The Mysterious Veil of Veronica: Masterpiece or Miracle?
According to the Catholic Stations of the Cross, there was once a woman who wiped the sweat and blood from the face of Jesus Christ with a cloth as he endured the torturous walk carrying his own cross to Calvary. This woman is portrayed in the Sixth Station out of the complete Fourteen, which is entitled ‘Veronica Wiping the Face of Jesus’. Legend tells the rest of the story as a miraculous one. Some believe that Christ's sweat, having left an imprint of his face on the cloth, transferred healing properties into its fabric. Others have insisted over time to have laid their hands on the relic itself, (with some actual claims of being witness to its healing power), or to have been in possession of a replica.
Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. ( public domain )
Pope Benedict examines the Veil
Pope Benedict XVI himself even made a trip to a remote monastery in the mountains of Manoppello, Italy, to assess such a claim in 2006. Most recent claims have come from the small town of Madisonville, Tennessee, where a replicated painting of the piece, having been lost for 150 years, was stolen from a mobile home and later taken to St. Joseph the Worker Church. The history of this event, the veil itself, and subsequent related artistic pieces are the subjects of numerous archival and scholarly works, which have been examined with scrutiny over time.
Pope Benedict XVI looks at the Veronica`s Veil during a visit to the Saint Veil monastery in Manoppello, central Italy ( Times of Malta )
The Stations of the Cross
It is noteworthy that Veronica and the veil are well-established elements in the Stations of the Cross, (a practice of the Catholic Church developed as symbol of the original pilgrimages made by early Christians in representation of Jesus' excruciating voyage to Golgotha. The fourteen Stations are considered to exemplify the most prominent events of this journey, which are remembered in prayer and meditation by the devout as they pass each one), and it is said to be near the time of these early pilgrimages that her event's inclusion in the Stations took place. Some speculate modernized representations occurred alongside the ensuing practice of many such participants creating shrines from pieces brought home from the pilgrimages, such as oils from lamps burning near Christ's tomb and other memorabilia considered by some as souvenirs from the trip.
Artist’s depiction of the fourteen stations of the cross, Portuguese Church, Kolkata ( public domain )
Who is Veronica?
Although the specific incident with the veil has no mention in the Bible, it has been compared in the Acts of Pilate (an apocryphal piece also named the 'Gospel of Nicodemus') to a woman noted throughout the New Testament gospels as having touched Jesus' robes and been instantly healed of a bleeding malady (Mark 5:24-34; Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56). The Acts of Pilate are widely believed to be the records of Pontius Pilate himself (the Roman governor of Judea said to be responsible for Christ's crucifixion), written during the time of his governorship. However, it has been noted by scholars that the records are composed with strange irregularity in style and structure, as if written by numerous persons rather than just one. Such irregularities have prompted some to question the authenticity of these documents.
Some curiosity has also arisen due to the use of the name Veronica. Translated from Latin, the terms "Vera", meaning "clear or true," and "Icona," (or the Greek "Eikon"), meaning "image," together form the name "Veronica," or "True Image." Yet the name Veronica has been attributed both to the woman who wiped Christ's face and additionally in early Christian history to the gospel story of the woman's touching/healing by Jesus' robes (also called 'Bernice' or 'Berenice', meaning 'bearing victory', in Greek versions), as if they are the same person. The Acts of Pilate is thought to be the first occasion of the use of the name; in Chapter VII of the piece is mentioned, "And a certain woman named Bernice (Veronica in the Latin) crying out from afar off said: ‘I had an issue of blood and touched the hem of His garment and the flowing of my blood was stayed which I had twelve years.’ While some felt at this time that it was possible the two stories could be about the same woman, there is no mention of her name or her wiping of his face in the gospel narratives.