Thursday, March 17, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Sixth Station, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Master of Saint Veronica, St. Veronica
with the  Sudarium
 Flemish, c.1420
London, National Gallery

With one exception the Stations of the Cross are derived from incidents found in the Gospels or that can be inferred from the Gospel accounts.  The one exception is the Sixth Station:  Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus.  There is no Biblical account of this event, nor can it be inferred from a logical examination of what would have transpired.  So, where did the idea for this Station come from?

It came from Tradition.  It is often forgotten by those who assume that the New Testament contains everything there is to know about Jesus, His mission and His life.  But, as St. John says “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”  (John 21:25)  Therefore, not everything handed down in Tradition was incorporated into the written texts that became the New Testament.

Indeed, the New Testament itself came to be as it is now through the scrutiny of the Church as the church fathers (mainly bishops) reflected on the array of written sources that began to appear within decades of Jesus’ resurrection.  This period of reflection took over 100 years.  Those writings that agreed with the Tradition that had been taught by the Apostles became the Canonical New Testament.  Those books that disagreed with Tradition were not accepted, and there were loads of them.  Thus, the New Testament is a construction of the Church, and not the other way round. 1

El Greco, Veil of Saint Veronica
Greco-Spanish, 1586-1595
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Acknowledging that not every detail was included in the Gospel accounts explains to some extent why we find little things in the beliefs and practices of the Church that do not have a Biblical reference.

In addition, there are traditions (with a small “t”) that have also persisted.  Veronica is one of the latter.  It is the name given to an otherwise unnamed woman bystander who, overwhelmed with compassion for the suffering Jesus, came out of the crowd and wiped His face with a towel or cloth, possibly even her veil.
Francesco Mochi, St. Veronica
Italian, 1629-1632
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica
The inscription reads "Sancta Veronica Ierosolymitana" or "Saint Veronica, Woman of Jerusalem"

According to this tradition, His face was miraculously imprinted on the cloth and passed eventually into the possession of the Church.  It is preserved at the Vatican in St. Peter’s basilica.2
Francisco de Zurbaran, Veil of St. Veronica
Spanish, 1635-1640
Stockholm, National Museum

There are historical accounts of other such miraculously imprinted images of the face of Christ, which are called acheiropoietoe and sudaria.  Among them are the Mandylion of Edessa, the image preserved in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Scala Santa at the Lateran and, to a certain extent, the Shroud of Turin (which, of course, includes much more than a face).3

James Tissot, The Holy Face
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
The word “Veronica” is made up of two words which mean “true image”.  The real Veronica is, therefore, not the woman, but the image on the cloth.  She has become known for the gift she was given by the suffering Christ.

Jean Fouquet
From Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French (Tours), 1452-1456
Chantilly, Musée Condé  
This image by Fouquet shows both the image of Veronica holding the holy image as a paining in the foregound, but 
also shows the action that created it as she kneels at the approach of Jesus in the background.

This was acknowledged by artists from the late medieval period onwards, who often created images of the sacred image, either by itself or being held by the woman named for it, St. Veronica.
Georges Trubert, Prayer to the Holy Face
From a Book of Hours
French (Avignon), c. 1480-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 348, fol. 1r

But, the majority of images of St. Veronica show the action that created the image, not just the image.

In early images the encounter takes place while Jesus is standing.  Veronica may also be standing or she may be kneeling as Jesus approaches.
Willem Vrelant
From Hours of Catherine of Aragon
Flemish, c.1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 7, fol. 68v
Hours of Cecilia Gonzaga
Italian (Milan), 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 454, fol. 75r

Often the images show her approaching Jesus on her knees, holding out the cloth by which she intends to wipe His face or just after having received the miraculous image.

Anonymous Utrecht Painter (possibly), Christ Bearing Cross
Dutch, c.1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anonymous Wood Sculptor
Dutch (Utrecht), c.1475-1500
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
The gravity of Jesus, Veronica and the bystander couple in the left rear contrasts with the very irreverent gestures of the other figures.

Veronica Receiving the Veil
Imprinted with the Face of Christ
Belgian (Brussels), c.1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Simon Bening
From Da Costa Hours
Belgian (Bruges), 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 399, fol. 82v

In later images, both figures are on their knees.  Jesus has fallen and Veronica has approached Him at this point.
Lucas van Leyden
From the Man of Sorrow series of colored engravings
Dutch, 1521
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
At the beginning of printing they were in competition with painted manuscripts and frequently hand painted
to make them more attractive to buyers.

Jacopo Bassano, Way to Calvary
Italian, 1544-1545
London, National Gallery

Cesare Nebbia
Italian, 1589-1590
Rome, Church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti

Albrecht Duerer, Tapestry after The Small Passion
German, 1598
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peter Paul Rubens
Belgian, c.1634-1635
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Eustache LeSueur
French, 1650-1675
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Jacob Jordaens
Belgian, 1655-1660
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

James Tissot, A Holy Woman Wipes the Face of Jesus
From The Life of Christ series
French, 1886-94
New York, Brooklyn Museum
It is interesting that, true to his archeological interests and intent, Tissot never uses the name Veronica to identify this woman.

Eric Gill, Jesus and Veronica
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral

She reappears in images of the Crucifixion, as we shall soon see, as a witness to His suffering and death.

© M. Duffy, 2016
            1      Reid, George. "Canon of the New Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert         Appleton Company, 1908. 17 Mar. 2016 ; 

2,     Dégert, Antoine. "St. Veronica." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton             Company, 1912.17 Mar. 2016

3.  Acheiropoieta.  See

      Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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