests. For Pfeiffer there is no doubt about the religious authenticity of the veil, and he is entirely convinced that his find is the true artifact.

Sources :
100 Most Strangest Mysteries by Matt Lamy;
The Veil of Veronica : Fact or Fiction? by John Iannone;

Pic Source :;

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