Almost four centuries after its mysterious disappearance, Fr. Heinrich
Pfeiffer reported that he has rediscovered one of Christendom's most intriguing
relics: the Veil of Veronica, the cloth with which Jesus wiped His face on the
road to Calvary.
Fr. Pfeiffer, a professor of Christian Art History in Rome, found the relic in
the Abbey of Manoppello, Italy. The German Jesuit invested 13 years of searching
through archives to prove that this is the same cloth that disappeared from the
Vatican in 1608.
Manoppello is a small, ancient town in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about 150
miles from Rome in the Apennine Mountains. The Capuchin friary there is
appropriately named the Sanctuary of the Holy Face. A piece of stained, pale
cloth kept in this tiny village has long been regarded by the Capuchin monks as
a sacred icon with wondrous properties.
The story of St. Veronica and her veil appears in various early Christian
writings. Most notably, the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate" from the sixth century,
identifies Veronica with the hemorrhaging woman who was cured by touching the
hem of Jesus' cloak. Veronica is described as a pious matron from Jerusalem, and
numbered among the holy women who accompanied our Lord to Calvary.
During the Passion, she is said to have wiped sweat from His brow. Jesus
rewarded Veronica for her charity by leaving her an imprint of His face on the
"veil." She later traveled to Rome, bringing with her this image of Christ,
which was long exposed to public veneration.
The almost transparent white veil measures about 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches and
bears dark red features of a serene bearded man with long hair and open eyes,
patiently enduring suffering. Bruises and other scars are apparent on his
forehead. Clotted blood is on his nose, and one pupil is slightly dilated.
The sacred veil is so thin one can easily see through it. In fact, the image
becomes invisible depending on the angle from which the cloth is viewed,
something that was considered a miracle in itself in medieval times.
Documented history of the mysterious relic dates back to at least the fourth
century. On the occasion of the first known Jubilee year, 1300, we know that the
veil was kept in the Vatican Basilica as a popular goal of pilgrims, as it is
mentioned in Canto XXXI of Dante's Paradiso. Fr. Pfeiffer believes the sacred
relic was stolen during the restoration of the Basilica in the year 1608., when
the chapel housing the veil was demolished. Shortly thereafter, the veil
appeared in Manoppello.
Ten years later, in 1618, Vatican archivist Giacomo Grimaldi drew up a list
of the sacred objects held in the Old St. Peter's Basilica. The reliquary
containing the Veil of Veronica was on that list, but Grimaldi indicated that
the reliquary's crystal glass was broken.
According to records at the monastery written in 1646, the wife of a soldier
sold the veil to a nobleman of Manoppello in 1608 in order to ransom her husband
from prison. Thirty years later, the nobleman donated the relic to the
Capuchins. In 1638, it was placed in a walnut frame adorned in silver and gold
between two sheets of glass. It remained in the monastery ever since.
"There are few such objects in history," Fr. Pfeiffer explained to Rome's
Zenit News Agency a few years ago. "This is not a painting. We don't know what
the material is that shapes the image, but it is the color of blood."
Ultraviolet examinations of the cloth confirm that the image is not paint,
and the fibers of the veil do not have any type of color. Thus, it was not woven
with dyed fibers. Particularly noteworthy are several small flecks of reddish
brown-presumably drops of blood from the wounds caused by the Crown of
Enlarged digital photographs of the veil reveal that the image is identical
on both sides of the cloth-a feat impossible to achieve by ancient techniques,
and extremely difficult to achieve even today. These photographs have also been
used to compare the veil with the face on the Shroud of Turin. Striking
similarities are apparent: the faces are the same shape and size, both have
shoulder-length hair with a tuft on the forehead, the noses are the same length,
and the beards match. The only difference is that on the veil the mouth and eyes
are open. Those who carried out the tests concluded that the two relics bear the
image of the same face, "photographed" at two different times.
For those interested, the Veil of Veronica remains on display at the Capuchin
Abbey of Manoppello.