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The Shroud and the Image from the Apparitions of Saint Faustina

Home » History of the Research on the Shroud » Comparative Analyses » The Shroud and the Image from the Apparitions of Saint Faustina

Zbigniew Treppa
University of Gdansk, Poland

The image from the Shroud of Christ is linked to the image from the apparitions of St Faustina Kowalska in two ways. One is the visual similarities and the other is the overlap of certain theological themes. These two types of relationship result from an analysis of form and content. When analysing the theological content, it is necessary to take into account the specificity of St Faustina’s revelations, which, against the background of the history of private revelations confirmed by the authority of the Church, are an exceptional phenomenon, as evidenced by, among other things, their verbal and pictorial character. According to Fr Ignacy Różycki, who was the author of the theological study of St Faustina’s writings at the request of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the uniqueness of these revelations is also evidenced by, among other things, the fact that during the revelation of the image model for the Divine Mercy cult, the nun saw Christ in a real way. While there had been various instances of verbal and pictorial revelations prior to St Faustina’s apparitions, such as those experienced by St Margaret Mary Alacoque, the mystical experiences of the Polish nun featured previously unknown actions on the part of the Revealer that are closely related to the visual perception. The two most significant elements of these revelations are the communication of theological content concerning the worship of the Divine Mercy and the command to place at the centre of this worship an image painted according to the model shown to the Polish mystic.

The first action of the revealing Jesus, previously unknown in private revelations, was to show Himself as the model for the image, and then to express the desire to introduce into the Divine Mercy cult an image in accordance with what St Faustina had seen. Such a message of the apparitions requires an analysis of the content of this image, which can be done on the basis of the descriptions made by St Faustina and the painted image, which was made according to the instructions given to the painter. The picture that most closely follows both the content and the form of the image shown to the nun by Jesus is the one painted by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski. Its uniqueness and value lie in the fact that it is the only painting in the history of the Church which was created strictly according to the model shown by Christ with a very high degree of concreteness (which, for example, the model of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus shown to St Margaret did not have). The revelation of this image took place during St Faustina’s stay at the house of the nuns of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Plock on 22 February 1931, thus on the Solemnity of the Holy Icons celebrated in the Byzantine liturgy of the Church.

When she was in the convent in Vilnius, the nun persistently strove to ensure that the Divine Mercy image reflected as closely as possible the image shown to her in Plock. She personally attended to every detail made by the artist during dozens of painting sessions, which lasted a total of about six months. The painting was completed three years after the model image was revealed to her, that is in June 1934, and this was due to a decision by the Revealer herself, who ordered that work on the painting be completed once a particular effect had been achieved. Thereafter, the painting still received repeated approvals from Christ the Revealer. As mentioned, up to now, no image in the history of the Church has been ordered by Jesus to be introduced into worship after having been made according to His instructions. Nor has it happened that any image was introduced into worship on the day and place He indicated, as happened with the Divine Mercy image, which was painted and introduced into worship in Vilnius on 26 April 1935, at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of World Redemption, four years after the revelation of the model image. The day was also the inauguration of the Feast of Divine Mercy, which was only approved for the Catholic Church 65 years later by Pope John Paul II.

Jesus also commanded the veneration of this particular image, brought into worship and consecrated at his express request. Functions and promises were ascribed to the image that no other images had, and furthermore, realisations of Christ’s many promises are associated with it, which have been supported by testimonies from all over the world. The revealed image was also given a specific purpose by the Revealer that no other image in the history of the Church had. According to the words of Jesus recorded by St Faustina, the main purpose of the image is to prepare the world for His Parousia.

The image from St Faustina’s revelations should not be confused with that of Adolf Hyła, which was introduced into the Divine Mercy cult by the Sisters of Łagiewniki, who replaced the image revealed to the mystic in a self-proclaimed way, which was done against the wishes of Mother Irena Krzyżanowska. This nun, who at the time was Mother Superior of the Łagiewniki house, was the confidante of St Faustina’s secrets during her stay in Vilnius and at her deathbed.  She concluded that the image replacing the revealed image was not suitable for public worship (Szweda, Witko 2012, p. 84). The unfortunate introduction of the image by A. Hyła was also commented on by Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko, the spiritual director of the nun and the priest chosen by Jesus to spread the cult of Divine Mercy. In his Diary, he wrote that the Divine Mercy cult did not follow the correct line […] above all, the very image of the Most Merciful Saviour had been distorted (Sopoćko 2010, p. 123). The Łagiewniki image replacing the image introduced into worship by Christ contains a number of errors, and its authorship based on disobedience to the will of the Revealer obscures God’s authorship of the image’s model, but not only of the model, since God’s authorship is also present in the image made, accepted and incorporated into worship by Jesus and already present in it for many years (Fr S. Michalenko MIC).

Fr Seraphim Michalenko, vice-postulator in the canonisation process of St Faustina, was the first theologian to draw attention to the coincidence of the anatomical features of the face from the image from the Christ Shroud and the Vilnius image from St Faustina’s apparitions. In the 1990s, Fr Michalenko, in collaboration with the Turin photographer Aldo Guerreschi, showed that

the effect of superimposing a photograph of the front part, in negative, of the reflection of the Shroud of Turin, obtained from Giuseppe Enrie’s photographic plates, on a copy of the print of the miraculous image painted with Sr. Faustina Kowalska, is based on the anatomical similarity of the two faces: their identical dimensions, with the same distance between pupils, elongated nose, identical lips, moustache and beard of the same cut, hair falling at the sides, allow an almost perfect superimposition of the two faces

(Michalenko 1999, pp. 249–250)

Furthermore, Fr Michalenko pointed out, on the basis of his analysis of the writings of Fr Michał Sopoćko, who assisted during all the painting sessions in Vilnius, that the artist was not aware that he had reproduced the image of Christ in full conformity with the anatomical features of the image from the Shroud in the painting executed by him according to the instructions of St Faustina.

On the basis of the results of the study of the anatomical features of both images, Fr Michalenko concluded that the identity of the identifying features of the face reflected in the image from the apparitions with those on the image of Jesus from the Shroud could not be accidental, as the facial features of Christ had been worked out by E. Kazimirowski for many months in a long creative process. This process included, among other things, repainting the Saviour’s face over a dozen times as a result of numerous suggestions made by St Faustina concerning the similarity of the facial features of the figure in the painting to those seen by the nun during the apparitions. As a result, after the painting had been in progress for about six months, the painter was ordered by the mystic to stop the work. The reason for this was the approval of the painting made earlier by Jesus during one of the apparitions, who ordered the painting to be stopped, telling St Faustina that the painting was good enough; it did not need to be repainted any further (Michalenko 1999, p. 246). Such a course of the creative process suggests that the features of the Saviour’s face in the Vilnius painting were not only reflected in the model of the image from the Shroud in a way resulting from the painter’s imagination and subject to his decisions, but also, as Fr Michalenko claims, in a way which may bear the signs of miracles.

On the basis of the above argument, one can conclude that the Saviour’s will was to show His face in the typological image for the Divine Mercy cult in a corporeal, human dimension having a visual identity revealed in the uniqueness of human characteristics from which a person can be identified. In this case, it is possible to identify the person in the Vilnius painting by confronting his face with the face from the Shroud, which was reflected on it in accordance with all the consequences resulting from the act of the Incarnation (→Semiotics and Semiology of the Shroud). The similarity of the facial features from the two images of Christ is also matched by the similarity of the messages derived from the content of the two images.

The full range of verbal and pictorial revelations of St Faustina also reveals a wealth of content linking the image from Christ’s Shroud to that from the nun’s revelations. One of these may be the specific colours present in both images that characterise their key elements. Above all, it is the identity of the colours of the rays of light coming out of Jesus’ robe with the colours of the actual appearance of the physiological fluids, whose presence on the Shroud makes the trace of the piercing of Christ’s side very clear. The mystic’s description in her Diary mentions that the colours of the rays of light coming out of Jesus’ robe should be reproduced as red and pale, according to the image shown to her, and this is indeed how they were reproduced in Kazimirowski’s image, which is typical of the Divine Mercy cult. Father Michalenko repeatedly expressed that such colours correspond to the physiological appearance of the blood components separated from each other after death, of which the plasma is pale yellow, just like the ray of light in the Vilnius painting. Medical diagnoses of the phenomenon of separation of blood components, made on the basis of physiological traces of Jesus’ passion shown on the Shroud, reveal just such a correspondence between the colours of posthumous physiological fluids and the colours of rays of light from the image shown to St Faustina and the image painted in accordance with it. In the case of both the image from the Shroud and that from the apparitions of the Polish nun, it should be pointed out that they together contain a message with deep symbolic content.

The first theologian to notice the existence of similarities in symbolic content arising from the meanings contained in the two images was Cardinal Albert Vanhoye. According to Fr Michalenko, he was led to this interpretative track by The Letter to the Hebrews, in which many themes coinciding with both images are present. According to these theologians, if the blood from the Shroud can be read as a seal of the New Covenant and a sign of the sacrifice made (→Semiotics and Semiology of the Shroud), then the image from St Faustina’s apparitions shows blood sacrificed to take away sins (Heb 9:12ff), which Christ the High Priest, after being raised from the dead, offers to God the Father in the heavenly Tabernacle, obtaining glory for his humanity and giving power to the forgiveness expressed in the priestly blessing with which he returns to the Upper Room to institute the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Michalenko 1999, p. 243). Looking through the theological content of the image revealed for the Divine Mercy cult and identifying the figure in this image with the image from the Shroud, we can see the High Priest with the sacrificial blood after the sacrifice was made also on the Shroud.

There are many more overlapping messages between the two images. At the most general level, it is appropriate to speak of them as signs to look at, in accordance with the words of St John, who as an apostle, stood at the foot of the cross and was an eyewitness to the piercing of the Messiah’s side (John 19:37), and as an evangelist included in the Word of God he wrote down the testimony of the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice, quoting the words of Zechariah: They will look upon him whom they have pierced (Zeh 12:10). Adopting this theological point of view, by leaving the sign of the fulfilled sacrifice on the Shroud (→Semiotics and Semiology of the Shroud), and almost 1,900 years later by showing St Faustina a model image to honour Divine Mercy and spread its cult, Jesus Christ, the Pierced Lamb and High Priest, leaves the Church with the task of looking at both images with faith and at the same time with reason.


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Source of Image

1. Collection of Z. Treppa

Zbigniew Treppa

Full professor at the Institute of Media, Journalism and Visual Communication, University of Gdańsk, Head of the Department of Image Anthropology, Associate of the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow, Member of the Syndonological Section of the Polish Theological Society. In his research work he undertakes issues of visual theology, using the tools of image semiotics, he analyses artefacts of religious cult and structural properties of non-human-hand-made images (Greek: acheiropoietos). He has recently published The Phenomenon of the Image of Incarnate Mercy (Gdansk 2021).

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