Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Latest Transformations of the Devotion to the Holy Sudarium of Manoppello

 Editor's Note:  This year the Capuchin Friars are celebrating 400 years of ministry in Manoppello at the Shrine of the Holy Face.   There are a number of activities taking place at the Shrine and in the wider community in conjunction with the Feast of the Transfiguration which is a major feast in Manoppello every year.

  Earlier today a Conference was held at the Shrine to discuss the topic: "The History of the Capuchins in Manoppello"  Among the speakers were the Capuchin provincial Father Matteo Siro, fellow Capuchins Father Francesco Neri and Father Luigi Del Vecchio, as well as the author and journalist Paul Badde, who has generously provided me with a copy of his talk which you will find below:   

By Paul Badde

The true center of the universal Church is no longer Rome, as Pope Francis never tires of underscoring, but the outlands. And here we are, on the outskirts, in Manoppello!


A few weeks ago, Father Antonio Gentili asked me to say a few words about the latest transformations of the veneration of the Holy Sudarium of Christ in Manoppello. I will gladly satisfy this request, also because I have already written a small book on this subject in 2017, which contains some beautiful photos.


However, since I can only speak with difficulty and I have almost completely lost what little Italian I once learned, Father Antonio has allowed me to ask one of his confreres to read the text. Thank you very much for that.


I will limit myself to eight brief points, so that you can count them off before you become restless as you listen.


I: The reconstruction of the church of San Michele in 1923.


The most important turning point for the rediscovery of the Holy Sudarium and its veneration all over the world was the earthquake of Avezzano on January 5, 2015 in the middle of World wWar I.


Until then, the Holy Sudarium of Christ had been kept first in a storage room at the right of the High Altar of the church of San Michele Arcangelo, here on the hill of Tarigni, just outside of Manoppello and  contemplated  by the Capuchin  friars  privately,  then  from  1686,  hidden all year round,  it was  placed in a safe in the right side chapel.


The safe resembled a tabernacle and its door could only be opened with three keys held by the Guardian of the Capuchins, the parish priest of San Nicola and the mayor of Manoppello. So only all three together could open the door to the safe in order to withdraw the reliquary with the Holy Sudarium and show it to the citizens of Manoppello and all the pilgrims during two processions a year. Starting from the end of the seventeenth century, the Holy Veil was shown during a first Feast that took place on August 6, the day of the Transfiguration of Christ and - from 1712 - during a second Feast, the third Sunday of May and the following day, Monday. For the rest of the year, the original icon of Christ present here since 1638, simply remained hidden, if we are to rely on the information provided by a copper plate behind the altar.


This means that for at least 277 years here the sacred veil remained hidden like the dark painting of a purported "Holy Face" in Tagliacozzo or the "Sacred Corporal" in Orvieto.


Initially, the earthquake of 1915 did not change things. This catastrophe occurred in the middle of the First World War and the damage to the church of San Michele here in Manoppello could not be repaired immediately.


It was only in 1923 that Father Roberto da Manoppello, then guardian of the Friary of the Holy Face, had the entire church of San Michele rebuilt.


During this reconstruction, he had the Holy Sudarium transferred, forever, from the locked safe of the side chapel to a new glass and marble display case, above the main altar, where we still see it today.


Since then, pilgrims have been able to see the Holy Veil of Christ above the tabernacle from up close and freely, as had never been possible before in 1,890 years, neither in Rome, nor in Constantinople, nor in Edessa!


In addition, the way of seeing the holy image has once again been greatly changed by the electrification of the shrine and the possibility of illuminating the holy image from both front and back, which has almost revolutionized this exhibition.


In fact, the key to perceiving the Holy Face of the Lord in his Sudarium is the Light. In fact   Jesus”, as we read in the Gospel of John (Jn  8:12), said of himself: "I am the Light of the world.


This was an unprecedented novelty: this immediate closeness of pilgrims to the Most Holy Sudarium.


Never before and nowhere else, had the face of Christ from the empty tomb of Jerusalem come so close to the common people! This viewing, as today in Manoppello, had previously been reserved only for the high priests and emperors of Byzantium, but without this light.


This unprecedented privilege did not make it any easier for many to believe that the holy veil was the same cloth (or "soudarion") that was laid on the Face of the Lord in Christ's tomb in Jerusalem, as John expressly records in his Gospel.


Think about it! Since the time of Pope Urban VIII (1623 - 1644),  the copy of the Holy Sudarium in the Vatican has been shown to the faithful only once a year, on Passion Sunday,  for a few seconds,from the loggia of  the  Veronica pillar about 20 meters high! Here in Manoppello, on the other hand, pilgrims can see from up close the real Sudarium for 4,015 hours a year.


II: The Discovery of the Identity of the Holy Face with the Sudarium of the Lord.


This brings me to the second point in my report.


This identity of the Holy Face with the Hagion Soudarion was first discovered by the Capuchin Father Domenico da Cese (1905-1978) in 1965, when he was transferred by his Provincial to the Capuchin Friary of Manoppello and from that time he spent countless hours in prayerful contemplation before the Holy Face - day and night, as many witnesses know. During this contemplation, he came to the conclusion that this veil could only be the cloth first mentioned by John the Evangelist in his Passover Gospel. It was the second cloth in the tomb of which John spoke.  It could not be anything else!


Also coming to Father Domenico’s aid was Father Gaudenzio, the legendary guardian of the shrine at the time who, in the 1960’s, had the old church of the pilgrims dating from the seventeenth century completely rebuilt. He extended the church fifteen meters and had constructed in front of the simple building in honor of the Holy Face, the spectacular large façade in imitation of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, which had been founded by Pietro di Morrone. It is the famous funerary cathedral of the future Pope Celestine V, built in 1294.


Before Father Domenico’s time, the people of Manoppello had believed and considered true that an angel had brought the enigmatic cloth of the Sacred Sudarium to the foot of the Maiella,  in Manoppello,  in 1506. This  fact  was somehow easier to believe  than to suppose  that the veil came from the tomb of Christ (although, according to Professor Pfeiffer,  the first report regarding the angel by Father Donato da Bomba in 1645 probably served above all to make the Holy Face immune from any papal requests from Rome for restitution).


And we owe to Father Domenico da Cese a second important intuition, which became essential for the knowledge of this second delicate shroud. Because it was said: if we can recognize the true image of Christ on this veil, of which there is only one other authentic image on earth, namely the Shroud of Turin, then - as according to a mathematical theorem - the face on the Shroud of Turin should also correspond to the face on the veil of the Holy Face.


On September 12, 1978, he then made the pilgrimage of 835 kilometers from Manoppello to Turin to see with his own eyes, as soon as possible in his life, the large and famous other shroud, which was exhibited there for the first time in 45 years. The next morning he headed to the Basilica of St. John, where at about 11am he stopped in shock before the "shadow of the lamb who was slain ", with the majestic face of the dead Son of God.


Of course, Father Domenico was not surprised that it was identical to the face of Manoppello, which was so familiar to him.


But on the very evening of that September 13 he was struck and mortally injured by a Fiat 500 in front of his hostel in Turin. The newspapers that reported his death already called him at the time "Father Soothsayer".


The identity of the Lord depicted on both shrouds, which had become so evident to Father Domenico during his life, was then finally witnessed to and sealed in Turin by his death.  


It was the Lord himself whom he had recognized on both shouds and it was the same Lord on these two first icons that could not have been created by human hands.


III: The miraculous first spread of this news.


And it is a part of the miracles of Father Domenico’s life that Renzo Allegri, a famous journalist, visited the shrine of Manoppello in the very days when Father Domenico lay dying in Turin and had Father Luciano Antonelli, successor of Father Gaudenzio as guardian of the Friary, tell him everything that Father Domenico had confided to him regarding the Holy Face.


Only twelve days after the funeral of Father Domenico, therefore, in the September 30, 1978, edition of the Milanese weekly GENTE there appeared throughout Italy for the first time a three-page article in which almost all the essential facts that we can say even today regarding the Holy Face was already written.

"This veil is the sudarium, first recorded by the Evangelist John in his account of Christ’s resurrection from the dead".


Article by Renzo Allegri in Gente Magazine of September 30, 1978 with photo of Fr. Luciano Antonelli and the Holy Face


On October 21, the same article had already appeared in the November issue of the Swiss magazine DAS ZEICHEN MARIENS, which Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer had the opportunity to read a few weeks later in her Trappistine Convent of Maria Frieden in Eifel, Germany,  and who shortly afterwards committed herself body and soul to spreading this good news in the Catholic Church.



IV: The discovery of the identity of the Holy Shroud with the Veil of Veronica in Rome.


First, however, Sister Blandina informed the main researchers of the Shroud of Turin of the Jesuit Order, including the art historian Professor Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, of the Gregorian University of Rome. He visited Manoppello eight years later.


There, during his first visit in the autumn of 1986, he immediately realized that the Holy Face had to be identical with the lost, so-called, Veil of Veronica. This was once the most precious treasure of the popes, for which Pope Julius II laid the foundation stone of the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on April 18, 1506, as the base for the so-called Veronica Column.


This column had been built by Donato Bramante from the start as a huge safe for the holy veil and is one of the four columns that still support Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter's. Obviously, the whole new edifice of St. Peter’s was destined to become a monstrance of the Holy Face at that time, just as the cathedral of Orvieto had become a monstrance of the Holy Corporal 300 years earlier.


This discovery of Father Pfeiffer,  that the famous Veil of Veronica had not disappeared, but that still existed,  though no  longer in Rome, but instead in a Capuchin church on a hill in Abruzzo, caused a sensation. And he opened a new chapter in the history of the Holy Face in 1999 when he made the news public at a press conference at the Press Office in Rome.



V: Pope Benedict XVI kneels before the Holy Sudarium.


It is therefore not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI took perhaps the most important step of his time in office when he visited the Holy Face on  September 1, 2006, on the first elective journey of his pontificate at the invitation of Archbishop Bruno Forte.


No one should be surprised. The new German Pope had been accompanied by images of the Holy Sudarium from the beginning of his priestly life. A large image of the veil adorned the façade of the Church of the Holy Blood in Munich, where he held his first post as chaplain after his ordination in 1951. 


And when he was later a professor in Bonn, he celebrated Mass every morning in the Chapel of St. John of Bonn Cathedral, where he always had to look at a Gothic fresco of the Holy Sudarium.


But for the veneration of the Holy Sudarium in Manoppello, his visit was the most important step of all. It was an irreversible "point of no return".


After 479 years, it was the first time that a successor of the Apostle Peter had knelt again before the Sudarium of Christ.


The same evening, the images of this event had already spread all over the world!



VI. Spread from parish church to universal church.


Even a certain Daisy Neves saw the images in Seattle, in the US state of Washington, south of Vancouver in Canada. She was a pious widow of Filipino origin who had inherited a considerable fortune from her husband.  She was also a passionate pilgrim. Then, in October 2006, when she read an article in the American magazine "Inside the Vatican" about the Pope's visit to Manoppello, she procured everything that had appeared in English in America up to that moment on the Holy Face, which she had never heard of before, and planned her first pilgrimage to Manoppello for Easter  2011.


Daisy and son Erwin with Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, Sr. Petra-Maria Steiner, Sr. Blandina Schlomer in Rome, October 2018

Here she was inflamed by love for the true face, as she later said, and was overwhelmed by the dream of not resting until the Holy Face found a home "in every parish church of the universal Catholic Church." To this end she later committed her fortune, her health and illness, and her life until her death,  which took place in March 2019.


So she invited Father Carmine Cucinelli to make a missionary journey to America for the year 2014, and again for a similar tour of the world in Canada, the U.S.A. and the Philippines for the year 2015, where she "enthroned" in various churches the tactile relic of a silk veil with an imprint of the Holy Face in scale. It was a triumph.



VII: In the footsteps of Pope Innocent III of 1208. A rediscovery.


"But why",  asked Father Carmine Cucinelli after the last trip to Rome on November 25, 2015, "should there be 'enthronements' of the Holy Face today only in America and Asia, but not in Italy and Rome, where the relic itself has had its seat for centuries?" In the Treasury of St. Peter's Basilica, where he was marveling  in front of the ancient frame of the Holy Face, from the holy year of 1350, he decided to go with Father Vincenzo, one of  his Capuchin confreres, to the nearby church of Santo Spirito in Sassia to inquire about the possibility of a presentation of the Holy Face in Rome.


There were just a few days left before the beginning of the "Year of Mercy", which Pope Francis had proclaimed for the Catholic Church on April 11, 2015 with the bull "Misericordiae Vultus" (The Face of Mercy) for the period from December 8 to November 30, 2016, on the model of the first Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII. (1294 - 1303) more than seven centuries earlier, in the year 1300.


So Father Carmine went with Father Vincenzo to Father Jozef Bart, the rector of the old church of the historic hospital, who immediately consented to a solemn mass with a copy of the Holy Sudarium in his church.


And one cannot understand, except as a plan of Divine Providence, the fact that Fr. Jozef was immediately willing to provide January 16, 2016 as the date for this temporary enthronement!


But that was Omnis Terra Sunday! It was the very day that Pope Innocent III had made known for the first time the Holy Sudarium in the Latin Church of the West in January 1208 with a procession with the same Sudarium from St. Peter’s to Santo Spirito in Sassia.


It was a great celebration in Rome, with archbishops Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household and secretary of Pope Benedict  XVI, and Archbishop Edmondo Farhat of Lebanon. The  choir of the Basilica of the Holy Face,  directed  by the Maestro  Nicola  Costantini,  the Confraternity of the Holy Face  and many citizens of Manoppello, made a solemn pilgrimage  from Saint Peter’s to Santo Spirito in Sassia with a copy of the Holy Face,  placed in an ancient original processional frame, accompanied by songs  and  prayers.



Archbishop Georg Gänswein


VIII: The blessing with the true face of Christ. A third feast for the Most Holy Sudarium: OMNIS TERRA.


And it was the birth of the introduction of a new and third feast for the Holy Sudarium in Manoppello by Fathers Carmine Cucinelli and Paolo Palombrini, where now every second Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany of Christ in January, in memory of the first announcement of the true face of Christ by Pope Innocent VIII, there is a small procession with the Holy Face in the plaza in front of the Basilica with a solemn blessing.


And since then this  celebration  is always done with  the  participation of invited guests of  honor, who at the end of the procession bless the city of Manoppello and the whole world with  the most holy and precious relic of Christianity.


Here too, we must imagine what enormous progress there is compared to September 2006, when Pope Benedict was still standing like a simple pilgrim in front of the open display case and praying, and when no one dared to ask him to bless the world with the Most Holy Sudarium.


Here in Manoppello, however, this new blessing with the precious relic in the universal Church, has become a tradition, since Mons. Amerigo Ciani, one of the canons of St. Peter's in Rome, carried out the blessing for the first time in January 2017. Then  in the following  years Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Manila, Cardinal Ludwig Müller together with archbishops Bruno Forte of Chieti and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, after them Cardinal Kurt Koch and this year again Archbishop Gänswein, who exclaimed here last January under the Holy Face with the evangelist John: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."



St. Francis Venerating the Holy Face

This is the situation today, where the following tasks await the brothers in Manoppello.


This above all: never again think too little about this precious relic of Christianity.


There was the resurrection of Christ from the dead and yes, there are truly two material witnesses of that resurrection. There are the "angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes", as the tenth-century hymn "Victimae Paschali Laudes" says.


These are two angelic or seraphic testimonies, (i.e. the "Testes"),   namely the Holy Shroud which is venerated in Turin,  and the Most Holy Sudarium which  was entrusted to the Seraphic Order here on the hill of Tarigni.


It is a miracle and the most moving testimony of the greatest miracle of all—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.


And there is no reasonable alternative to the good of believing that this veil recorded the first breath of the risen Lord at his resurrection from the dead - and the first glance of the Mother of God at the assumption of her deceased body into heaven, as Dr. Weisbrod of Germany recently discovered in an ancient text of Georgia.


Of course, all this is incredible, but no more incredible than the presence of God in the transformed host. - So no one should be surprised at all the resistance that this delicate veil continues to encounter.


At the feast of the Omnis Terra in 1208, the Holy Face was made known to Western Christianity in Rome by Pope Innocent VIII, although not yet with the knowledge we have today, thanks to the preliminary work of Father Roberto da Manoppello, Domenico da Cese, Father Gaudenzio, Father Germano Di Pietro, Father Carmine Cucinelli and Father Paolo Palombrini.


So now, for the 3rd millennium, the Good News of this pictorial document wants to continue to be made known every year more to the WHOLE WORLD by the Seraphic Brothers of Manoppello. It's an incredible privilege. But now - as with Pope Benedict on September 1, 2006 - the new image media help to bring this true image of light all over the world, showing that face in which Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321) already recognized at the culmination and at the conclusion of his "Divine Comedy" that "face of love" that moves "the sun and all the other stars".