The rediscovered Holy Face: The unmistakable features of Christ | Sunday Observer
From Manoppello to the World:

The rediscovered Holy Face: The unmistakable features of Christ

19 April, 2020

The Octave of the Easter is the most appropriate time to reflect on the ‘VoltoSantio’ orthe ‘Holy Face’ of Jesus, the Face of the Father’s Mercy. As the psalmist say, we are all “Seeking the Face of the Lord” (Psalm 27:8).Throughout history, the Holy Face of Manoppello has been the most efficacious means for seeing the Face of Jesus. Since, I first learnt of the shrine, many opportunities have arisen to deepen my knowledge of this special icon and millions of people have erudite knowledge of the Holy Face of Manoppello from around the world in recent years.

Holy Face of Manoppello

Manoppello nestles in the hill of Tarigni in the Province of Pescara, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. On display in the Basilica Church is a small, sheer, almost immaterial piece of cloth or Veil (24cm x 17.5cm), encased between two panes of glass, which bears the image of the Suffering Face of Jesus Christ.The face has a large forehead, a vibrant, penetrating yet gentle look and a half-open mouth, which gives the impression that he wishes to speak. Indeed, His silent and meek look does speak, in a language beyond words!

For over five centuries, the Shrine of the Holy Face has been the site of pilgrimages from Italy and other parts of the world. Researchers, theologians, philosophers, writers, artists, notable people in the Church including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, illustrious men and women have all come and stood before the Holy Face. Like all Shrines, Manoppello is a “place of conversion and reconciliation with God as well as an oasis of peace” (Saint Pope John Paul II) and a “place of refreshment and rehabilitation for the spirit” (Pope Paul VI).

Jesus’ crucifixion

Evangelist John,who really enters into the Gospel at the Last Supper, unfolds everything in a different setting than Matthew, Mark and Luke. Even his variance of the tone is more significant. He describes, “Jesus was distressed in spirit, and said plainly, “Truly, one of you will betray me.” The disciples then looked at one another, wondering whom he meant. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining near Jesus: so Simon Peter signaled him to ask Jesus whom he meant. And the disciple, who was reclining near Jesus, asked him, “Lord, who it is?” (John 13:21-25)At the Last Supper, we see John in the seat of honour, the seat that rightfully belonged to the host. And from then on, he could have accompanied Peter, to finally end up at the foot of the cross while others thought only about escaping from reprisal.

John continues to describe precisely the final moments, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister Mary, who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw the mother, and the disciple whom he loved, he said to the mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then, he said to the disciple, “This is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:25-27).A few moments later, John understood everything. He writes, “They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices, following the burial customs of the Jews” (John 19: 40).

Jesus’ glorious resurrection

John relates in his Gospel: “Now, on the first day after the Sabbath, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb… and she saw that the stone blocking the tomb had been moved away. She ran to Peter, and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb… Peter then set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the linen clothes lying flat, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered the tomb; he, too, saw the linen cloths lying flat. The napkin, which had been around his head, was not lying flat like the other linen clothes, but lay rolled up in its place. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed” (John 20: 1-9).

Items of cloth found in the tomb

It was an ancient Jewish custom to place a precious and rare cloth to cover the face of their dead at burial. The Gospels of all four evangelists mention the participation of Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’ burial. John introduces Nicodemus, the man who first visited Jesus by night as well (John 19: 38-39). For John, both of them are breaking free from the darkness of their fear. So, it was two Pharisees, Jesus’ disciples in “secret”, who handled the burial. The huge amount of myrrh and aloe used may be one final reference to Jesus’ kingship. He receives a regal burial. Now, after 1987 years, experts confirm the icon of the ‘Face of Jesus’ at Manoppello as the cloth,’Sudarium’at the moment of Jesus’ Resurrection. The reason for this is that the preserved face, though showing signs of torture, is not a suffering face, but, rather a calm, radiant, and pondering face.

Based on the Gospel accounts, the following three items of cloth were found in the tomb of Jesus: (1) the winding sheet in which the dead body of Christ was wrapped for burial. Called “Mandylion” in ancient times this winding sheet was kept for some time in Edessa, presently Urfa in Turkey, and is said to be the ‘Shroud of Turin’; (2) the ‘Sudarium’ which was placed on the face of Jesus, which in the first centuries was on display at Camulia, near the present Turkish city of Kayseri. According to the most recent research, this ‘Sudarium’could be the Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello; and (3) the cloth used to lower the body of Jesus from the Cross, which is the ‘Sudarium’ of Oviedo (Spain), conserved at one time in Jerusalem and then in Alexandria in Egypt.

Holy Face of Jesus

Named, “The Holy Face of Jesus from Manoppello,” the said sacred object is believed to be the ‘Sudarium’,used in keeping with Jewish tradition to cover the face of Christ. While its origins are largely anecdotal, years of scientific study and historical research now report the Veil as having the following attributes: (1) the faces on the more famous ‘Shroud of Turin’ and that on the Manoppello Veil coincide perfectly; (2) both images are “acheiropoietas,” meaning they could not have been made by human hands; (3) The Veil – measuring a mere 24cm x 17.5cm– is dated between the time of the Lord’s Crucifixion and His Resurrection; (4) The ‘Shroud of Turin’ shows the image of a man with closed eyes and fresh wounds, while the image on the Manoppello Veil features a face with open eyes and closed wounds.

Origin of the Holy Face

One of the many theories advanced in an attempt to ascertain the origin of the Holy Face of Manoppello is based on an ancient diary of an anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza, who travelled to the Holy Land and other points in the East.

He wrote, “At Memphis… we saw a linen cloth which bore the likeness of the Saviour. It is said that when he was alive, he wiped his Face with that cloth and left his image there. To this day, this image is worshipped. We too adored it.” In all likelihood, due to the many occurrences over the centuries of wars, plagues, earthquakes, religious and political upheavals, the Veil was lost without leaving a trace.

According to the Chronicle of Fr. Donato of Bomba, from around 1506, the relic of the Holy Face was conserved and venerated by the descendants of a very devout doctor and physics scholar, named Giacomantonio Leonelli, who received it from an unknown pilgrim who motioned him to enter the church dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari and presented it in the form of a parcel and disappeared.

At a certain point, Pancrazio Petrucci, the husband of Marzia Leonelli absconded with the Holy Veil and then put it aside without giving it so much as a thought. When Petrucci was imprisoned, his wife Marzia, in need of a considerable sum of money to release him, was forced to sell the relic to Dr. Donatantonio De Fabritiis.

Having second thoughts about his purchase, he took it to Fr. Clemente of Castel Vecchio, a Capuchin Friar, who recognising the icon’s great value, reassured and told him to consider himself fortunate to acquire it.

When initially given to Dr. Leonelli, the Veil was not in the best of condition; in fact, apart from the image, the rest was in tatters. Fr. Clemente, who was overseeing the construction of the convent for the Capuchin Friars, intervened in the matter and, according to the Chronicle, “took a pair of scissors, cut the ragged edges, reducing it to its present size, and painstakingly cleaned the Holy Image of dust, moth-larvae and grime.” Afterwards, Fr. Clemente placed the Veil between two panes of glass and asked a skilled craftsman, to enclose the image of the Holy Face in a walnut frame, where it remains to this very day.

In a desire to expose the Image to the public for veneration and for better care, Dr. Donatantonio De Fabritiis reasoned that such a prodigious Veil should not be kept in a private home, but more appropriately be conserved in a church, where all could have the opportunity to venerate it.

The question was simply choosing which church. Considering his past dealings with Fr. Clemente, the first superior of the Convent of Manoppello, and the fact that Friar Remigio, a few years earlier contributed towards conservation, the pious Donatantonio thought immediately of the Capuchin Friars.

Their convent and church, which was recently built in a secluded place on a hill near Manoppello, reminded him of Mount Calvary, and thus an appropriate setting for the cult of the suffering Face of Jesus.

Thus, in 1638, Donatantonio, together with his family, went with great emotion to the convent, all-the-while thinking of the treasure which was going to leave his home. The thought came to him that, afterwards, he would be one of many who would go to see the Holy Face and give thanks to God for the blessings accorded to his family. In the true spirit of Franciscan hospitality, the two friars welcomed the little group and expressed their deep gratitude to God and their pious benefactor, who wished to entrust the unique treasure of the Holy Face to the church and convent.

Journey of the Image from Jerusalem to Manoppello

First and foremost, the Veil was kept in Jerusalem as a precious remembrance of the Redeemer. Then it was taken to Camulia in Cappadocia where it was venerated for a long time. From there it was later taken under the threat of the so-called iconoclasts first to Constantinople and then in safety to Rome. It was displayed at the beginning of the 13th century in Rome for the public to view, where it was treasured as an incomparable relic at St. Peter’s Basilica. When the new construction of the magnificent and current St. Peter’s began on April 18, 1506, the sacred ‘Sudarium’ was still located in a vault.

This Holy Face was earlier displayed to the public in Rome, under the title,’ The Veil of Veronica’. Now, evidence shows that it was, rather, the burial cloth mentioned in the Gospel of St. John as being particularly set aside in the tomb, as distinct from the ‘Shroud of Turin’ itself. During the ‘Sack of Rome‘ in 1527, when German and Spanish soldiers ravaged Rome it appears that the miraculous image was removed in order to preserve it from damage, and it finally ended up in the little Capuchin Church in Manoppello where it was rediscovered more prominently in the 21st century.

Research work of Sr. Blandina

The beloved Trappistine nun, Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, who has now totally dedicated her life to this holy relic, has compellingly pointed out a variety of concurring points that show the extreme compatibility between the face on the Shroud and the face on the ‘Sudarium’, obtaining in 1991 the first ‘superimposition’ of the two images of Jesus. It indicates that there is a relationship between both cloths, which were established in the holy tomb in Jerusalem.

As Sr.Blandina’s research has shown, both - the image of the Shroud and the image of the Veil of Manoppello are completely compatible.

Even moreso, when put on top of each other, on two foils, they form a new, more vivid and filled face than each of them alone shows. From my own visits to the Shrine of the Holy Face, I can myself testify this since I have seen with my eyes at Manoppello-where the ‘Volto Santo’ or ‘Holy Face’ is put together in one frame with the image of Jesus’ face from the Holy Shroud of Turin which demonstrate full convergence of the two images.

It is to be hoped that supported by the important work of Sr. Blandina, who now lives as a hermit in Manoppello in order to continue her studies on the Holy Face - will help many Catholics to realise what a precious gift God has given us in this miraculous image.

As part of the ongoing research, the Veil of Manoppello was tested under an electron microscope and even in extra enlargements, no traces of paint were found. The image was not painted; rather, it is a true image – and that makes it even more precious because it provides us with a kind of authentic image which we have of the Redeemer of the world. While further research continues, many experts such as Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, Professor Andreas Reschand as well as the veteran journalist and writer, Paul Badde, modestly and ardently insist that it represents the true face of Jesus Christ.

Pope’s visit to Manoppello

Pope Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage to Manoppello on September 1, 2006. After he gazed upon the Holy Face of Jesus, His Holiness Benedict XVI wrote a prayer which he sent to the friars at the shrine. To coincide with the 10th Anniversary of the Pope’s visit, the most Rev. Bruno Forte, the Archbishop of Chieti – Vastoshared: “In those moments, my eyes were going back and forth between the venerated image and the face of the Successor of Peter, who contemplated it intensely, as if to be captured by the image and at the same time challenged to enter into that which this Veil. It was like attending a dialogue in which silence was more eloquent than each word: a silence from the surplus, touching and being touched on the threshold of mystery from whose depths allow itself to be illuminated”.

Deeper faith in Jesus Christ

Testimony emerged regarding the case of the bi-location of Saint Padre Pio before the relic of Manoppello on September 22, 1968, at the dawn of the last day of his earthly life.

It would have been Padre Domenico, having opened early in the morning the doors of the church to meet the famous Capuchin in prayer in the choir behind the altar, whose suffering was addressed to Jesus, “I’m coming to the end. Pray for me. See you in heaven”.

It was the same Padre Domenico who related his encounter with the Holy Face to Padre Pio many years earlier on which the Saint Pio had observed: “It’s the greatest miracle that we have.”

On a personal note, among those who helped me and my wife during our numerous visits to Manoppello, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Rev. Fr. Deninton Subasinghe and Rev. Fr. Prasad Harshan for their significant contributions to expand our knowledge of this special icon of the Holy Face of Jesus and for offering the Holy Mass for us at this historical Shrine.Let me, invite the readers to discover one of the greatest and most precious gifts of God to us in the Holy Face of Manoppello.

As a family we have this Holy Image in our home, and we pray daily in front of it, drawing much closer to Him in a more incarnate and intimately human way.

It is indeed a great blessing to be able to speak directly to the trusted countenance of Jesus Christ, as He looked when he walked on this earth.

My wish is that this article may make the Holy Face better known and lead to a deeper faith in Jesus Christ, who, in allowing us to see his Human Face, shows us the “Divine Face of God the Father” (cf. John 14:9).

(Rear Admiral Dr. Shemal Fernando possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompasses variety of subjects; recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic and Sports pursuits; his byline appears in journals and publications regularly; his first article was carried in Sunday Observer in 1988)