Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Veil of Veronica As it Was

The Opusculum of Grimaldi of 1618 showing the face of Jesus on the Veil of Veronica with his eyes open

The copy of Grimaldi's Opusculum made by Francesco Speroni in 1635 showing the face of Jesus on the Veil of Veronica with his eyes closed.

“La Veronica com’era. l’importanza dell’Opusculum di Jacopo Grimaldi”
“The Veronica as it was. The importance of the Opusculum of Jacopo Grimaldi”
from Il Volto Santo di Manoppello, no. 1, Giugno 2002
by Antonio Bini translation by Raymond Frost

The Great Jubilee of 2000 recently completed was not “just” an important religious event but also a media event without precedent, accompanied also by notable publishing activity, historical research, artistic expositions, etc. An extraordinary confluence of initiatives involving historians and other scholars from many different countries, committed to a reconstruction of the origins, and not just religious, of the phenomenon of the pilgrimage, and therefore of the character assumed following the Proclamation by Pope Boniface VII of the first jubilee in the year 1300, after the Granting of the Indulgence of Pope Celestine in 1294.

The new millennium has emphasized more than just a little the search for a more profound and articulated analysis – from the point of view of the pilgrims – to see the phenomenon not only on the strictly religious plane, but integrated as it was in history, art, and culture, and not only European.

These studies have brought us in particular to a rediscovery of the Veronica, which has definitively come out from the shadows of the past four centuries, in as much as for a long time it had been the principal motivation for the pilgrims to undertake their trip to Rome, even before the introduction of the Jubilee.

The Prefect himself of the Vatican’s Apostolic Library has admitted that the jubilee event has offered “for the admiration and interest of visitors and pilgrims an important amount of its immense cultural patrimony, normally reserved solely for research”, (recognizing also that “for the first time” there were on display “important and ancient manuscripts”!). A precious contribution in this regard has come for example from the exhibit “Pilgrims to Rome and Jubilees: The medieval pilgrimage to St. Peter’s 350-1350”, held at Rome in the Palazzo Venezia from October 29, 1999 to February 26, 2000, which dedicated an entire section to the cult of the Veronica.

At this exhibit there were on display for the first time together numerous badges of the Veronica, some of them in very fine detail, coming from a variety of European countries. These badges were worn by pilgrims to Rome upon their return home, as a visible sign of the cult of the Holy Face.

As a result of the papal prohibition of making copies or representations of the Veronica (beginning with that of Pope Paul V in 1616) and afterwards of the order to destroy those already existing, there remains hardly a trace of these artifacts in our country.

But perhaps the most important surprise is to consider the publication for the first time of the cover page of the “Opusculum de sacrosanto Veronicae Sudario” (Opusculum of the Most Holy Sudarium of Veronica) prepared by the canon Jacopo Grimaldi, archivist and guardian of the relics of St. Peter’s, which page contains the representation of the Veronica. The document shows the date MDCXVIII (1618), even if the digits for the last three years seem added, in as much as they are written in larger print and above all because they are shown extending beyond the graphic delimitation reserved for the text, a circumstance which contrasts with the general scrupulous precision. It is not to be excluded that the correction itself could have been added after the death of Grimaldi.

The document is of extraordinary importance because it shows the Veronica actually as it was in its reliquary, constituting the fundamental reference for the work of so many artists (at least until 1600), although in its inevitable subjectivity of the pictorial expression, and for the same image carried in the various editions of the medieval “Mirabilia” (guides for the pilgrims coming to Rome).

The Opusculum, which was prepared by the last archivist to have direct guardianship of the relic before its disappearance, permits us to go beyond once and for all the most fantastic and uncontrolled hypothesis developed in the last four hundred years regarding the image of the relic.

The historian Genoveffa Palombo, author of the weighty volume, “Giubileo Giubilei” (Jubilee of Jubilees), ed. Rai-Eri, 1999, which carries for the first time the abovementioned cover page, affirms that we are dealing with a “very precise” document (cfr. note 99, page 282, op.cit), in the sense that the image drawn refers back to the Veronica.

This is a valuation which permits another scholar to sustain that the image present in the Opusculum of Grimaldi “refers wholly and in every way to the Holy Face of Manoppello” (cfr. Paola Sorge, “Manoppello and the enigma of the Holy Face”, in La Repubblica, suppl. of September 14, 2000, p. 43)

In this regard the authority of Grimaldi must be underscored. Grimaldi also must be considered the most respected and credible conoscitore of the basilica of St. Peter’s during the work of reconstruction, as he was the privileged witness to the long phase of the transformation of the basilica, which also foresaw the tearing down of the chapel where the Veronica was preserved. What’s more, he wrote the weighty manuscript entitled “Description of the ancient Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican”.

The document appeared in a passing way also in a widely seen documentary on the Holy Face of Manoppello, done by the German television network ARD, aired in the spring of 2000.

Until now there have not been any other “escapes” of the document, preserved in the archives of St. Peter’s.

On the occasion of the great exhibit dedicated to the theme “The Face of Christ”, held to coincide with the conclusion of the Jubilee event the Opusculum in question was not displayed, but only a later copy, also coming from the archives of St. Peter’s, published also in an accompanying catalog done by the publishing house Electa (IV.63).

After a rapid and summary preliminary consultation, it could appear to be a copy – although expressly later (1635) – reporting practically the same graphic layout and the same text of the same cover page of the Opusculum of Grimaldi dated 1618 (or 1615).

But upon closer inspection the image of the Veronica is seen as completely different to the one of which is supposedly the direct copy, rather taking inspiration from the painting done around 1616 by the canon Pietro Strozza (the so-called “copy” of the Veronica).

The clearest difference is certainly constituted by the eyes, which are closed on the copy while they are open on the cover page of the original opusculum of Grimaldi.

This copy of the Opusculum, as it is called, was made in 1635 by Francesco Speroni, who signed himself on the margin as sacristan of St. Peter’s.

Why should the copy refer back to Grimaldi to sustain a reproduction clearly different from the original which what’s more, is found preserved in the Vatican archives?

In all probability we are dealing with a bald attempt set in motion to hide the disappearance of the relic no longer found in St. Peter’s, with the canon Jacopo Grimaldi himself, cited in the copy, having died many years prior in 1623.

A series of events which leads us to reflect more than just a little, especially in order to underscore that the little known appearances of these two different documents – until now secret and unknown even to the most authoritative scholars – do not threaten any more to spread new confusion for researchers and pilgrims. Rather their appearances constitute a decisive contribution in the search for the truth, which is certainly favored by the possibility of comparing the authentic representation of the Veronica with that which in the period immediately following was clumsily modified.

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