Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Lucca Conference on the Holy Face
(from left to right) Maria Pia Bertolucci, Umberto Palagi, Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, Ofm, Cap., Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, SJ, Giuseppe Giannelli, Antonio Bini
(thanks to Antonio Bini for allowing me to publish here my translation of his article along with his photographs of this important event)
The Image of Christ from the Shroud to the Holy Face
reflections on the Lucca conference
by Antonio Bini
Immediately prior to the inauguration of the exhibit on the Holy Face at Lucca a conference was held on March 4, 2011 at the Agora’ Auditorium – formerly the Convent of the Servites. The gathering was opened by Umberto Palagi, scholar of the Holy Face of Lucca, who recalled the principal historic references to the crucifix preserved in the Cathedral of San Martin, as well as connections to the face of the man of the Shroud and that of the Veil of Manoppello. There followed a talk by Giuseppe Giannelli who gave an interesting description of the copies of the cloth of the Shroud which were done in centuries past, underscoring in particular the cloth on display in the exhibit which comes from a local church. Today on that cloth there can not be seen any trace of an image, but only the writing which declares the authenticity of the copy.
Father Carmine Cucinelli, rector of the Shrine of Manoppello thanked the Diocese and the Comune of Modena, and in particular the Assessor for Culture Moreno Bruni in attendance in the Auditorium, for the attention given to the Holy Face, which was evident by the invitation to the conference and the opportunity to display illustrative material in the exhibit held in the Oratory of Saint Joseph, next to the Museum of the Cathedral.
Father Carmine underscored how the Faces of Christ which are under discussion are very different from one another, that of Lucca is a Crucifix, while that of Manoppello is composed of an image impressed on a very fine cloth, which presents unique characteristics. My talk followed in which I described the most important stages which have marked in recent years the extraordinary diffusion of the relic in Italy and throughout the world. As I spoke just before Prof. Heinrich Pfeiffer, pioneer in the studies of the Holy Face of Manoppello, I had to point to the solitude which characterized the first phase of his research, with his hypothesis which initially found skepticism and even aversion on the part of theologians, historians and church authorities. An attitude which at first took me by surprise due to its negativity but regarding which I later came to understand their motivation.
(from left to right) Fr. Cucinelli, Fr. Pfeiffer, Antonio Bini
Father Pfeiffer, professor of history of Christian Art at the Gregorian University of Rome and recognized by the international community as a scientific authority in that field, asserted that the Veil of Manoppello should be seen as identical with the Veronica (vera-ikon) the most important relic of Christianity and fundamental reference – until the 1500’s – for so many artists who throughout history had drawn and interpreted the Face of Christ.
In 2005 the journalist and author Paul Badde described in his book meeting the German scholar and the moment when there began in him an increasing interest regarding the history of the Holy Face of Manoppello:
“The professor told me that there actually was an image that was even more important than the Shroud. Only a crazy person would hold something like that, and that was how Father Pfeiffer was described to me”.
Badde, author of books on the Face of Manoppello which today are published in German, Polish, French, Dutch, Italian and English, has the distinction of breaking through a kind of wall of silence coming from the attitude of avoiding the topic, or even hostility, assumed without even having seen the relic or having made the slightest effort to check the research which had been done. An attitude which at times has unjustly involved even the Capuchins of the Abruzzi shrine themselves.
Last year Saverio Gaeta in the preface to his book, “The Engima of the Face of the Jesus, the Adventures of the Secret Shroud” (Rizzoli, 2010) reflected on this particular situation: “it seemed a challenge of David against the Goliath of the army of the Shroud’s scholars who couldn’t bother themselves with the veil of Manoppello because it would disturb their seemingly already well-established acquisition of the burial cloths of Jesus”. Gaeta correctly writes in the past tense “It seemed”. In fact in recent years the framework for scholars and researchers unexpectedly has expanded and what Father Pfeiffer in past years was saying constitutes the basis for what a segment of these scholars are finally examining without prejudices to delve more deeply into research on the Holy Face.
Fr. Pfeiffer being interviewed by the media
The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Manoppello on Sept. 1, 2006, the immediate elevation of the Shrine to the status of a Basilica and the prayer which the Pope himself desired to compose to recognize the first anniversary of his visit, represent the latest confirmations of the validity of Fr. Pfeiffer’s courageous hypothesis, now supported by other scholars, who are widening the field of their research also into that of the natural sciences.
This historic visit of the Pope was opposed up to the last moment for the implicit reaction that it would cause, beginning with its indirect support for the thesis that the Veronica is no longer kept at St. Peter’s, a circumstance which has never been admitted by the Vatican.
I explained how in my opinion it was only with the Grand Jubilee of the year 2000 and the beginning of the third millennium –which put an end to the silence regarding the Holy Face of Manoppello – that the Capuchins themselves were able to overcome the fears with which they for centuries had preserved with devotion and care the relic. This was also in regards to the observance of the decrees of Urban VIII, of which there was still mention in 1966, on the occasion of the book published by Padre Antonio da Serramonacesca, then provincial of the Capuchins.
The conference, moderated by Anna Maria Bertolucci, concluded with the talk by Father Pfeiffer, who presented, with a critical eye, some attitudes held by a part of Church, who show themselves to have little faith and a limited attention to the artistic and cultural patrimony of the Christian history.
He emphasized that relics come before works of art. Then he came to the Holy Face of Lucca. Although in general in the middle ages relics were the model for works of art, the relation between the luccan crucifix and the style of Antelami must be seen in the exact opposite way. Antelami imitated the style of his master Nicodemus, in as much as Nicodeumus is thought to have been the sculptor of the Holy Face.
According to Pfeiffer the crucifix, which according to tradition came from Beirut, “is the only Syrian sculpture come down to us, and can be traced back to the date of the sixth century after Christ. My suspicion is that the legend of the artist Nicodemus was invented to save it from destruction by the muslim or byzantine iconclasts”.
In any case, the mantle of hair with the curls in the middle has its parallel in the two medallions of the cross of Justin II from the year 574 AD which are in the Treasury of St. Peter’s at the Vatican. Father Pfeiffer has cited this in his own study which he wrote together with Werner Bulst, Das Turiner Grabtuch und das Christusbild Il Das echte Christusbild, published in Germany in 1991. These medallions derive from the two relic images, the Mandylion (now known as the Shroud of Turin) and the image of Camulia (now known as the Holy Face of Manoppello). The long face with the long beard divided in two points and the eyes of the crucifix derived from the Mandylion. They are an interpretive reading of the marks visible on the Shroud and “readable” by the human eye from a distance at least of 1.50 meters as a majestic human face. The twist of hair on the forehead reveals that their model is that of the Holy Face of Manoppello.
Both models were visible and able to be studied together only until the second half of the sixth century, one prior to its transfer from Constantinople to the small town of Camulia or Camuliana in Cappadocia, and the other until 544 at Edessa, about 80 kilometers distant from the forementioned place in Cappadocia.
The art historian’s hypothesis, which backdates the crucifix of Lucca to the sixth century, raised particular interest among the knowledgeable and attentive public who were present.
The conference concluded with the opening of the exhibit in the nearby former Oratory of San Giuseppe, in which are displayed large panels which illustrate the history and the features of the Holy Face of Manoppello, along with a huge photograph of the image in plexiglass, visible from both sides.
A structure was made for this exhibit – designed by Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlomer - with movable images of the Shroud and the Holy Face - imprinted on glass panes, which permit the visitor to be able to personally experience the superimposition of the two faces.
Also part of the exhibit are some tokens coming from burial chambers between Lucca and Valdera, including ancient medallions found during the excavations.