Donation of the Holy Face to the Capuchin Friars of Manoppello (1638)
by Fabrizio Tricca
According to what is reported in a 1646 manuscript by Father Donato da Bomba O.F.M. Cap. (+1649) the Holy Face of Manoppello would have been delivered in 1506 by an unknown pilgrim who had arrived in Manoppello to a certain Giacomo Antonio Leonelli, Doctor and Physicist in astrology and the liberal arts. The Holy Veil stayed in his home for over a century until it was taken by force by the soldier and man of arms Pancrazio Petrucci as part of the inheritance of his wife, Marzia Leonelli (1588-1643), great-grand-daughter of Giacomo Antonio.
In 1618 a certain Baron Donato Antonio De Fabritiis (1588-1670) bought the Holy Face of Manoppello for 4 scudi (20 lire) from Marzia who had to sell the Sacred Veil (desired by all) to pay for the liberation of her husband Pancrazio who had finished in prison in Chieti. The baron was a physicist born of Baron Don Fabrizio and had taken for his wife the Baroness Madonna Claudia Cianthi (widow of Baron Achille Dario), from whom he had many sons. He was most learned in the sciences not only physical, but also theological and religious; and belonged to the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament, of which his father Don Fabrizio was several times Prior (i.e. in 1602, 1608, 1609) and in 1621 Auditor ("Razionale").
The Doctor was very pleased to possess that great Treasure until he realized that the Veil was reduced to a pitiful state: then he complained to the woman and immediately thought of returning it and recovering his money. But God inspired him to talk about it with Father Clemente da Castelvecchio O.F.M. Cap. (+1635), who had been sent in 1617 by the father Provincial of the Capuchins to direct the construction of the friary that was rising in Manoppello on the Tarigni hill, who convinced the Doctor to keep the Holy Image and to thank the Lord for that gift he had given him. Afterwards, the Capuchin cleaned the veil from impurities and trimmed all the frayed borders of the fabric and a lay brother, Fra Remigio da Rapino O.F.M. Cap. (+1632), enclosed it between two panes of glass within a walnut frame (as it remains today).
De Fabritiis held the sacred relic with great dignity and assigned it a prominent place in his home which with the passage of time became a destination for illustrious people of the town and surrounding area because news had spread of the great treasure which he possessed and above all due to the regular visits of the father Provincial Sylvester da Acciano OFM, Cap. (+1637), who came to contemplate the Holy Face, and his successor Father Serafino Valignani O.F.M. Cap. (+1631) who greatly cooperated with his zeal and his influence at the beginning of the Friary.
After Donato Antonio had the Holy Face for about twenty years in his home he thought that it would be better that the Holy Face should be in a public place where it could benefit every human being and not just a few people.
In Manoppello there were at that time many churches and oratories, among which the most important were three parishes and three monasteries. The first, parish and mother church, was dedicated to San Nicola di Bari; the second to San Pancrazio Martyr; the third to St. John the Apostle Evangelist. Of the monasteries the first, of the Conventual Friars Minor, was named after the patriarch Saint Francis of Assisi; the second of the Capuchin Friars Minor, dedicated to the Archangel Saint Michael; the third, of the Poor Clare Sisters, was entitled of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin. There were also two confraternities of lay people: one in honor of the Most Blessed Sacrament, established in the mother church of San Nicola di Bari; the other, of the Most Holy Rosary, in the church of St. Francis.
Therefore the parish priests of the churches, the leaders of the religious houses, and the priors of the confraternities, as soon as they had known the thought of Donato Antonio, all competed with one another to persuade De Fabritiis regarding the sacred Treasure that he possessed.
But it was a mysterious force, which Donato Antonio called "a celestial and divine impulse", which drove him to give the Holy Image to the Capuchin Friars and he could not be opposed. Also because he had contributed, together with Baron Giovan Loreto Dario (his stepson), for the purchase of land for the site of the Capuchin friary, strongly desired by his father Fabrizio.
The reaction of the other "competitors" was of immense resentment, so that the aftershocks continued for hundreds of years, but they would have to accept the fait accompli.
So, in 1638 Donatantonio went up the winding road that led to the friary of Manoppello in the company of his family, not without emotion in his soul for the treasure that was leaving his home. He thought that he too, with great sacrifice, would go up there to find his good and to give thanks for the benefits accorded to his family. He went up to repeat to the Capuchin Fathers the words of the mysterious Pilgrim: "Guard it with great devotion, for the sake of this people and their souls".
The Fathers welcomed it with profound gratitude, first addressed to God and then to the great benefactor who enriched the church and the poor friary with a very important treasure. Almost certainly there to welcome it was the Father Guardian Andrea da Roccadibotte O.F.M. Cap. (1585-1651). who before becoming a Capuchin lead a life similar to the character Fra Cristoforo of Manzoni's novel The Betrothed: his name was Luciano Cacchione. He was of a temperamental nature and committed actions before entering religion that were so serious as to be banished for life. In a fight he had almost killed a certain Angelo Amadei.
Placing himself at the service of the noble Colonna family he remained there for three years with honorary titles and benefices. He then decided to enter the Capuchins. There, like a young St. Paul, he was transformed so much that everyone was amazed by his humility, rigorous penance, fasting, continuous prayer accompanied by ecstasies during which he emitted copious sweat and looked like an angel in the flesh. He entered into the true wisdom and knowledge of heavenly things and had visions. Once he was shown the glory of the elect.
He convinced his relatives to forgive his brother's murderers. He had power over infernal spirits. He was charitable towards his neighbor by exercising a continuous and fruitful apostolate for his benefit. Through his intercession, graces without number were obtained while he was alive and after his death. He wrote verses filled with the unction of devotion. He became a great friend of Donato Antonio who continued to give gifts (Summa Theologica) and monetary offerings for the support of the Capuchins.
He died in the friary of Manoppello on March 7, 1651. On November 20, 1662, before the Provincial of the Capuchins Father Cherubino Stella da Ofena O.F.M. Cap. (+1692), the delegate Father Antonio Maria da Taggia completed the process for the beatification of the said Father Andrea. Among the many citizens of Manoppello who participated in the process were Donato Antonio, the baroness Cianthi his wife, and his daughter Lady Anna. With solemn oath they attested to various prodigies accomplished through the invocation and intercession of Father Andrea and by the application of some of his relics among which were his eyeglasses.
Donato Antonio was correct in that the knowledge and devotion of the Holy Face of Manoppello has spread and continues to spread throughout the world and many pilgrims come to the Basilica to contemplate it from up close. Everyone from near and far feels irresistible the call of the Face of Jesus: He who has seen him even a thousand times longs to return to see him again; those who have never seen him feel drawn by a mysterious force to run to know him.
This happened also to the Holy Father Benedict XVI who came to Manoppello on September 1, 2006, to experience the sweetest moment of being able to bow down before the Holy Image, to be enraptured in contemplation and to feel the sorrowful gaze of Jesus meet with that of his own and to enjoy the ineffable joy of contact with the divine..
The benefactor Donato Antonio was urged to donate the Holy Veil to a place where it would be within the reach of everyone, whether believers or not, because that Face calls us, invites us, comforts us, enriches us with graces, allows us a foretaste of supernatural joys and all those who go there have in their heart a secret hope that after the "Encounter" life will be more beautiful.
On August 5-7, 1938, solemn festivities took place in the friary and in the town to celebrate the third centenary of the donation by Donato Antonio De Fabritiis of the Holy Face to the Capuchin Church (1638-1938). Masses, vespers and discourses took place on August 5 and 6. On August. 7 a High Mass with a lengthy general Communion was celebrated by Mons. Giuseppe Venturi (1874-1947), Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, assisted by Mons. Luciano Marcante (1888- 1978), Bishop of Valva and Sulmona who gave the homily.
The most successful part of the celebration was the procession, on the same day, from the Shrine to the town and back again, accompanied by Mons. Marcante in the midst of the indescribable enthusiasm of the crowd. After the procession returned to the Shrine, Archbishop Venturi from the pulpit delivered a profound discourse, arousing in all hearts a grateful memory. The liturgical music was performed by the choir of Maestro G. Mancini with taste and finesse. In the square in front of the Shrine a memorial monument was erected -- donated by the Surveyor Ottavio Mazzaferro.
This anniversary will certainly be celebrated in 2038 (the four-hundreth anniversary of the donation) hoping that in that year the Holy Face of Manoppello will then be the most sought after destination in all of Christendom (quoted by Father Germano Di Pietro, former Guardian of the Holy Face of Manoppello).