By Jesús Colina
ROME, 14 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
A fascinating mystery envelops
"Veronica's veil," the relic that shows the image of Christ. It
is not a second shroud, almost in competition with the Shroud of
Turin, but the cloth with which, according to tradition, a woman
wiped the Master's face during the Passion.
According to journalist Saverio Gaeta, the veil presently kept
in the Italian shrine of Manoppello, has an interesting history
linked with the iconography of Christ.
Gaeta, editor-in-chief of Famiglia Cristiana and author of
numerous religious essays (including the recent biography of
John Paul II "Perche e Santo"), reflects further on this
fascinating topic in the book "L'Enigma del Volto di Gesu" (The
Enigma of Jesus' Face), published contemporaneously with the
ongoing exposition of the Shroud of Turin.
ZENIT spoke with the author about his study of the veil.
ZENIT: According to your reconstruction, how did these two
relics exist in the Middle East in the first Christian
Gaeta: In the mid-first millennium, the present Shroud was known
as Mandylion and was in Edessa (today Urfa, in Turkey), whereas
the Holy Face was kept in Camulia (in the present Turkish city
of Kayseri). Their nearness is demonstrated by the sequence of
coins in Constantinople. In 692 Byzantine emperor Justinian II
had the face of Christ engraved in a "Semitic" type, as that of
Manoppello. In 705, after the veil had been taken to Rome by
Patriarch Callinicus, blinded and exiled, the new face was again
similar to the image of the gods of the "Hellenistic" tradition.
In 869, after the end of the iconoclast struggles, the
representation of the Man of the Shroud prevailed on coins, as
Basil I's golden solidus shows. This is demonstrated by the feet
that protrude from the mantle, the left stretched forward and
the right rotated 90 degrees: precisely the impression the
Shroud gives, where one leg seems shorter than the other because
of the cadaverous rigidity that fixed the superimposed left foot
over the right foot.
ZENIT: Is the Shroud and the Holy Face linked with the
iconography of Jesus?
Gaeta: Certainly. In fact these two images were at the origin of
Christian iconography. This has been demonstrated by Father
Heinrich Pfeiffer, professor of Christian art history at the
Pontifical Gregorian University, who has documented how the face
of the Shroud emphasizes more the bony structure, whereas that
of the Manoppello seems more round. Thus, all the mosaics of
Christ Pantocrator in Constantinople, in Greece and in Sicily
represent the type that reveals primarily the Shroud as model.
The images of Christ in Flemish art of the 15th century are,
instead, more in relation with the Holy Face of Manoppello.
ZENIT: The cover of your book shows a superimposition between
the face of the Shroud and the Holy Face. What does this mean?
Gaeta: It is the discovery made by Trappist Blandine Schlomer,
who found numerous "points of congruence" between the face of
the Shroud and that of Manoppello, after pointing out some
precise criteria as a common denominator of the ancient icons
that represent Jesus: the asymmetric face, the beard cut with a
double point, the asymmetric sides of the nose, the ocular orbit
visible under the iris, the tuft of hair at the center of the
part of the hair. Subsequently, Father Andreas Resch, working
with a computer, refined the superimposition even more,
delineating several areas that represent the useful "points of
reference" also to compare the two images with the ancient
artistic representations. Bequeathed thus is a perfect level of
superimposition, which shows a true and proper fusion between
the two faces.
ZENIT: According to your reconstruction, the Holy Face arrived
in Rome in the 8th century and then began to be exhibited in St.
Peter's in the 13th century. What happened afterward?
Gaeta: In the collective imagination, the Holy Face has always
had great importance. It was thus above all beginning in 1300,
when the first Jubilee of Christian history was proclaimed,
which had one of its most outstanding aspects in the frequent
exposition of "Veronica's veil." On May 6, 1527, the so-called
sacking took place in Rome, during which very many precious
objects were stolen even from St. Peter's: among them,
certainly, was the Holy Face. However, the Vatican never
admitted this disappearance, as the construction of the new St.
Peter's Basilica was under way, and it was convenient for the
flow of pilgrims to continue
people who arrived to see the Holy Face, and whose alms were
indispensable to provide for the very expensive work.
ZENIT: And, meanwhile, the veil arrived in the Abruzzi?
Gaeta: Yes, after some ups and downs, the true image of Christ
arrived in Manoppello in 1618, with a purchase by Dr. Donato
Antonio De Fabritiis, who in 1638 donated it to the Capuchins.
It was exhibited for the first time for the public veneration of
the faithful on April 6, 1646. On Sept. 1, 2006, during his
visit to the shrine, Benedict XVI was the first Pope to be able
to see again and venerate the relic, half a millennium after its
disappearance from the Basilica of St. Peter.
ZENIT: Are there also scientific tests that confirm the
extraordinary characteristics of the fabric?
Gaeta: In fact, several studies have been made on the veil.
Professor Donato Vittore demonstrated that in the space between
the thread of the warp and of the woof there are no colored
residues. Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua
revealed that the image on the two sides of the veil is not
identical. For example, the tuft of hair in the middle of the
forehead is one of the particularities in favor of the theory of
an image not made by the hand of man. It cannot be explained how
an artist was able to paint a sign on the face of this very
subtle veil, and a different sign on the opposite face. Research
with Wood's lamp enable one to affirm that on the fabric there
are no natural organic substances such as oils, grease and wax,
traditionally pictorial agglutinates, whereas the Raman
spectroscope has manifested that the nature of the fiber is of
the protean type
as sea silk
and not vegetable
as, instead, linen would be.
[Translation by ZENIT]