|Leaves - Volume 77 - September/October 2011 - No.5
Donato da Bomba, a Capuchin Father of a newly founded Capuchin Convent in Manoppello, Italy, in his Chronicle, composed in 1645, wrote that one day in 1506 an unknown pilgrim came to the parish church, named in honor of St. Nicholas of Bari, in the town of Manoppello that is located in the province of Pescara in the Italian region of Abruzzo and nestled on the northern slope of Mount Maiella.
According to what Fr. da Bomba has written in his Chronicle, the religious-looking pilgrim approached Dr. Giacomantonio Leonelli, who was visiting with his friends, and asked him to enter the church with him.
Upon entering the church, the pilgrim handed the doctor a parcel and said, “Take good care of this object of devotion and God will bestow upon you many favors, as well as temporal and spiritual prosperity.” The pilgrim also explained that the content of the parcel was of value and worthy of veneration.
Stepping over to the holy water font, Dr. Leonelli opened the parcel and discovered that it contained an image of the face of Jesus on a delicate veil. Turning back to the pilgrim to inquire about the image in his hands, much to his surprise, Dr. Leonelli discovered that the unknown pilgrim had disappeared from sight never to be seen again.
Thereafter Dr. Leonelli’s friends speculated that the unknown pilgrim may have been an angel in disquise, for the friends saw the pilgrim enter the church with Dr. Leonelli, but not leave it.
The veil with the image of the face of Jesus was reserved in a special place in the Leonelli family for about 100 years, and the family did indeed enjoy both material and spiritual prosperity as promised by the unknown pilgrim.
During a conflict about inheritances, Pancrazio Petrucci, who was married to Marzia Leonelli, a descendant of Dr. Leonelli, on the pretext of vindicating his wife’s rights, forcefully removed the veil from the Leonelli home and brought it to his own home. However, in 1618 Marzia sold the veil in order to obtain release of her husband from prison subsequent to his committing an infraction.
The veil was purchased by Dr. Donatantonio De Fabritiis, a local pharmacist, who then showed it to Fr. Clement of Castel Vecchio, a Capuchin Friar. Two years earlier in 1616, the church of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars had been founded in Manoppello, a town nestled in the hill of Tarigni.
Fr. Clement assisted Dr. Donatantonio by cleaning the veil with the image of the face of Jesus, cutting away ragged edges of the veil and placing it between two panes of glass.
Fr. Clement then asked Capuchin Br. Remigio of Rapino, a skilled craftsman, to place the glass-enclosed veil within a walnut frame in which it remains to the present day.
Rather than being in a home, Dr. Donatantonio believed such a sacred image should be placed in a church where it could be protected and venerated by others. Fr. Donato da Bomba, in his Chronicle, explained that in 1638 Dr. Donatantonio selected the Capuchin Friars to become caretakers of the veil.
Dr. Donatantonio selected the church of the Capuchins, built in a secluded place on a hill near Manoppello, because the church reminded him of Mount Calvary and also because of the previous assistance he had received from the Capuchin Friars.
The veil with the image of the face of Jesus was placed in a compartment to the right side of the hifh altar in the church dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Subsequently Fr. da Bomba told in his Chronicle about the arrival of the Holy Face at the Capuchin church.
In 1686 a Chapel of the Holy Face was built to house and conserve the veil that was then placed within a special reliquary, and a new Chapel of the Holy Face of Manoppello was celebrated on Aug. 6, which also happens to be the Feast Day of the Transfiguration.
In 1703 the first procession of the veil was held from the church to the town of Manoppello. During this procession another miraculous event occurred. when Capuchin Fr. Bonifacio of Ascoli removed the veil from between the two glass panes in order to solemnly expose the image, the face of Jesus disappeared from the veil, but reappeared when the veil was again placed between the two panes of glass.
In 1718 Pope Clement XI provided a plenary indulgence to all the pilgrims visiting the Chapel of the Holy Face. Fr. Bernardo Valera, who became a Capuchin Friar in 1730, composed a novena in honor of the Holy Face and also authored a hymn to the Holy Face. Both his novena and hymn continue to be popular.
In 1730 the first wrought iron throne for carrying the veil in procession was completed. In 1906 a new throne for the veil was donated by the citizens of the nearby city of Lanciano. The present throne in use (of solid silver and encrusted with gold and precious stones) was made in 1946 by Nazzareno Jotti, a renowned artist.
Between 1946 and 1948 a new reliquary for the veil was fashioned of silver, gold and precious stones. As a precaution against anyone stealing the veil, there are three separate keys to the reliquary case. In 1970 a Pilgrim Hospice, called Casa Del Pellegrinio, was added to the complex in order to better accommodate pilgrims coming to view the veil.
Pilgrims through the centuries have adored Jesus in the image on the veil, praying in the Italian dialect common to the region of Abruzzo: Pe mmare e ppe terre si nmenate Tu, Santissime Vulte Sante, face la grazia che vu Tu! (Throughout earth and sea, all cry out your name, O Most Holy Face, grant us the graces that you desire to give us!)
Though the veil with the image of Jesus has been known and revered by local believers for centuries, it became better know and more frequently visited when Pope Benedict XVI visited the Chapel of the Holy Face Sept. 1, 2006, and spent an extended period of time in prayer before the veil. On that occasion the Pope also wrote a special prayer to the Holy Face.
On Sept. 23, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Church of the Holy Face to a Minor Basilica. Manoppello, located in the Diocese of Chieti, has become known as the town of the Holy Face.
There is a clear demonstration by critical historical and iconographic arguments that the veil with the image of the face of Jesus is the same as what has been called the “Roman Veronica” that was venerated by thousands of pilgrims in the church of St. Peter in the Vatican, especially in the holy years. Etymologically speaking, the word “Veronica” means true image, for in Latin veritas means true and icon means image.
Originally kept in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, this veil disappeared sometime in the 16th century and was replaced by a painted copy. Thus it is now believed that the date of 1506 when the veil initially arrived in Manoppello, Italy, as explained by Capuchin Fr. Donato da Bomba in his Chronicle, is an incorrect date, for in 1506 the veil was still safe in Rome.
It was thought also to be the sudarion (a head cloth for a deceased person), which was wrapped around Jesus’ head when He was placed in the sepulchre. For St. John writes in his Gospel (20:6-7): “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”
According to scientists and theologians who have studied the veil, the bridge of Our Lord’s nose was broken, and His mouth is partially open, revealing some teeth, as though He were about to speak.
In addition, the right cheekbone is swollen, the lips are swollen and there are various wounds on the forehead, presumably from the crown of thorns. There are also sings of spittle above the joint of the nose, discolouring from the penetration of blood under the flesh, and a lightly dilated pupil of one of the eyes that are almond shaped and appear to be looking up. The eyelids also appear to be slightly drooping.
A lock of hair extends across the wide forehead. Thin hairs can be detected on the upper lip. A small beard covers the chin. And two swatches of hair, in the Nazarene tradition, frame the image of the face of Jesus. The colors of the image are dense. Altogether not painted by human hands, the facial aspects reflect the biological effects of a person who has experienced violent physical trauma.
The veil is transparent and similar to a color-photograph transparency. The image is the same regardless of whether viewed from the front or viewed from behind. In addition, some who have viewed the veil have a sense the eyes are following the viewer. Others have reported that they have a sense that their minds are being read.
It is believed that the veil is woven from a yellowish fiber called byssus or sea silk that is a thread-like filament of a mollusc that lives in the Mediterranean Sea and historically was used by both Egyptians and Hebrews.
The printed reproductions of the veil used for holy cards, postcards and souvenir cards are based upon drawings made by the Rev. Taito of Torno di Sangro. Though his drawings were skill-fully made, pilgrims maintain that, to truly appreciate the veil, one must view the original image. The cover on last issue of LEAVES is a photograph of the image.
The Rev. Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J., Professor of Art History at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlomer, an expert in icons, have documented the link between the Holy Face of Manoppello and the Holy Face of Christ on the Shroud of Turin.
As a result, visitors to the Capuchin church can view an exhibition of 27 panels of photos with which Sr. Blandina has demonstrated that there is a perfect match of the Holy Face of Manoppello with the image of the Holy Face on the Shroud of Turin. The photos demonstrate that the two relics refer to the same face. The exhibition is called Penuel, which is a Hebrew term meaning “The Lord’s Face.”
Votive offerings and other religious artefacts can also be viewed in what is called the Shrine’s Treasury. In addition, since 1906 a monthly Bulletin has been published by the Capuchin Friars. The Bulletin contains historical and iconographic inquiries, stories of the favors and cures that have resulted from the prayers and petitions of those coming to venerate the veil.
Currently, each year on May 15 the veil with the image of the Holy Face is carried in procession from the Basilica to the Manoppello parish church of St. Nicholas of Bari, a distance of about 6/10s of a mile, and kept overnight for adoration by parishioners and pilgrims. The following day the veil is carried in procession back to the basilica.
Today the Holy Face of Manoppello is considered one of the most sacred relics of Christianity, because the image shows the face of Jesus with all of the signs of His cruel passion and death and His glorious resurrection, because the image is a real acheiropoietos eikon, not made by human hands, as shown last year in a scientific symposium in the Nuclear Investigation Institute of Frascati (Italy).