Reviewed by Paul MacLeod

THE FACE OF GOD By Paul Badde book cover

By Paul Badde
Ignatius Press, 2010, 378 pp. ISBN: 978-1-58617-515-3

The German theologian Klaus Berger, a friend of the Pope, has said of the historian and journalist, Paul Badde: “Nobody has ever dared to go deeper into the Holy Sepulcher than Paul Badde.”

Badde’s research over a number of years has established that what was formerly known as “the veil of Veronica” still exists and shows us the true face of Christ. His findings are contained in two books, The Face of God and The True Icon.

They almost read like detective stories and have been described as “cultural thrillers.” It was after reading the first of these books that Pope Benedict XVI decided, at the beginning of his pontificate, to visit the shrine of the Holy Face at Manoppello, in the Abruzzi region of Italy. Since then, the Pope has increasingly spoken of “the face of Christ.”

Even the current Year of Grace in Australia has as a theme “Contemplate the face of Christ.” And at Easter this year, the Pope quoted the ancient Easter hymn, Victimae Paschali Laudes, which addresses to Mary Magdalen the question: “What did you see?” It has her reply: “The angelic witnesses, the sudarium and the gravecloths.” These the Pope described as “signs.”

In May 2010, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Vatican press office, declared: “We desire to know God and we can know Him through the face of Christ, Benedict XVI keeps reminding us. Therefore we love the images that tradition accredits as precious ways to glimpse this face, whether in Manoppello or in Turin.”

The term sudarium has long been taken to refer to the Shroud of Turin, but it is only one of the “gravecloths” (othonia in Greek, which means “wrappings”). Another is the bloodied cloth preserved at Oviedo, in Spain, and another a headband, kept in Cahors in southern France.

Badde has now established that the term sudarium refers, in fact, to what is known as the Veil of Manoppello, which has an image of Jesus’ face, alive and with His eyes wide open.

THE TRUE ICON By Paul Badde book cover

By Paul Badde
Ignatius Press, 2012, 160 pp. ISBN: 978-1-58617-591-7

He argues that the Shroud and the Veil present us with two witnesses to the reality of the Resurrection, the two witnesses required by Jewish law. One shows us Christ dead and the other Christ alive.

The Shroud, of course, bears an image of the whole body of Jesus, bloodied and wounded, majestic in death — a large four-meter long linen sheet, but dim in its outlines and detail. The Veil, on the other hand, is a delicate, transparent piece of expensive material, measuring just 28 cm by 17 cm, in which the face of Jesus seems to float in light, even to store light.

The Shroud came to world attention at the end of the 19th century, when the Italian photographer, Secondo Pia, famously produced a positive image, greatly clarifying the detail and leading to years of study, tests and speculation.

Now the Veil has come to world attention after being hidden for over 400 years, to re-appear for an unbelieving — and digital — age. For centuries it was the Church’s most precious relic, and was the focus of pilgrimages to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Badde describes the Shroud and the Veil as “the first pages of the Gospel,” written during the very night of the Resurrection, not by man’s hands though, and written in images rather than words — and what could be more appropriate for our digital age in which we increasingly communicate by images?

None of the written Gospels attempts any description of what Jesus looked like. They did not need to, as the Church already treasured these cloths from the tomb.

They were found there by Peter and John on the morning of the Resurrection, and, as John relates, one was rolled up by itself, away from the others. ­­This was undoubtedly the Veil, which was a piece of material known as byssos, woven from the fibers of sea mussels, and used as a face covering in death for dignitaries such as the high priest. It is so fine and delicate that one can even read a newspaper through it. But the image is clear.

In the darkness of the tomb, the image on the Shroud would not have been evident, but if Peter held the Veil up to the earliest light of the day from the entrance, his shock would have been much greater than that of Secondo Pia.

Peter obviously took the cloths back to the city with him. As articles that had touched a corpse, they were ritually unclean in Jewish law, and would have brought down the wrath of the Jewish authorities on the new community. Hence, Badde suggests, the Apostles kept the doors locked to preserve these treasures. Had they been shown and displayed or discovered in those early days, these items would not have survived, nor would the community of the first followers of Christ around Mary and the Apostles have survived.

As the Church spread, they found their way first to Edessa, then to Constantinople and, during the Crusades, to Europe, and were referred to by a variety of names. But both images are of the same person.  Computer technology has now shown that the features of Christ on both are an exact match.

What is of great significance is that the Veil was first publicly displayed in Rome in 1208, and up to that time, icons and paintings of Christ bear a close resemblance to the features on the Veil — even to a tiny lock of hair on the forehead. Why would an artist put that there if he was not copying the Veil?

veil of Manoppello

Veil of Manoppello

The Veil was later housed in a pillar of the rebuilt St. Peter’s Basilica, but disappeared during the Sack of Rome in 1506, although the broken frame which had held it is still in the treasury of St. Peter’s.

This cloth turned up in 1508 when it was brought to the little town of Manoppello by an unknown stranger, and is now housed in a reliquary above the altar of the Capuchin monastery there, visible to all who visit. The shrine is known as the Volto Santo, or Holy Face.

Meanwhile, the Shroud turned up in France and was first publicly displayed in Lirey in 1356. From then on it gained increasing attention, while the Veil faded into obscurity. That is, until 1977 when the Capuchin custodian of the Manoppello shrine, Fr. Domenico da Cese, took a large photograph of it to a Eucharistic Congress in nearby Pescara, and the world began to take notice. He died in an accident the next year in Turin, which he had visited to see the Shroud for the first time — and there are now moves for his beatification.

Saint Veronica  detail from St. John and Veronica Diptych (1483) by Hans Memling

Saint Veronica (right panel) detail from St. John and Veronica Diptych (1483) by Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494)

In 1968, Fr. Domenico opened the doors of the shrine one morning to find Padre Pio kneeling in prayer before the image — as the very last example of Padre Pio’s power of bilocation. At the time, Padre Pio was gravely ill in his cell in the Capuchin friary at San Giovanni Rotondo, more than 200 kilometers away, and was to die that night.

The new second Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass now asks God to welcome the departed “into the light of Your face,” rather than “presence,” as in the old version, and it has been suggested that the altar cloth and chalice veil at Mass have their origins in the Shroud and the Veil.

Increasing numbers of pilgrims are now visiting Manoppello, and these numbers are certain to increase as Paul Badde’s books,

a­bundantly illustrated, become better known. They are a gripping read.


Paul MacLeod is a retired journalist living in Belmont, Geelong, Australia.

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