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The Greatest Miracle in our Possession

On September 23, 2004, the German daily, Die Welt, featured an article by journalist Paul Badde titled, “The True Face of Christ: Extraordinary Relic of the Resurrection Discovered?” The Italian media were quick to remind the world that already in 1963 Saint Padre Pio had observed that the Holy Veil of Manoppello was “the greatest miracle in our possession.”

Published in 2006, Paul Badde’s book, The Holy Face. The Veil of Manoppello, takes the reader on an a fascinating journey into the discovery of this extraordinary artifact of the Resurrection. Framed by a silver reliquary, the image appears on a piece of diaphanous fabric measuring seventeen by twenty-four centimeters (6.7 x 9.45 inches). It stands on public display on the main altar in the church of Manoppello, a town of five thousand located thirty kilometers from Pescara in the Abruzzi region. Not far away is the famous Shrine of the Eucharistic Miracle in Lanciano.

Not made by the hand of man

After twenty years of carrying out exhaustive research on the mysterious relic, scientific experts remain unable to account for its provenance. They are forced to conclude that like the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the imprint of Christ’s body on the Shroud of Turin, the Holy Face of Manoppello was not made by the hand of man. The same state-of-the-art techniques used to examine the Shroud of Turin have been applied to the Veil. All the experts agree on one thing: that modern science is unable to determine how the image came to exist or to account for those mysterious hues that make the Holy Face come to life with such striking beauty and radiance. The Veil is not an oil-painting. Dr Donato Vittore, who examined the linen with a high-definition digital scanner, discovered that there was no deposit of colors between the tissue fibers. If the image had been executed in oils, residual paint would have settled into the gaps between the threads. Nor was the image painted with watercolors, since the outlines of the eyes and mouth are so clean as to preclude this technique.

The most striking thing about the Veil of Manoppello is its transparency. Like a photographic slide, the image remains perfectly visible from either side. The linen bears no trace of pigments. Another striking feature is the changeability of the Face; its aspect changes according to lighting conditions. Vary the light and the Face changes as though it were alive. If you look at it under a bright light you cannot see it, since it becomes transparent. This extraordinary image has the qualities of a painting, a photograph and a hologram; and yet it is neither a painting, nor a photograph, nor a hologram. The portrait’s shading is so subtle as to be beyond the capability of even the greatest of masters. Indeed, the image reveals so many inexplicable features that science stands powerless before a great mystery.

Under a fluorescent lamp, the delicate Veil takes on a honey-gold hue. (Interestingly enough, the thirteenth century mystic Gertrude of Helfta mentions this detail in her vision of Veronica’s veil.) Only under brighter light does the Veil reveal a three-dimensional, almost holographic face. The fabric is so sheer you could fold it up inside a nutshell. Microscopic analysis carried out by Professors Vittore and Fanti (of Bari and Padua Universities respectively) reveal that the linen bears no trace of pigment. Only where the pupils of the eyes appear on the cloth do the fibers look as though some great heat were searing them. This observation leads the two doctors to surmise that the Man of the Shroud of Manoppello suffered a brain hemorrhage. The Man’s teeth are characteristic of people living in Palestine around the time of Christ. Science, then, is powerless to explain the phenomenon of the Holy Face of Manoppello. Conclusion? The image is, as tradition claims it to be, acheiropoietos – i.e. not made by the hand of man.

The most expensive fabric of ancient times

The Holy Face of Manoppello is a stunning image imprinted on a valuable piece of ancient cloth. Only fragments of such material have survived to our time. It is called byssus or sea silk – the most expensive tissue known in the ancient world. The oldest existing fragments of this precious fabric date from the fourth century. It is technically impossible to paint on sea silk.

Dr Giulio Fanti’s analysis of the material’s structure reveals an extremely fine tissue woven out of threads with an average thickness of 120 microns. It is sheerer than nylon, a synthetic fabric first produced in 1945. Its weave is traditional, i.e. simple and irregular. The gaps between the fibers measure from 150 to 350 microns. The tissue is transparent, which explains why it is called a veil. The gaps between the fibers contain no pigment or any other substance. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the spatial tonality of the Veil’s colors (of unknown origin) is 0.4 millimeters (as opposed to the Shroud of Turin’s 1 centimeter).

On examining the cloth, Professor L. Portoghesi, a specialist in first-century fabrics, determined that the material is byssus – the most expensive material of ancient times. Dr Chiara Vigo, the world’s leading expert in byssus linens, corroborates Portoghesi’s finding. The Veil of Manoppello is made from marine byssus – a tissue woven out of silky threads spun by the sea mussel Pinna nobilis. This extraordinarily valuable fabric was woven in ancient times. Today, the island of Sant’Antioco near Sardinia is the only place in the world were sea silk is manufactured in any significant amount. One Pinna nobilis mussel yields only two grams of fiber. According to Vigo, only sea silk can produce a linen as sheer and fine as the Veil of Manoppello; it is also as fire-resistant as asbestos. No one could possibly paint on this material, still less execute such a perfect image as appears on the Veil. Sea silk can be soaked, but it is entirely unsuited as a canvas for painting – oil or otherwise. Paints will simply not adhere to the fine tissue.

Paul Badde observes that “the iris of the right pupil appears noticeably higher than the left, which would not be possible on a photographic print. Under light, the image has the qualities of a hologram. The linen reveals characteristic creases, one lengthwise and two across, suggesting that the Veil had remained folded for a considerable length of time. The hues vary between umber-yellow, sienna, silver, slate-gray, copper, bronze, and gold. The result is an effect not unlike that of a butterfly’s wing; yet under a microscope the material bears no trace of paint. When illumined from the other side, the tissue becomes transparent, like glass, and the creases disappear. Only sea silk […] has such qualities […]. Under illumination, the linen becomes completely transparent. Without light cast on it, it has a graphite-gray color.”

When Martin Luther saw the Veil for a brief moment at St Peter’s Basilica (the relic was then called the St Veronica’s Veil), he probably saw it under light, since he reports seeing nothing. He expressed his bitterness in a blunt statement: “They claim Veronica’s veil bears the imprint of the true face of Our Lord, when in fact it is a piece of transparent linen, which they hold up for people to see. The poor simpletons see nothing but a clear linen stretched on a black board.” Content with his first impression, Luther never went up to take a closer look. Resentment, prejudice and zeal to discredit the papacy prevented him from learning the whole truth; as a result, he dismissed Veronica’s veil as “a diabolic fraud perpetrated by the Roman popes.”  

One and the same Person

Volume ten of Italian mystic Maria Valtorta’s private revelations (all her writings were published at the request of Pope Pius XII) contains the following entry dated February 22, 1942 – allegedly the words of Jesus Himself: “Veronica’s Veil serves as a prod for your skeptical souls. You cold rationalists of wavering faith who conduct your heartless research! Compare the image of the Face on the Veil with the imprint on the Shroud [of Turin]. The first of these is the Face of the Living One, the second, the Dead One. And yet the length and breadth, shape, physical traits and features are the same. Overlay the one imprint over the other and you will see that they match. It is I. I wish to remind you of the One I was and the One I became for love of you. In order that you may not lose your way or become blind, these two imprints should be enough to lead you to love – to conversion to God” (Maria Valtorta, L’Evangelo come mi e stato rivelato, Centro Edioriale Valtoriano, 2003, p. 414).

Religious sister and iconographer Blandina Paschalis Schlömer devoted twenty years of her life to the study of the Veil of Manoppello. Her painstaking efforts drew the attention of other experts and eventually led to the stunning discovery that the dead Face of the Shroud of Turin and the living Face of the Veil of Manoppello represent the very same Person. When the one is superimposed over the other, the faces conform perfectly graphic proof that the two images represent one and the same Person. There can be no doubt that in terms of their structure and dimensions the faces imprinted on the Shroud and the Veil constitute a 100% perfect match. Indeed, so striking is their conformity that we can rightly speak of mathematical proof.

The Shroud of Turin and the Holy Veil of Manoppello are without doubt the greatest enduring miracles in the world. From a scientific point of view, the two images have no right to exist. No artifact in the world comes even close to equaling them in spiritual value. In bequeathing them to us, Christ calls us all to conversion, to establish a personal relationship with Him through the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist and daily, persevering prayer. Above all, we must keep in mind that “Christianity is not a form of culture, or an ideology, or a system of lofty principles or values. Christianity is a Person. Christianity is a Face: Jesus Christ!” (John Paul II, Berno, June 4, 2004).

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