Veronica's Veil

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In this 1955 photo of a reenactment, a child holds Veronica’s Veil, which reveals Christ’s image that was imprinted on the cloth when a woman kindly wiped Jesus’ face before His crucifixion. Getty Images.

Veronica’s Veil

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

According to a story included in the sixth-century apocryphal book the Acts of Pilate, as Christ was carrying the cross to his crucifixion a woman showed kindness to Him by wiping His face with a veil. As a result, an image of His face was impressed upon the cloth, much as it is on the shroud of turin. Centuries later the woman came to be known as Veronica, a name that appears to derive from the Greek term “vera icona,” or “true icon.”

The story of Veronica and the veil entered into popular culture, and in 1300, on the occasion of the proclamation of the Holy Year, the reputed veil was placed on display in Rome and joined the list of the wonders of the city to be seen by pilgrims. Over the next centuries a variety of accounts were written about the veil. They reported that is was made of fine material and that the image was on both sides of the veil. In the image, Christ’s eyes are open, and there is evidence of blood spots on His face.

A problem with the history of the veil arises during the reign of Pope Paul V (r. 1605–1621). In 1608, the chapel in Saint Peter’s Basilica, where the veil was kept, was demolished as part of an extensive renovation. According to historical accounts, the veil was eventually placed inside a statue of Veronica that stands beside the main altar in Saint Peter’s. Apart from this official history, however, several European churches claim to house the true veil. An interesting twist to the story was put forth in the summer of 2001 by Heinrich Pfeiffer, a professor of Christian art history at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and an official advisor to the Papal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. Pfeiffer claimed that the veil that had been displayed for so many years in Rome had actually been stolen in 1608. Afterwards, it had found its way to the Sanctuary of the Sacred Face, a Capuchin friary in Manoppello about 150 miles from Rome.

The Manoppello cloth is approximately 6.5 by 9.5 inches and is kept in a silver ostensory. The cloth is quite thin, almost transparent. On it there is an image of a man with his eyes open and bearing signs of suffering, such as bruises, cuts, and blood on the face. According to one mid-seventeenth century account, the cloth at Manoppello came into the hands of a woman named Marzia Leonelli, who sold it to Donato Antonio de Fabritiis, who then donated it to the friary. Pfeiffer cited a variety of evidence that the veil had disappeared from Rome, including the actionof Urban VIII (r. 1623–1644), who both prohibited further reproductions of Veronica’s Veil and ordered the destruction of all existing copies.

Quite apart from Pfeiffer’s work, the veil at Manoppello has been the subject of observations by scholars and scientists. Optical tests by Donato Vittori, a professor at the University of Bari, pointed to the unusual nature of the image on the cloth, and subsequent tests have compared it to the Shroud of Turin. Many questions remain concerning both the object in Saint Peter’s, which is not available for observation, and the veil at Manoppello. As answers to these questions are sought, both are venerated by devout Roman Catholics.

Sources:

Kuryluk, E. Veronica and Her Veil: History, Symbolism and Structure of a “True” Image. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Nickell, Joe. Looking for a Miracle. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.
References in periodicals archive ?
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