September 1, 2006

Pope visits “Veronica’s Veil”

By Stephen Brown

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict became the first pontiff on
Friday to visit "Veronica's Veil," which Christian tradition
says was used to wipe the sweat from Jesus' brow on his way to
crucifixion and miraculously recorded his features.

Benedict knelt in prayer before the relic also known as the
"Sacred Visage," which has been guarded by Capuchin friars in a
remote monastery in Manoppello in the Apennine mountains for

But the pope stopped short of endorsing the veil, venerated
since the Middle Ages, as the true face of Christ.

"Together we seek to know the face of our Lord and in it
find a path for our lives," the German-born pope told priests
and pilgrims after viewing the relic, housed in a heavy frame
adorned with gold and silver above the altar.

The fragile cloth depicts very clearly, in blood-red hues,
a bearded man bearing a striking resemblance to a more famous
relic, the Turin Shroud in northern Italy, which is revered by
some Christians as the cloth used to wrap Christ's body.

Measuring 17 by 24 centimeters (6.8 by 9.6 inches), legend
says it was used by a woman called Veronica to wipe Jesus's
face as he bore his heavy cross through Jerusalem to his place
of execution by the Romans on Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

The cloth is said to have healing properties and in
medieval times it was considered miraculous that the visage of
Christ is only visible from certain angles.

Its origins are uncertain. Veronica is mentioned not in the
Bible but in an apocryphal version of the life of Christ called
the Acts of Pilate. It has been revered by pilgrims in Italy at
least since the 12th century.

Housed in the Vatican until 1608 and mentioned in Dante's
poem the "Divine Comedy," it disappeared during building works.
One legend says a soldier's wife sold it to get her husband out
of jail to a nobleman, who donated it to the Capuchins.

German Jesuit Heinrich Pfeiffer concluded after 13 years of
studies that it was genuine. Another scholar examined it under
ultraviolet light and found the fibers had not been painted.
But critics say it is too much of a coincidence that "Veronica"
is a deformation of Green and Latin words mean "true image."

The pope's visit -- the first by a head of the Catholic
church -- will add to the popularity of the relic, which is
already visited by hundreds of pilgrims every week.

Benedict, who succeeded the late John Paul last year,
arrived by helicopter to be greeted by thousands of pilgrims
with cries of "Benedetto!" and "Long Live the Pope!"

One of the Capuchin friars gave him a reproduction of the
veil in a jeweled golden frame and knelt to kiss his ring.

Calling the visit "an historical event," Friar Emiliano
told Reuters TV earlier this week that the pope, "like many
pilgrims, comes not so much to see Christ's face on Veronica's
Veil but to be seen by it, to be loved by the eyes of the

Pilgrims visiting the shrine are surprised by the clarity
of the image which is supposedly over 2,000 years old.

"I can't explain how the face of Christ remained so visible
after all this time," said Italian pilgrim Silvana Fiorelli,
adding that it filled her with a sense of "wonder."

(Additional reporting by Eleanor Biles and Gabriele Pileri)