Monday, August 13, 2018

Transitus Mariae -- Was the veil of Manoppello also in Mary's tomb?

(editors note:  thanks to Paul Badde for sending me this important article with photos and to Dirk Weisbrod for allowing me to translate and publish it in these days leading to the glorious feast of Mary's Assumption into Heaven)

by Dirk Weisbrod

The chronicle of the Dormition of the Mother of God and her Assumption into Heaven constituted in early Christian literature a genre called Transitus literature coming from the Latin word for "passage" (to eternal life near the Lord), of which more than twenty are known today, various testimonies of apocryphal texts, whose authors are lost in the fog of traditions, editors and different copies. So the texts were attributed to an apostle or evangelist or to a father of the church to give more credibility to the facts narrated.

 The chronicles of the Transitus of a pseudo John and a pseudo James have been handed down to us along with different narrative variants, according to which the Mother of God was in one raptured into heaven without experiencing death, and in the other, after she died was assumed into heaven by the Son after burial. According to the studies of scholars there are still more versions of this latter story, but the apostles are always present, even if in different formations. Depending on the variant that the text prefers, they are direct witnesses of the Transitus or discover only later the empty tomb of Mary.  We must also add that none of the texts handed down is dated before 431, when the Council of Ephesus announced the dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary.

So could the transitus texts be an “a posteriori” rationalization of this dogma and therefore be without foundation?  This does not seem right, if we think for example of the oldest Marian prayer known on a papyrus of Egypt of the year 250, which we presented in the last May issue of the Vatikan Magazin. In fact, the dogma of the Divine Motherhood in 431 did not fall from heaven; rather it was the confirmation and the worthy conclusion of a Marian devotion that had existed for some time, which also included the tradition of the Transitus Mariae.

Where however the critical knowledge of texts confuses us instead of clarifying, we can resort to images. In Christian painting there was a widespread motif for many centuries, in which the apostles once again found themselves together at the deathbed of Mary and then were shown astonished in front of her empty tomb. But no painter was present in this concrete situation, so that many interpreters have relegated the fact to the status of legend. But there is also the apostolic tradition - deeds of the apostles which were known to the primitive community and were handed down by word of mouth. 

The deeds kept their true foundation and were formed into varying stories, into icons that were then also written and preserved in the ancient manuscripts. We can evaluate them ourselves with our inner eye and verify their plausibility. An ancient Georgian Transitus from the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai contains just such iconic texts. . After long being ignored, it was translated but, up to the present day, only into Latin.

Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai

This is sad because this text deserves to be widely known, since it shows Mary's death and assumption into heaven in a completely new light. The Holy Face that we venerate at Manoppello, that image of the Lord not made by human hands, plays a very special role for the Transitus genre.
This image on a veil would only reappear in its true light in the last century, thanks to the passionate work of researchers such as Father Domenico da Cese, Paul Badde and Blandina Schlömer, until today when, after being overshadowed for centuries, it can now be considered a relic of the Easter tomb, exactly as the Shroud of Turin. 

Although to date it cannot keep up with the vastness of the studies on the Shroud of Turin - being also since 1714 kept between two sheets of glass in a walnut frame sealed with fish glue - yet in Manoppello already the appearance reveals what science has shown in Turin: both images show Jesus of Nazareth, the one dead, the other living. But today nobody can explain how these images were formed. According to human understanding, however, Mary must have touched and kissed it and must have kept it with her until death, as the most manageable and smallest veil with the Face of her living Son. And it is precisely this that is suggested for the first time also by an apocryphal document, this very ancient Georgian manuscript.

But how did this manuscript arrive in Egypt? And why did it remain hidden for so long? This is undoubtedly due to the migration of Orthodox monks, which led to the formation of monasteries on Mount Athos, not only Greeks, but also Bulgarians, Romanians, Russians, Serbs and even Georgians. The same happened in the Middle East. Already in the fifth century some Georgian monks settled in Palestine to pray in the holy places. In particular, the Mar Saba monastery south of Bethlehem became a center of Georgian monasticism. From there the first Georgians reached the monastery of Saint Catherine at the beginning of the 6th century. In the ninth century, when Islam increasingly oppressed Christians in the Holy Land, many Georgians fled from Palestine to Sinai, where they  constituted a large colony, favored by elites of Georgian authorities.

Monastery of Mar Saba south of Bethlehem

 On the road to Egypt the monks followed the traces of the Holy Family and brought with them the manuscripts that had been drawn up in the monastery of Mar Saba, but also oral chronicles that they had certainly gathered during their travels in the streets of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In the monasteries they also came in contact with ancient Greek, Arab and Coptic manuscripts, which also contained many documents from the early Church. So, it happened that soon in the rocky desert of Egypt, directly under the holy mountain, gushed a very particular source: the monks wrote pages and pages of parchment in an unknown language, the ancient Georgian, which in modern times was completely forgotten. 

Only in the nineteenth century did scientific study of manuscripts in ancient Georgian begin, which gradually were viewed and cataloged in the Georgian libraries, on Mount Athos, in the monastery of Mar Saba and in the monastery of Saint Catherine. We must not forget how tiring journeys were for the monks and how the monasteries jealously guarded their treasures. Truly reliable catalogs of the manuscripts were only available in the mid-20th century. For the monastery of Santa Catherine in the nineteenth century deserving of merit is the Georgian Alexander of Zangareli who taught in St. Petersburg and in the twentieth century mainly the Soviet Russian Nicolai Marr and members of the United States expedition to the Sinai monastery in the years 1949-1950.

Codex Sin. Georg. 68

During this expedition, the Codex  Sin. Georg.68 of the twelfth century was completely recorded on microfilm, and described and cataloged by Belgian professor Gérard Garitte, an ancient orientalist. This codex contains, among other things, a sermon that is attributed to Saint Basil of Caesarea.
It had long been known that Basil had preached about Mary's death. The Georgian monk and priest Grigol Peradse, who was martyred by the Nazis and is revered as a saint in the Orthodox Church since 1955, cites this sermon as early as 1929. However, he did not yet know about the version of the monastery of St. Catherine.

The first and so far only translation of the Georgian text was presented in 1974 by the Flemish Jesuit Michel van Esbroeck (1934 - 2003) in Latin; in it he drew on the microfilm of the American expedition to the Sinai. It was Van Esbroeck who dated the text at the beginning of the 6th century and recognized that Basil could not be the author, since his name appears point blank at the beginning and at the end of the text. The preaching of the pseudo-Basil turned out to be rather a variant of an apocryphal Transitus that Van Esbroeck divided into 94 small chapters to facilitate reading.

The account includes eight days and begins on a Sunday. Mary dies on Friday, is buried and the following Sunday the apostles find the empty tomb. The parallels with the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are so evident, that it is probably an addition of the author. Instead what is extraordinary among all the Transitus literature are those points in which the story takes up the ancient knowledge of an "image of the Savior" impressed on a cloth that the Mother of God would always carry with her after the Ascension of her Son.

Van Esbroeck explicitly quotes in the brief introduction to his translation the exposed position of this image on fabric (die exponierte Stellung dieses Tuchbildes) and identifies it, as well as some renowned experts on the Shroud (Sindonologists) after him, with the Shoud of Turin. The Flemish Jesuit in 1974 did not yet know of the sacred Vatican sudarium, kept from around 1527 in the town of Manoppello in the Abruzzi. Only by the end of the nineteen-seventies, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Capuchin Father Domenico da Cese, did it gradually gain attention outside the immediate region. However, even if Van Esbroeck lacked this possibility of comparison, we must ask ourselves if the identification with the Shroud is well founded. A careful observation of chapter 12 raises strong doubts. We listen carefully:

"From the Ascension this Immaculate Virgin always carried with her an image impressed on cloth, which had been given to her by a divine hand, so that she could see and contemplate forever the beautiful image of her Son. And when she prayed, she turned the image toward the east and prayed before it with her hands upraised. At the very moment of her death (literally: "of her farewell") she recited all her prayers in the same way before the image of life. She lit three candles, burned incense , and left her body between the tears of supplication and vigils in the night. "

First of all, is there a more beautiful image than that of Mary who goes out praying before the image of her Son facing east, towards the Lord who is coming, then in the perspective of her assumption into heaven? No other previously known story about Mary's death gives us a similar image for the journey, which we could imagine as an icon in a Georgian monastery. But do we really have to think that Mary was spreading in front of her, say on a clothes rack, the four-meter long cloth of the Turin shroud on which, moreover, she could only recognize the portrait of her Son in an indistinct way? Unlikely, very unlikely.

Is it not much more likely that this undetermined cloth was the second image on fabric from the sepulcher of Christ, much easier to handle, -- the finely woven veil of the sudarium of Christ, known today as the Holy Face of Manoppello?

from Marienkirche, Kalbensteinberg

In truth the text of the ancient Georgian original helps us little about it; at least not at first sight. Van Esbroeck translated the point correctly with sudarium, referring to the French concept of Sainte-Suaire, meaning however the shroud of Turin. In the original ancient Georgian it is clearly a linen cloth. But even with this we have not yet found any statement about the state of the image on cloth and its identity with the Turin Shroud. It may be that the unknown author of the Transitus knew that the sudarium was made of very light cloth but did not know the material. So it is obvious that he thought of linen cloth in the end, very common in antiquity, instead of the finely woven material of the Holy Face.

"Mourning Over the Dead Body of Christ" by Joan Mates 

Fortunately, the author himself gives us further information on the identity of the fabric, for example when he defines the image on fabric that Mary carried with her as an "image of life". At this point, among other things, in the original there is the Georgian word for "being, existence, persistence", therefore expressively a definition for someone who is NOT dead. This is even more true because later the Savior speaks to Mary from the image and from his portrait comes a supernatural light when the Mother of God and the apostles pray before it. The shroud instead presents the representation of a dead man with his eyes closed. How could it be a "picture of life"? Therefore, nothing prevents us from considering the veil held today in Manoppello as the image venerated by Mary.

Moreover, the author  of the Transitus himself starts from the assumption of the existence of two sheets, when, in chapter 71 after the death of Mary, he narrates the following: "Then the apostles began to take care of the body that had conceived the Lord, placed it in the sacred. linen, they wrapped it and sealed it with oils ". With holy linen we immediately think of the shroud of Turin, which at first the apostles will have kept together with the sudarium, if we take seriously the discovery of the two sheets by Peter and John, as we learn from the Gospel of John (Jn 20, 1-10).

 It is not to be supposed that they used a second time this cloth with the blood stains of the Passion of Christ. But instead it seems obvious that the apostles would buy for the burial of the Virgin a sheet of fine linen like that of Joseph of Arimathea, to honor one last time that body that had once carried the Lord "under her heart" for nine months and had given birth to him.

From the text it emerges very clearly that this cloth is not the same as that with the image of the Savior. Because the unknown author differentiates with certainty the two sizes of cloth, so that, if the same Shroud of Turin was not used in Mary's burial, the difference between a large linen cloth and the close at hand sudarium is more than clear. The apostles in the burial of Mary gave it another role, as is unequivocally demonstrated by the iconic text on burial in chapter 79:
When they arrived at Gethsemane they built according to custom the grave for the body that had received God and placed the image of the Savior on the grave. They watched in prayer and full praise that night. Then on the day of Saturday, at the third hour,  the offering having been completed,  they still watched in prayer with great devotion until midnight.

Even if the text iat this point is certainly not a reportage, it certainly recovers the traditions of Jerusalem as they were still alive at the beginning of the sixth century in the Middle East. It is very important to retain this. We do not know if they were the first Georgian monks in the Holy Land who summarized these traditions and handed them down over the centuries, so that even the author of the manuscript could still report them in the 12th century, or if a disappeared Greek, Coptic or Arabic manuscript wrote this knowledge for the first time, which was then copied by the Georgians. But the Georgian Transitus towards the end offers us once again a sensational clue that this knowledge is founded on facts: it points to the Garden of Gethsemane as the place of Mary's tomb, exactly where it is still venerated today! This is one of the first citations of this tomb.

Already this authorizes us here to listen carefully once again: the apostles placed the cloth "super sepulcrum" (Georgian: Saplavsa zeda) - "on the grave" of Mary. But what does this mean "above" in this context? If the place at the foot of the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane still today was really the place of Mary's burial - a tradition that dates back to antiquity shows - then the apostles deposed Mary, just as 17 years prior had happened with Christ, in a so-called trough tomb. Such a trough tomb, however, is not built up with walls, as the author of the sixth century erroneously states, but carved into the rock. Consequently, one has to imagine the burial chamber as a narrow passage

carved into the rock near which a stone bench, like a niche, was again carved into the rock, on which was later placed the body bound with wrappings. The chamber itself after the burial was closed at the entrance with a stone.

This tomb, which can still be seen today in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can imagine as an intact example and almost as a model for the empty tomb of Christ, since the Constantinian Basilica of Anastasis with the Holy Sepulcher was destroyed by Sultan al-Hakim on September 28, 1009. Instead Mary's tomb had escaped al-Hakim's destructive folly.

It was not therefore a closed sarcophagus with a lid nor even a buried tomb, covered with earth.

"Resurrection" by Michael Wolgemut, Nuremberg, 1485

Above what or on what, then, would the veil have been placed here? "Super sepulcrum" therefore here can only mean: on the open stone bench of the niche in the rock and therefore directly above and not under the body and that is - how could it be otherwise - on the face of Mary. The sensibility and beauty of this iconic text will never be emphasized enough.

Finally there is still the parallel to the story of Christ. When the apostles in chapter 87 once again open the tomb, Mary has already been taken to heaven: "And as they looked in they did not find the body of the Mother of God, but they found the empty cloths and the sudarium laid in a separate place rolled up. "At this point the original Georgian (sudari) and the translator van Esbroeck (sudarium) use the word corresponding to the Sudarium.

Obviously here the analogy with the discovery of the wrappings of Christ by Peter and John in the Gospel of John, which also here relies on the event of the Resurrection of the Lord as the Roman liturgy of the feast of the Assumption reflects manifestly and clearly the liturgy of the Easter night.

However, one can and must also be asked if it was not really so. That is, if the apostles and first of all John, with whom Mary according to tradition had lived long in Ephesus before her "sleep", if he therefore in his farewell has not placed on her face that precious sudarium that she in his presence had venerated so deeply in prayer. 

That sudarium had previously been placed by an unknown hand on the Dead Face of the Lord, on that first Good Friday in His sepulcher at the foot of Golgotha.

So we want to imagine it this way: the image of the Savior is placed on Mary's face and leads her to eternal life, as if the first breath of Jesus fixed in the sudarium had infused eternal life into Mary in a supernatural mouth-to-mouth breath.  Although the author no longer knew the details of the tomb, it is certainly possible that he drew the right conclusions from tradition: if Mary has venerated the sudarium of Christ, then it was also the natural funeral of the apostles for the Mother of God - in some ways as a guide in eternity and as confirmation of the Divine Motherhood.

But this is nothing more than what healthy human reason suggests: that this veil that the Virgin has kept in such high and great consideration and that was spontaneously placed by the apostles on her face before her sleep, that therefore the veil itself that Wipo of Burgundy (995 -1048) later exalted in the Easter sequence "Victimae paschali laudes" together with the shroud of Turin as angelic witness (angelicos testos) of the Resurrection of Christ, that this veil finally became also the first witness of the Assumption of Our Lady in Heaven - almost as a celestial material parenthesis of the Resurrection of Christ with the last dogma of faith of the Catholic Church proclaimed November 1, 1950 by Pius XII of the Assumption of the body of Mary in heaven.

All of this is really too good to be true and corresponds almost perfectly to the incredibly childlike (childish) beauty of the gospel of the Incarnation of God in the virginal womb of the Mother of God.

But what happened to the cloth? The Transitus still tells us that the apostles wanted to leave it forever in the empty tomb of Mary (chapter 92). But it must not have been there long. Because if we place the death of Mary with good reasons around the Council of Apostles of 50 A.D. in Jerusalem, where she certainly accompanied the apostle John of Ephesus, following a persecution of the primitive community even more bitter from the council and from the high priests. An image of the Lord's fabric in Mary's tomb would most likely have been confiscated and destroyed.

We must therefore assume that we ought to give credence to the tradition according to which the apostle Jude Thaddeus of the "family of the Lord" as a relative and heir of Mary, after his death brought the veil to safety in Edessa, where for the first time since of the primitive community of Jerusalem was shown together with the shroud of Christ, before being brought to Constantinople as the pallium of the Byzantine kingdom, as an image of the Face of the Lord not made by human hands.

But only today we know that it was imprinted on sea-silk, a material that cannot be painted.

The text of the Georgian Transitus gives us a treasure trove of immense images. There are probably further discoveries to be made in its 94 chapters and in other Georgian manuscripts, which however should first be translated exactly from Georgian into German: Translators -- come forward!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Videos from 2018 Transfiguration Feast of Holy Face in Manoppello

Amazing live videos from the Mass of Transfiguration at the Basilica of the Holy Face and from the night time outdoor procession of the Holy Face.  Thanks to all those who made this possible, especially the cameraman.

Facebook page of the Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello

Monday, August 6, 2018

Feast of Transfiguration of the Lord in Manoppello

Paul Badde sent some beautiful photos from the today's Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord the oldest feast of the Holy Face in Manoppello.  Thanks Paul!

bright lights to joyfully celebrate the Lord's presence among his people

"The Lord looks down from heaven, he sees all the sons of men".  Psalm 33

"Your Face O Lord I seek" Psalm 27

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Holy Face in Lebanon

editors note:  this post is a compilation of messages received in early July from Mrs. Daisy Neves, great friend to all who love and promote the Holy Face.  Thanks Daisy!

Dearest Friends.. I found this in Fr Nadim viber message; maybe not too clear ... he gives Holy Face pictures and brochures as he distributed food boxes to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  Maronite priest beside him but I don’t have his name.

Fr Nadim Abou Zeid  presented Holy Face picture to the Syriac Orthodox Bishop George Saliba  together with  1500 brochures and booklets which he put together for printing in Lebanon.  Also he donated the framed Holy Face to a Maronite Catholic Church..St Elias Catholic church in Beirut..but no pictures yet.

Fr Nadim is truly a Holy Face Missionary not only in Lebanon but to the Orthodox and other Rites (Catholic Maronite Syriac, Catholic Copts, Catholic Chaldeans. Catholic Greeks, and more..i have to go to last year few notes) ..he mentioned " 10 churches" ..Fr Nadim works alone and with help of relatives with cars..he managed to do these 2 missions together..donate food boxes and hand out the Holy Face pictures, etc.  And this is his annual vacation!  At least 10 days are spent for the Holy Face (just coordinating with the printer, boxes them, deliver them to welcoming priests..etc)_..truly a big task for Fr Nadim..only because he believes and loves the Holy Face..that is why he is doing this.  But it helps that he is able to combine these two boxes which he has been doing for years and evangelize the existence of the Holy Face..(which originated from next the Holy Face came full circle..not quite because we have no contact yet  Jerusalem yet.  

This picture shows Fr Nadim and companion priest..preaching to the refugees and some local Lebanese..he is holding the Holy Face and look closely the audience have already gotten their copies of the HF picture and brochures  (Fr Nadim said he compiled the prayer of Pope Benedict, Novena to the Holy Face,  he copied the short history of the Holy Face which the ladies and I have put together , songs, etc. in Arabic).  My niece forwarded  message from Fr Nadim...

  Fr Nadim distributes food boxes to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees and at the same them a picture of the Holy Face, brochures and prayer Arabic.  I had him hand-carry a nicely framed Holy Face (same as I gave to Fr Goode of St Francis church in East Palo Alto in Nov 2017)  and was enthroned at St Elias Maronite Catholic Church in Beirut, Lebanon.  This is his second Holy Face Mission in Lebanon (2017-2018).