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The Veil of Manoppello

Karolina Aszyk-Treppa
University of Gdansk, Poland

Zbigniew Treppa
University of Gdansk, Poland

Referred to nowadays as the Divine Face, Volto Santo, and earlier as the Veronica, Camulia Veil—is an object measuring 17.5 × 24 cm, woven from very thin threads, approximately 100 μm (0.1 mm) thick, with gaps between them twice their thickness, which means that approximately 42% of the surface is empty (Fig. 2). On either side of the Veil is the image of Jesus (Fig. 8), which, in terms of anatomical features, is undoubtedly identical to the facial features seen in the image from the Shroud of Turin. In other words, the image on the Shroud and the image on the Veil are real representations of Jesus Christ, which may have been created—as some researchers claim—at the time of His resurrection or, in the case of the Veil—as others believe—during the Way of the Cross, as a result of contact between the fabric and His face.

Unlike the image from the Shroud, which shows the face of Jesus with his eyes closed, on the Veil the eyes are open, which is not without significance for theological considerations. The anatomical correspondence of the images from the two cloths makes the Veil image fall into the category of acheiropoieta, i.e. images not-made-by-human-hands.

What the two paintings have in common is, among other things, a structure similar to that of a photographic rather than a painting image. In the case of the Veil, it cannot be ruled out that painterly retouching has been done on it. The same is true of another acheiropoieton, the image from the →Tilma of Guadalupe, where the image of supernatural origin has silver flakes placed on its surface. As with the Shroud image, it is unclear how a copy of the Veil image could be made that would have all the essential characteristics of the original.

The Veil image is distinguished by the variance (variation) in the arrangement of the facial fragments (Fig. 3) and the colour tones of the image (Fig. 4), which is unparalleled in any known image. In other words, the Veil painting has no single appearance: there are as many appearances as there are colour and tonal versions of the painting. This is the reason why painters inspired by the Veil image, when they depicted images of Christ, were able to reflect at most one of the observed variations.

From the perspective of the history and anthropology of the image, the Veil image has become the “mother of all icons,” which is due, among other things, to the fact that it reflects the face of Christ with open eyes (cf. →The Shroud and the Convention of the Mandylion).

Historically, it was the model for the earliest images and icons depicting His image (Fig. 6), before the image from the Shroud of Turin (cf. →The Shroud as Prototype for the Depiction of Jesus) could also become such a model after some 350 years.

The present name of the object indicates the semi-transparent fabric and the town of Manoppello, in Abruzzo, where it has been kept since 1638 in the church of the Capuchin Friars. The veil was given to the friars by its previous owner Donat’Antonio de Fabritiis, who became its owner, as vaguely recounted in the Relatione historica, a largely fictional story (H. Pfeiffer SJ, S. Gaeta, M. Colombo) written in 1645 by the Capuchin Donat da Bomba: the text was intended to give credence to the fact that the Capuchins of Manoppello owned the relic. Since 6 April 1644 the Veil has been exhibited as a relic, while since 6 August 1690, together with the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Feast of the Holy Face has been celebrated there. Pope Clement XI granted a plenary indulgence to pilgrims visiting the church of Manoppello to venerate the relic (1718), and since 1772 a special veneration of the image has also been observed on the third Sunday in May.

Research in the 1990s showed that the history of the Veil did not begin with its presence in Manoppello. It was discovered that the Veil of Manoppello had previously been kept in Rome, which was then known as “Veronica.” It was located in St Peter’s Basilica, from where it was stolen (H. Pfeiffer, 1991). One of the key documents that confirm this is Giacomo Grimaldi’s Opusculum of 1616. It is also sometimes claimed that the Veil was looted in Mantua by Habsburg troops in July 1630 and so found its way to de Fabritiis (Dietz 2021, pp. 271, 310–312). This hypothesis does not take into account the historical documents that identify the Veil of Manoppello with the looted Roman Veronica. The importance of these documents is confirmed, among other things, by the presence in the treasury of St Peter’s Basilica of a frame with broken double crystal glass, which reveals that it once housed an image that could be viewed from the front and back. The above information was reported by the media based on the results of a journalistic investigation by Paul Badde.

Vatican notarial documents give the origin of this frame: it was donated in 1350 to the chapter of St Peter’s Basilica by three Venetian aristocrats as an expression of their reverence for the Veil. The history of iconography knows of only one double-sided image with the image of Christ that could be displayed in the way that frames from the Vatican treasury allow: it is precisely the Veil of Manoppello. Circumstantial evidence and Church documents—despite the fact that they contain a lot of misinformation introduced by the chancellors of the chapter of St Peter’s Basilica in order to conceal the truth—leave no illusions that the theft took place. It probably took place in 1506 (Resch 2006, p. 76), when, under the pontificate of Pope Julius II, the foundation stone for the new basilica was laid on the site of the column of St Veronica (one of the four columns supporting the central dome of the temple).

The date of the theft of the Veronica from St Peter’s Basilica is uncertain, but historical materials indicate quite accurately the time and circumstances of its appearance in Rome. This took place in 705, where the object was transferred from Constantinople, following the first announcements of edicts and the iconoclastic actions of the Byzantine emperors. The relic was given by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Kallinik I, to Pope John VII, who was a native Greek, the son of a high official of the Byzantine administration. In 1208, Pope Innocent III introduced the custom of annual adoration of the Veronica. It was shown to the people of Rome and to the many individuals making pilgrimages to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and was carried in solemn procession from St Peter’s Basilica to the Santo Spirito Hospital. The object was already called the Veronica at that time, but before it arrived in Rome, it was known as the Camulia Veil.

This term referred to the name of the relic’s earlier location in Cappadocia, near Edessa. From there, in 574, during the reign of Emperor Justin II, the cloth was carried in solemn procession across Asia Minor to Constantinople. As the Veil was held in reverence in Byzantium, at least until 695 it served as a labarum, or banner carried at the head of the imperial troops (including during the siege of Constantinople by the Avars in 626). Scholars disagree as to which of the objects known today may have been used as the labarum at that time: the Camulia Veil or the Shroud of Turin. Similarly, there is great divergence in interpretation regarding which of the two objects can be identified with the Mandylion of →Edessa. The reason for this is that scholars believed for several decades of the 20th century that the canon of depictions of Christ drew on the image from the Shroud and did not consider the Veil of Manoppello until the Veil had been studied in depth.

Modern analyses have shown that the Veil of Manoppello was a much earlier model for images and icons of Christ (→The Shroud as a Prototype for the Depiction of Jesus) than the Shroud, a theory which began to be promoted in 1939 by Paul Vignon. The crucifix of Emperor Justinian II (from the treasury of St Peter’s Basilica) and the solidus of the same ruler from 692, which was the first ever coin with an engraved image of Christ, attest to the fact that the image seen on the Camulia Veil at the time was regarded in Byzantium as the model for images of Christ. The face of Jesus from the later solidus of Emperor Michael III (842–867), like the faces from the crucifix and the coin of Justinian II, have clear features of the image from the Veil of Manoppello. Such features could not be copied from the image visible on the Shroud of Turin, before 1898, when only the negative of the image was known (Resch 2006, p. 62). This discovery falsifies P. Vignon’s theory, which, in the absence of an alternative (i.e. before the scientific studies of A. Resch and H. Pfeiffer on the Veil were made public) was accepted as true by some syndonologists.

Chronicle material, supported by a comparative analysis of the image with images appearing on a number of artefacts (crafts, coins, icons, wall and panel paintings and mosaics) fully confirm the presence of the Veil of Manoppello in Asia Minor (as the Camulia Veil) and in Rome (as the Veronica). Historians struggle more with describing the earlier history of the relic. If—on the basis of the undeniable similarities of many features appearing on both images—its fate is linked to the history of the Shroud of Turin, the first traces of its presence outside the Cappadocia city should be sought in Jerusalem (A. Resch, H. Pfeiffer, B. P. Schlömer OCSO), from where the Veil would have been transferred to Camulia by Judeo-Christian refugees expelled from their country after the first or second Jewish uprising (i.e. as in the case of the Shroud, whose presence in Edessa is not generally disputed). Both relics may therefore have found their way to Cappadocia after 70 or 135 BC.

Unlike the Shroud, which became the subject of scientific research (historical, comparative, physical and chemical, initially based on analyses after its first photographic reproduction, see →History of the Research on the Shroud) from 1898 onwards, scientific study of the Veil did not begin until the 1970s. The earliest anthropometric measurements were made of the face from the image on the Veil. Confronted with similar measurements from the image on the Shroud of Turin, they yielded surprising results. Comparative studies of facial anatomy from both paintings were conducted independently by Bruno Sammaciccia in 1974 and by Blandina Paschalis Schlömer in the 1980s. The latter researcher, having found a dozen or so common identification points in the Veil and Shroud images, demonstrated the anatomical identity of the faces in both images, which was confirmed in the 1990s by Andreas Resch, who made the discovery of further common points (20 in total). When the documentation of the comparative research done by B.P. Schlömer was handed over to Heinrich Pfeiffer a few years later in 1984, the latter very quickly identified the Veil of Manoppello as the lost Roman Veronica, as a result of which historical studies of the object were undertaken.

In the 1990s, on the basis of his comparative studies of the Veil and ancient images of Christ, (including those from the Roman catacombs, the oldest of which date to the 3rd century—e.g. the oldest image of Christ as the Good Shepherd from the Aurelian hypogeum at Viale Manzoni dating from before 270), A. Resch, hypothesised that the image from the Veil of Manoppello has strong connections with the first images of Christ. The presence of the oldest depictions of Jesus in Rome agrees with the local iconographic tradition and the presence in Rome of the Gnostic sect of the followers of Carpocrates of Alexandria, who already worshipped images of Christ in the 2nd century. One of the most significant conclusions that A. Resch draws from these analyses is that the early images of Christ from the catacombs are based on the proportions of the face from the Veil. This, according to the scholar, means that these proportions were a kind of standard determining the way Christ’s face was depicted, which proves that the face from the Veil was the model for representations of Christ several centuries earlier than the face from the Shroud of Turin (Resch, p. 127)

After 2000, the fibres from which the cloth was woven were investigated and attempts were made to explain the unusual phenomenon of optical variation in the image. An inspection in the first decade of the 21st century by Chiara Vigo, an expert in the making of sea byssus, strengthened the research community’s conviction that the fabric was made of byssus. This was thought to be evidenced, among other things, by the Veil’s features such as its unusual luster and golden-brown colour, typical of the fibres produced by the mollusc Pinna nobilis, from which byssus threads are made. In 2010. Giulio Fanti performed a microscopic analysis using cross-polarised light and noticed that the spectral colours were typical not so much of byssus, but of flax. The Italian scientist analysed the mites present on the fabric (the one shown in the microscopic image by G. Fanti, appears to be consistent with Acarus tyroborus lini, feeding on starch and flax seeds). This fact, according to the scientist, means that the Veil of Manoppello is made of flax, whose fibres change colour over the centuries. Measurements are taken under unfavourable circumstances (e.g. using Raman spectroscopy, which would make it possible to reliably determine the composition of colours and the type of material of which the Veil was woven) because the two panes of the reliquary filter ultraviolet rays.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the presence of natural organic substances such as oils, fats and waxes—traditional painting binders used in the past—in the fabric was also studied (P. Baraldi, 2007; G. Fanti, 2010). No fluorescent signals were found that could be linked to the presence of such substances. Investigations carried out in 1984 and 2007 using infrared (IR) light allowed us to conclude that the Veil also showed no traces of preliminary facial sketches, typical of all paintings, nor a visible signature or brand of the author. Examining the Veil with a high-resolution digital scanner, no pigment residue was detected in the space between the warp and weft threads (D. Vittore, 2000). The presence of any pigment may therefore be confined to the surface of the threads.

Research into the physical structure of the image has sought to explain its variance (variation), which depends on lighting conditions and the point of observation. The analysis of variance and the properties of the obverse and reverse were studied by the authors of this encyclopaedic entry between 2007 and 2012. The variability of facial anatomical details (two types of variability—Fig. 3) and the variability of colour tones (multiple—studied in detail based on 11 + 7 lighting variants, Fig. 6–7).

Both types of variability were found to correspond to each other and are equally present on the obverse and reverse (Fig. 8–11).

The correspondence of some of the images of Christ produced between the 3rd and 15th centuries with different variants of the Veil image, including anatomical arrangements (Fig. 5) and variations in colour tones, led to the hypothesis that the relic image influenced the appearance of these representations. The relevance of specific lighting variants of either the obverse or reverse of the Veil to specific painting representations has been substantiated (Fig. 12–13). It is very likely that the images of Christ showing the characteristic strand of hair on his forehead and the images of his face with anatomical features similar to those of the Veil (e.g. the shape of the eyebrows, mouth, dentition, length of the nose) were taken not from the Shroud of Turin (→The Shroud as the Prototype for the Depiction of Jesus), but from the Veil of Manoppello.

Scholars have also studied the transparency of the Veil image. In 2018. Liberato De Caro, Emilio Matricciani and G. Fanti hypothesised that the fibres forming the linen threads may have been bonded by an organic substance with a chemical composition similar to cellulose, probably starch [amylum—K.A.-T., Z.T.], eliminating the air between them. Based on the observation of two lighting variants, the aforementioned authors concluded that the painting was the result of a peculiar technique that is not used in painting practice (a linear fit of the power spectrum on a logarithmic scale with Steven’s power law fP gave a surprising value for the slope parameter P = −3,49 ± 0,03. This result was unexpected because it is typical of photographs rather than portraits of human faces painted by artists, which instead have statistical properties of the fractal type, with slope P = −2,0) (De Caro, Matricciani, Fanti 2020, p. 1). The phrase used by the authors to describe the way in which the image was made (a peculiar technique not used in painting practice) seems a euphemism, given that it is not known how the image was created and there is no known method that would enable the same image to be made today, using all available knowledge and technology.

Following a further study (2020), the aforementioned scholars put forward a new hypothesis: over the centuries, the yellowing of the linen threads changed the appearance of the original face, in particular producing unnatural eye colours (De Caro, Matricciani, Fanti 2020, p. 0). This opinion does not convince all researchers. If L. De Caro, E. Matricciani and G. Fanti are not mistaken in assuming that the fabric of the Veil is linen, one has to agree with them that the Veil of Manoppello may be very old, even from the Roman period (De Caro, Matricciani, Fanti 2020), as established by them on the basis of calculations of the ageing of the starched linen threads. If so, as far as the age of the linen is concerned, the findings of the sciences would coincide with the conclusions of historians and image analysts.

Liberato De Caro, E. Matricciani and G. Fanti also hypothesised, as had been done more than 20 years earlier by A. Resch, that the Veil should be linked to the tradition of the Veil of St Veronica, on which, according to legend, the image of Christ was imprinted during his passion, just before his crucifixion. According to this conception, the Veil of Manoppello and the Veil of St Veronica are the same object. Researchers of the Veil are not in agreement as to how the image on the relic was created. H. Pfeiffer and B.P. Schlömer believe that the origin of the image on the Veil should be linked to the Gospel description of the empty tomb; they assume that the image was formed following the Resurrection, which analogous to how the image of Christ’s body on the Shroud of Turin was made.

Also the authors of this encyclopaedic entry, on the basis of the available data, are in favour of considering the above concept as the most probable one, and are not in favour of referring to the tradition of the Veil of St Veronica. However, they are of the opinion that an explanation referring to the tradition of the empty tomb, which has its origin in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, should not be made dependent on detailed attempts at reconstructing the way in which the Veil could have covered the body of Jesus wrapped by the Shroud, together with other possible cloths. Attempts at detailed reconstructions can only have the status of hypotheses that can never be verified or falsified due to the fact that the details of the Resurrection are completely inaccessible to temporal cognition, and the mystery of the event disproportionately outweighs rationalisation and any intellectual explanation.

According to H. Pfeiffer and B.P. Schlömer, of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the most important for attempts to reconstruct how the images on the Veil of Manoppello, like those on the Shroud of Turin, were formed is the description in John 20:6–9, which tells how the apostles St Peter and St John, entering the Lord’s tomb, saw the cloths. Central to this reconstruction is the phrase in 20:6: ta othonia keimena (τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα), usually translated as lying linen or, less commonly, as spread bands (A. Persili). The manner in which the cloths from this description are arranged may indicate not only the resurrection, but also that the cloths first contained the body, and that after the resurrection (the penetration of the body by the cloths) they fell off and remained lying. Of great importance for the event are the evangelist’s words concluding the quoted passage: kai eiden kai episteusen (καί εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν), i.e.: he saw and believed (20:8b).

In the last decade or so, the idea has been circulated that the Veil was executed by an unknown artist or by one of the Renaissance artists such as Raphael Santi or Albrecht Dürer (R. Falcinelli, K. Dietz). It has been suggested that the alleged artist copied the proportion of the face from the Shroud onto the Veil.

These conjectures are unfounded, as during the Renaissance it was not possible to calculate the parameters of the facial anatomy seen on the Shroud, as only the original (not enhanced by photographic or computer graphics techniques) negative image of Christ’s face was available, which in addition fades at a distance of less than ca. 1 m—Fig. 14 (→History of the Research on the Shroud). The above concepts should be considered refutable also in the light of what we know about the features of the Veil image: they qualify it to the category of acheiropites while the recent studies by L. De Cara, E. Matricciani and G. Fanti rule out a painterly origin of the image. The brief history of the scientific study of the Veil is replete with numerous research episodes, many of which still call for in-depth study.

Over the past two decades, the cult of the Veil of Manoppello as the true face of Christ has been developing in a very significant way. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come to the sanctuary in this Italian town every year. The development of the cult of the Veil of Manoppello is also taking place in Poland, where since 2020 the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Miechów has hosted the world’s first modern immersive permanent exhibition devoted to this relic (Fig. 15).

It was inaugurated in the jubilee year of the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem to the Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Palestine—Patroness of the Holy Land—and in the jubilee year of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Authority in Poland of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the permanent seat of the Polish Authority in Miechów. According to Grzegorz Słupski, the originator and at the same time the founder of this multimedia installation, its purpose is to confront pilgrims with the mystery of the Divine Face miraculously fixed on the Veil.


Archive of the Sanctuary of Manoppello.

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Aszyk K., Treppa Z., Ikona z Manoppello prototypem wizerunków Chrystusa, Gdańsk 2012.

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Sources of Images

1.–13. Collection of K. Aszyk-Treppa and Z. Treppa

14. The photo of the Shroud: B. Schwortz; the photo of the Veil: collection of K. Aszyk-Treppa and Z. Treppa

15. Collection of G. Słupski

Karolina Aszyk-Treppa

Graduate of the Department of Painting and Graphic Arts of the Kracow Academy of Fine Arts, assistant professor in the Department of Media Systems and Mass Communication at the University of Gdansk.

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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