Clues to the Resurrection of Jesus
The Veil of Manoppello
The Roman “Veronica”, “true icon” of Christ “not made by human hands” has been in Abruzzo since the 17th century. An image showing the face of a real person
by Lorenzo Bianchi
San Michele Arcangelo in Manoppello, the church built in 1630 which since 1638 has housed the Veil of the Holy Countenance. In the ’sixties of the last century it was practically rebuilt; the facade dates from that period
So is told, with clearly legendary features, the arrival in Manoppello of the Veil of the Holy Countenance in the Relatione historica of Father Donato da Bomba, composed between 1640 and 1646. From here on what is said in the Relatione is historically certain, has historical validity. In 1618 Marzia Leonelli, daughter and heir of Giacom’Antonio, sold the veil to Donat’Antonio de Fabritiis, who in turn gave it in 1638 to the Capuchins settled in Manoppello. A notary’s deed of 1646 authenticates the donating. The Veil, much damaged and frayed, was cleaned, trimmed and set in a frame, as the Relatione says: “Taking the scissors Father Clemente himself cut away all the hanging threads, and cleaning the most sacred image well of dust, moths and other filth, made it in the end just as it is now. The above-mentioned Donat’Antonio, eager to enjoy the sacred image with greater devotion had it stretched in a wooden frame with glass on both sides, embellished with little frames and walnut work by one of our Capuchin monks named Brother Remigio da Rapino (not trusting other lay masters)”.
The frame and glass of the monstrance containing the Veil of the Holy Countenance are still the same. It is displayed in the shrine that houses it just outside Manoppello (in the province of Pescara, but in the diocese of Chieti).
A unique image
The characteristics of the veil and the image appearing on it are unique. The Veil, measuring 17.5 by 24 centimeters (but originally larger, as we are told by the Relatione, though how much bigger we don’t know), has a very fine texture (even if one can see some flaws in the weave) with threads of about one millimeter and a space between them of about two millimeters. It looks golden brown in color, depending on the point of view and lighting, and is transparent. On account of the color and transparency it has been suggested it is made of marine byssus, i.e. formed of the worked filaments of the shellfish Pinna nobilis. Marine byssus is a very fine fabric of a splendor like silk, which it resembles also in feel, and is of almost impalpable lightness. The hypothesis about the fabric was backed in 2004 by Chiara Vigo, one of the last weavers of this material, but it still awaits final confirmation, which may be given, if not by direct tactile examination (now not possible due to the positioning of the veil between two pieces of glass), by morphological and structural investigations carried out with appropriate instruments.
The Veil is imprinted with a face with a high forehead, long hair falling on the shoulders, a sparse mustache and forked beard. The eyes are particularly placed: looking slightly upward showing the white of the eyeball under the pupil. The face is not visible when the veil is looked at against the light but only when set on a background and, what is very singular, the image appears in mirror fashion and with the same intensity of color on both sides, front and rear. It behaves, in short, like a photographic positive. The face is clearly asymmetrical, with one side swollen, and marks can be distinguished that could be interpreted as blood, particularly around the mouth and nose, which looks tumefied. The marks are two-dimensional and without relation to the relief of the face.
A - the face of the Shroud of Turin;
B – overlap of the face of the Veil of Manoppello on the face of the Shroud;
C - the face of the Veil of Manoppello
(Blandina Paschalis Schlömer)
For more than four hundred years popular tradition has venerated the Holy Countenance of Manoppello as a relic, considering it acheiropoietos (a Greek term that means “not made by man”), but only in the closing years of last century did research into the object begin. These investigations have given results so far still very partial, but also quite surprising, on the history and nature of the image of the Holy Countenance.
Research by Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, a painter and expert in icons, claims a very close relation between the image of the Veil of Manoppello and the face imprinted on the Shroud (the latter image determined by the oxidation of the surface fibrils of the linen of which the sheet is made, which the scientific studies conducted over the past hundred years have not yet succeeded, as is known, in determining the cause). So close a relation as to allow complete overlap of the Holy Countenance with the face of the Shroud (and, in addition, a full compatibility with the bloodstains on the Sudarium of Oviedo), in terms of a large number of contact points. Nevertheless there are two fundamental differences between the two images: first, the Shroud has the eyes closed and the face appears more rigid and bony, while the Holy Countenance had the eyes open and seems more relaxed; and, secondly, not all wounds that appear on the Shroud appear on the Holy Countenance, and those that do appear are smaller in size and more faded.
Confirmation of the correspondence between the two images first led to a reconsideration of the history of the iconographical transmission of the face of Christ in East and West, as well as tracing the movements of the Holy Countenance in the centuries preceding its sudden and mysterious arrival in Manoppello. After years of tests the Jesuit Professor Heinrich Pfeiffer, one of the leading experts in Christian art (he teaches Art History at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome) announced on 31 May 1999, at the Foreign Press Association in Rome, the result of his research: the Roman Veronica had come to light again, the famous acheiropoietos image of Christ’s face, known in Rome between the 12th and 17th centuries. It was kept in the Vatican Basilica and regularly displayed for the veneration of the faithful. A tradition attributed the image to the episode of the woman – known, of course, as Veronica, a name probably to be interpreted as a corruption of the words vera icona, “true image” – who wiped the face of Jesus with a cloth during the ascent to Calvary.
The icon in the Sancta Sanctorum of the Lateran, known from ancient sources as “acheropsita”. According to the hypothesis of Father Heinrich Pfeiffer the veil currently preserved in Manoppello, known in Rome as the “Veronica” (“true icon”), was set above it from the 8th to the 12th century
On the reasons for this identification with a relic once more famous than the Shroud, Father Pfeiffer has already written in this magazine’s pages (H. Pfeiffer, But the “Veronica” is in Manoppello in 30Days, No. 5, May 2000, pp . 78-79), claiming with more than cogent arguments that the Veronica – which is described by medieval sources as a very fine transparent cloth with the image visible on both sides – was stolen from Rome at an imprecise moment early in the 17th century (another hypothesis, made on the basis of archival records and historical consideration by Saverio Gaeta backdates the theft to the Sack of Rome in 1527, leaving the substance of the argument intact), appearing in Manoppello between 1608 and 1618, in agreement with the local historical documentation rid of its legendary features.
Let me briefly summarize some of the basic data offered by Pfeiffer for the identification. First, the Veronica still kept in Saint Peter’s in the Vatican no longer shows any image: the few scholars of the past who were able to see it close up, such as De Waal and Wilpert (remember that the cloth in Rome has not been displayed in public since the 17th century), 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.
Secondly, the cloth currently in Rome is not transparent, while the 1350 reliquary that contained the Veronica in Rome, kept in the treasury of the Vatican Basilica, consisting of two panes of rock crystal, was evidently intended for an object that could be viewed from both sides. This reliquary, square in shape and of a size compatible with the veil of Manoppello, than which it is slightly larger (but we have seen that the veil was trimmed), was replaced by another in the mid 16th century (now lost), itself replaced by the current one. A document testifies to the solemn installation of the new relic – that is, as one assumes, by a forgery – on 21 March 1606, in a niche cut into the pillar of the dome called “of the Veronica”. As stated in a list set down in 1618 by Giacomo Grimaldi, the archivist of Saint Peter’s, the 1350 reliquary had broken panes, and a fragment, interpreted as a glass, can be seen stuck to the lower edge of the veil of Manoppello. As in the case of investigations into the physical nature of the fabric of which the veil is manufactured, the current inability to remove it from the monstrance now containing it has so far made it impossible to check whether this fragment is of the same material as what is left of the 1350 Vatican reliquary.
Thirdly, the Veronica displayed a face with eyes open, as seen in all depictions of it prior to 1616, while a copy made in that year shows a face with eyes closed. Shortly afterwards Paul V prohibited making copies of the relic, under the penalty of excommunication; and Urban VIII in 1628 ordered all existing copies, made in recent years, to be destroyed.
The face of a real person
But Father Pfeiffer goes even further with his research, enabling us to believe with great probability that the Holy Countenance of Manoppello, namely the Roman Veronica, is one of two prototypes, that is fundamental models for the image of Christ. The second model is the Shroud of Turin. He notes in particular that the cheeks of the classic images of Christ are almost always, as in the case of the Shroud and the Holy Countenance, dissimilar: the face is thus asymmetrical, contrary to the case with all the representations of ancient gods, which instead present ideal and symmetrical faces. The classic Christ thus has a personal and individual face, and for this face, for the highly asymmetric structure, the model is the Shroud, or the Shroud together with the Holy Countenance (Pfeiffer thinks the two relics probably must have gone around together for a certain period). For the eyes and all the more vital aspects, the only model is the Holy Countenance.
So, we conclude, a face that existed concrete, real, not an abstract model, perhaps borrowed from the iconography of the philosopher, as one often happens to read or hear from art historians, christianists and even theologians. The face of a man of flesh, not an idea.
Iconographic research eventually led Father Pfeiffer to back the identification, agreed by many, of the Shroud of Turin with the Mandylion of Edessa, known in that city in 544 at the time of the Persian siege, removed to Constantinople in 944, from whence it disappeared in 1204 and then arrived in the West, and identification of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello with the image of Christ’s face removed from Kamulia (Cappadocia) to Constantinople in 574, from whence it vanished in 705, at the time of the second period of rule of the Emperor Justinian II. This very fine, transparent cloth was hidden after its arrival in Rome (perhaps attached on top of the icon called the “acheropsita” in the Sancta Sanctorum of the Lateran), and then under Innocent III (1198-1216) taken off and removed to Saint Peter’s, with the name Veronica.
It is Father Pfeiffer’s firm conviction that the Holy Countenance is an acheiropoietos image: “Taking as starting point the perfect overlap of the face of the Shroud of Turin with the face of Manoppello, one is led to admit that both the image on the veil and the one on the Shroud were made at the same time. That is to say in the three days going from the burial of Jesus to his Resurrection within the tomb. The Sudarium of Manoppello and the Shroud are the only two real images of the face of Christ known as “acheropite”, that is, not made by human hands” (H. Pfeiffer in P. Baglioni Bernini or not, it’s a masterpiece in 30Days, No. 9, September 2004, pp. 61-63).
Is there any physical evidence that could lead one to believe that, as the image of the Shroud was not produced artificially, so also is the case with the image of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello?
The Veil of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello in the reliquary currently containing it
In 1998-1999 some initial investigation of a scientific nature was conducted on the Holy Countenance of Manoppello by Donato Vittore, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Bari. The Veil was digitally scanned at high resolution. Vittore found that the interstices between the weft and the warp of the thread show no paint residues. This allowed him to rule out the possibility that the Holy Countenance was produced by oil painting, given the lack of paint deposit, nor by watercolor painting, since the outlines of the image are very sharp in the eye and mouth and there are no smears in the lines as would have occurred had the fabric been soaked by painting. Systematic publication of the research is still to come, but the professor has sketched the results, offering various detailed images, at several conferences, the last of which in Lecce in March 2007.
In those circumstances, if the hypothesis, made in 2004, that the fabric is marine byssus, a smooth and impermeable fiber, is confirmed, consideration will also have to be given to the fact that such material is technically not paintable, because the paint would tend to slip forming crusts, which do not appear on the cloth, while the color changes could occur on such material through discoloration (but certainly not with such precise results in the lines as those found on the Veil of Manoppello).
Further microscopic and spectroscopic examination was carried out by Giulio Fanti, professor of Mechanical and Thermal engineering at the University of Padua. Ultraviolet analysis using a Wood’s lamp confirmed the results of a test done in 1971: neither the tissue nor the image of the Countenance show appreciable fluorescence, to be expected in the presence of an amalgam of colors, whereas there is considerable fluorescence where there are signs of restoration, at the top right and left corners. Yet traces of substances (pigments?) seem present on other parts of the Veil. Infrared analysis, however, has also shown the absence of preparatory drawing below the image, and the absence of corrections. A 3-D construct shows more points of correspondence between the image of the Veil and the Shroud. It was noted in conclusion that, contrary to appearances, the two images (front and back) on the veil do not perfectly mirror each other: there are unusual differences in some details between front and back, difficult to explain, and so subtle that the idea that we can speak of painting is technically very problematic.
Further scientific studies are still ongoing and are expected to provide further data on three fundamental problems: first, the clarification of the relations between the Veil with the Shroud; secondly, the mode of formation of the image on the Veil; and thirdly, whether they were two moments of the formation, one for the bloodstains (should they prove such), the other for the face: the two-dimensionality of the supposed bloodstains, unlinked to the features in relief of the face, would suggest two different moments in imprinting, just as investigation has shown in the case for the Shroud.
Another look at the Gospel of John: this veil might well be, “the sudarium”, which Peter and John saw in the tomb, “which had been placed on his head”, and that appeared to the two Apostles, “not lying with the cloth [that is with the Shroud], but, on the contrary, folded in its own place” (Jn 20, 7). Left, that is, in a higher position in the place where it was placed above the Shroud and in contact with it, covering the area of the head and the face of Jesus. And John, “saw and believed” (Jn 20, 8).