Veronica's Veil

Catholics are lucky. They always seem to have some new “gee-whiz” thing or event to enliven their religious lives. Images of their clone of Jesus or Mary keep popping up in the strangest places. I've read reports of these “holy” images appearing as oil stains, burn patterns on toast or tortillas, reflections on dirty storefront windows, etc. For some reason, if one is to believe the reports, Catholic Jesus especially likes to show up as a knot on a tree trunk. I have personally checked three such miraculous images and found them to be nothing more than totally unremarkable knots or scars where limbs or branches had been cut from the trees at some time in the past.

Perhaps my favorite “miraculous” likeness of Catholic Jesus was his mobile apparition on a garage door right here in San Antonio. This image only appeared at night, which was convenient for the numbers of Catholic faithful who had daytime jobs.

I arrived at the image location shortly after dark, to find a number of people staring at a dark image on a white garage door. Some were on their knees, mumbling prayers and making the sign of the cross over and over again. Priests from the nearby Catholic church were on hand and distributing “holy water” to those who had thought to bring bottles or jars.

The image on the garage door resembled the head of a man standing sideways to a bright light. Actually, it was the shadow of a tree that stood between the garage and a bright street lamp.

Veronica's Veil is another of those wonderful images so dear to Catholicism. Supposedly, it was a “dew rag,” or cloth that a bystander used to wipe the sweat and blood from Christ's face as He made His painful walk to Calvary. Nice story; but it true? I think not.

There is no reference to the story of Veronica and her veil in the canonical Gospels. The closest is the miracle of the a woman who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus' garment (Luke (8:43-48); her name is later identified as Veronica by the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate". The story was later elaborated in the 11h century by adding that that Christ gave her a portrait of himself on a cloth, with which she later cured Tiberius. -- Veil of Veronica, Wikipedia

Catholic sources that I have encountered generally concede that the fable of Veronica's veil is not to be found in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the tale has fueled Catholic religious fervor for centuries.

What good would such a relic be if it couldn't do wonderful things? Veronica's magic veil has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to miracles:

The treasured veil of Veronica with the imprinted face of Christ became symbolic of the Mysteries of the Passion of Christ, and a sacred relic through which God was pleased to perform miracles. Its touch restored the dead to life, healed the blind, and produced water to quench the thirst of imprisoned Christians. -- Veronica's Veil, Miraculous Images, Gulf-Goans

After traveling around a bit, the little dew rag – it's only about 6.5 x 9.5 inches – ended up in the Vatican, where it became a favored relic and tourist attraction. What happened next is unclear. Some reports claim it was destroyed by Charles V's troops when they sacked Rome in 1527. Other stories tell us that it was stolen and given as a dowry, that it was passed around Rome's taverns or that it simply disappeared. It is also claimed that the veil ended up in an Alpine monastery, where it languished under glass for four centuries until re-discovered by a German Jesuit.

Almost four centuries after its mysterious disappearance, German Jesuit Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer reports that he has rediscovered the legendary veil of Veronica, with which Jesus wiped his face on the road to Calvary. Fr. Pfeiffer, a professor of Christian Art History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, found the relic in the abbey of Monoppello, Italy, high in the Apennine Mountains. -- Priest Rediscovers "Veil of Veronica,” © ZENIT June 3, 1999

Though the priest who rediscovered the cloth, Jesuit Heinrich Pfeiffer, believes it is the fabled rag that wiped Jesus' face, not everyone is convinced, as the article discloses.

The Vatican has had no comment on Pfeiffer's claim. (His conclusion is a bit controversial, since Veronica's veil should officially still be inside Saint Peter's Basilica. There, beside the main altar, one will find a statue of Veronica and a Latin inscription saying the veil is preserved within.) -- Antonio Gaspari, Has Veronica's Veil Been Found?, Urbi et Orbi Communications, November 1999

So what's the big deal? Some might say that this is just a little bit of cloth and of no particular importance. For the Roman Catholic Church, it is so significant that there is a special blessing for the holy dew rag.

Today, Veronicas Veil is almost forgotten. The original image is still preserved in a special chapel within St. Peter's Cathedral and the traditional Veronica Blessing still takes place once a year - on the 5th Sunday of the Lent, Passion Sunday, at 5 p.m.

The blessing takes place after the traditional Vesper, a short procession within the Cathedral and the Roman litany. A bell rings, and three canons carry the heavy silver frame out on the balcony of one of the four main pillars of St. Peter's, the one above the statue of St. Veronica holding the veil, a masterpiece of Francesco Mochi (17th Cent.). -- Veronica's Veil, Miraculous Images, Gulf-Goans

What does the thing look like? A painting in the National Gallery of Art that supposedly shows us. Some claim that the artist, Domenico Fetti, actually saw the bit of fabric when it was on public view. The painting likely was made to cash in on the indulgence granted for praying before the actual cloth or images of it.

I find it fascinating that gullible Catholics are willing to accept stories that the image of Mary or Jesus appeared to someone in the burn pattern on a flour tortilla, or in a puddle of water or an oil stain and travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to pray to the image. Yet these same Catholics will not accept God's truth as presented to them in the Holy Scriptures. The power of darkness is great indeed, but the Light will overcome.

Come quickly, Lord.

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