By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
The parishioners of Manoppello have always believed that the image of Christ’s Face displayed in their church was miraculously imprinted on the actual napkin that had been placed over the head of Jesus in the tomb. They and many others believe it to be an “eyewitness” to the Resurrection.
Klaus Berger, Professor of New Testament Theology in the Department of Evangelical Theology of the University of Heidelberg, is one of Germany’s best known modern biblical scholars and an author of numerous books. Writing in the German-language publication Focus, he states that the “image of the face of Jesus represents the first page of the Gospel. If the Gospel is the text, this image of the Resurrection is its frontispiece….According to Jewish tradition, two witnesses needed to come forward before a matter could be brought to court. In this instance, we have two witnesses – Peter and John – but we also have two items of proof, two fragments of cloth: the Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello. They constitute two pieces of material evidence attesting to the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a fact; it is not a theological metaphor. The Resurrection was a reality, and this Manoppello image attests to this.”
In the case of a bloody, mutilated corpse, Jewish burial custom called for a great deal of linen and numerous additional napkins. The dying Christ bled profusely. There is a well-founded tradition that a bystander at the cross pressed a linen napkin to His face. So profuse was the bleeding that the napkin had to be folded and applied again to the Crucified One. Since the ninth century, a linen napkin (measuring 2 feet 9 inches by 1 foot 9 inches), heavily stained with blood and serous fluid, has rested in Spain’s oldest repository at the cathedral in Oviedo. Scientific studies date the artifact from the first century. It is a sudarion, a towel used to wipe the face of a dying person. The pattern of the bloodstains on the Oviedo relic conforms perfectly with the imprint of the face on the Shroud of Turin. The blood found on both relics is of the AB group and belongs to the same Man.
On being removed from the cross, Christ’s body was immediately wrapped in a four-meter-long linen shroud called a sindon. Jewish custom prescribed this for two reasons: to keep the dead body from being defiled by bare hands and to prevent further spillage of blood. To keep the mouth closed, another piece of linen (pathil) had to be tied around the lower jaw. Just such a cloth has been preserved in Cahors in southern France.
Once shrouded, the body had to be bound laterally with broad linen bands (othonia). Throughout the whole process, generous quantities of aromatic oils were poured in and outside the wrappings. Only after being wrapped and bound in this prescribed manner was the body of Jesus laid like a cocoon in the tomb; and there, it is believed, a costly linen made of byssus (sea silk) was laid over His Head.
John mentions the linen cloths in his Gospel account of the empty tomb. Early in the morning, he relates, Peter and “the other disciple” hurried to the tomb and “the other disciple” (whom Jesus loved) outran Peter. “And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying , and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (Jn 20: 5-8).
Relying on the Church Fathers (Cyril of Jerusalem and Cyril of Alexandria) and other biblical commentators, Greek scholar Antonio Persili proposes a correction to existing translations of the above Gospel passage: “And stooping to look in, [John] saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in …[Peter] saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on his head, lying not flat like the linen cloths, but upraised, in the position it had been laid, in one place.”
John saw the shroud and believed that his Lord had risen, even though he had not yet seen the Risen One. Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of His Resurrection, for, as Scripture says, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily“ (Col 2:9). The burial cloth, which had bound the body of Jesus, sank to the ground at the moment of Resurrection, for, now that the Risen Body had passed through it, there was nothing to support it. Only the cloths covering the head retained their shape, for these had been heavily soaked with blood and the aromatic oils and, after drying out, had become as stiff as cardboard. It was over the head, as a sign of special respect, that a napkin woven from costly byssus was laid. Many believe it is the very napkin that now stands displayed in the Church of Manoppello.
Out of six possible Greek words denoting the act of seeing, Saint John the Evangelist used one: eiden – i.e. “to see and to believe” (Jn 20:8). The word denotes not only the experience of seeing but also of understanding. When John saw the shape and disposition of the burial cloths, he understood that the body of Jesus had in some mysterious way passed through them, and thus risen from the dead.
The Risen Jesus left us a special sign of His Passion, Death and Resurrection in the form of a miraculous imprint of His body on a linen cloth measuring thirteen and a half by four and a quarter feet. This is the Shroud of Turin. Stamped on the cloth is a photographic, three-dimensional negative of the front and back of Christ’s body. The numerous bloodstains appearing on it (belonging to the AB group) represent a positive print. The image is anatomically perfect; modern science is unable to replicate it. The body must have passed through the cloth, for there is no sign of tearing and the bloodstains and the structure of the cloth remain intact and undisturbed. John Paul II called the Holy Shroud of Turin “a special witness of the Paschal mystery: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection” (April 13, 1980). “Most importantly for the believer,” he tells us elsewhere, “the Shroud mirrors the Gospel….It is a truly extraordinary sign that points us to Jesus, the true Word of the Father…” (April 25, 1998).
The Risen Jesus also left us an imprint of His face on the Veil of Manoppello. A mysterious burst of radiation at the very moment of the Resurrection caused His face to be seared onto the diaphanous veil which covered His head. Scientists surmise that it is the same energy that caused the front and back of His body to be imprinted on the Shroud of Turin.
All this brings us to an inescapable conclusion: that our Incarnate God left us these two stunning images of His Face by design. They record the culminating moment of the history of mankind when Our Lord achieved His total victory over Satan, sin, and death. By becoming man, the Son of God was, being God, able to take upon his humanity the burden of the sins of the whole world: “he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). Upon Himself He took every sin that was ever committed – or would be committed – by the human race. Although He was Himself without sin, He experienced the full horror of the reality of sin. And by remaining perfectly obedient to His Father throughout the torments of His Passion, He conquered sin and received from His Father the gift of resurrected life.
The images on the Veil of Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin were not caused by any direct contact between body and cloth. It was divine intervention that produced them. The result is a miraculous record of the stages by which the humanity of Jesus was glorified. The Shroud of Turin captures a glimpse of His dead body at the very start of the process of glorification. The body was already beginning to emanate that mysterious energy which caused it to be projected with such precise detail onto the cloth in the form of a photographic negative. The Veil of Manoppello, on the other hand, bears a positive print of Christ’s living face. The process of glorification is not complete, since the face is still marked by bruises and swelling.
At first glance, the Face of Manoppello may cause disappointment, since it lacks the beauty we would expect of it. We must remember, however, that it is the face of Jesus while still in the process of transformation – i.e. not yet fully glorified. The splendor of the Risen Jesus is infinitely beyond imagining. Only in heaven will we be able to gaze on it and enjoy it to the fullest.
The Face of Manoppello is the face of the Rising Christ – caught at the very moment of its transition from death to life. Only subsequently did the full transformation of the mutilated and crucified Jesus take place – that same Jesus who freely chose to be “wounded for our transgressions …bruised for our iniquities….[H]e had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men….As one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is 53:5; 2b-4).
The Veil of Manoppello reveals the face of Christ Resurrecting, still bearing the marks of His passion. It captures the face an instant before “the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality” (1 Cor 15:54).
The Holy Face of Manoppello gives the impression of being painted with light; its expression changes according to the angle from which it is viewed and the quality of light. Only in the sunlight does it take on its full expression and beauty.
The oldest name for the image of Manoppello is acheiropoietos, which means “not made by the hand of man.” If it was not made by the hand of man, then it must be the handiwork of God Himself. It reveals the true Face of God. God left us a clear image of the truth of His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection. It tells us unequivocally that God became man, that He took upon Himself all our sufferings and sins, that He died a real death and then rose again to free us from sin and death and lead us to perfect happiness in heaven.
The Holy Face of Manoppello is truly an extraordinary artifact of the Risen Lord. In giving it to us, God wished to convince us of the Real Risen Presence in the mystery of the Eucharist. Saint Thomas Aquinas referred to the Eucharistic Host as “bread in the manner of a shroud” in which “God hides Himself.” It is our most precious treasure, since it is Jesus who wishes us to partake of His risen life and be healed of all our spiritual and physical infirmities.
“I desire,” said Jesus to Saint Faustina, “to unite Myself with human souls; my great delight is to unite myself with souls. Know, My daughter, that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not pay attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat me as a dead object” (Diary, 1385).
The Face of Jesus seen on the Shroud and the Veil and unseen in the Eucharistic Host invite us all to be persevering in prayer and adoration. John Paul II reminds us that “we cannot attain to a perfect contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts. We can do so only by yielding to the promptings of grace. Only silence and prayer can create that suitable basis upon which can mature and develop a more real, adequate, and coherent understanding of the mystery, which is most sublimely expressed in the famous words of John the Evangelist: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14) (Novo millennio ineunte).
On reading Paul Badde’s book The Holy Face: The Veil of Manoppello, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne remarked as follows: “What moved me most about this book is the fact that the so-called Face of Manoppello perfectly overlays the image imprinted on the Shroud of Turin. Yet whereas in Turin the face appears in torment, the face in Manoppello – while perfectly matching the image of Turin – reveals all the power of the Easter victory. “God lives. Christ is risen!” That is the message of this book and why it deserves to be read. It is a great gift to us in these early years of the new millennium.… I keep a reproduction of the Veil of Manoppello in my breviary. Before beginning the hours I gaze into the eyes of Jesus. And He looks right into our hearts. Jesus does not look at us with the eyes of a policeman or investigating officer; His gaze fills us with courage. If it is true that that eye contact is the shortest way to another person’s heart, how much more is this true for our encounter with God….I have to say that my understanding of this truth was immensely helpful in my encounter with the Veil of Manoppello. When I gazed on that mysterious cloth – which is so fine as to be invisible from a distance, and which in order to seen must be viewed by standing an arm’s reach away – I was profoundly moved….The Face of Jesus of Manoppello has made a deep impression on my soul.”
Read also The Shroud of Manoppello
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010