Paul Badde, the well-known German Vatican expert and journalist for EWTN, just published, on 6 August, an interview which could very well help to show the world the true Face of God, namely: the Volto Santo of Manoppello, which, in spite of Pope Benedict’s public visit and veneration in 2010, has still not gained its deserved world-wide appreciation and esteem. Badde published his interview with Bruno Forte, the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto – the Italian diocese, in which the Holy Face of Manoppello is located – on the same day, both in German as well as in English. Subsequently, on 9 August, it was also published in Italian. In a personal note to me, Paul Badde wrote that he himself considers this interview to be “a kind of quantum leap in the 10-year-long discussions concerning the Volto Santo of Manoppello.”
For those who do not know yet about the Holy Face of Manoppello: It is a picture of Jesus’ face on a very thin, silken cloth made from mussel hair. It was an ancient Jewish custom to put such a precious and rare cloth on the face of a deceased one. All the evidence shows that the face on this particular cloth is not man-made. That is to say, there are not any particles of paint to be found on it. It is a miraculous picture which many experts say has been imprinted upon the cloth – “soudarion” – at the moment of Christ’s Resurrection (the reason being that the preserved face, though showing signs of torture, is not a suffering face, but, rather a calm, radiant, and pondering face).
This Holy Face was earlier publicly displayed in Rome, for centuries, and at different times of the year, under the title “The Veil of Veronica,” even though evidence now shows that it was, rather, the burial cloth mentioned in the Gospel of St. John as being particularly set aside in the tomb, as distinct from the Shroud of Turin itself. (St. John describes the scene upon his arrival at the tomb after Christ’s Resurrection.) During the “Sack of Rome” in 1527, as it seems, the miraculous image was removed from Rome in order to preserve it from damage, and it finally ended up in the little Capuchin Church in Manoppello where it was rediscovered more prominently only in the 21st century. While some of the history of the Holy Face is still in need of further research, many experts such as Paul Badde and the Trappist nun, Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, modestly and ardently insist that it represents the true face of Jesus Christ.
Badde himself has been tirelessly working to promote this still little known treasure which the Catholic Church has at her disposal: that is to say: the true image of God. Two of his major works in this field are available in English: The Face of God: The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus and The True Icon. From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello. Almost ten years ago, in 2007, I myself reviewed Badde’s first book on the Holy Face of Manoppello (the review starting on page 8). I can only recommend that every Catholic read this material, in order to discover one of the greatest and most beautiful gifts of God to us, next, of course, to the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother! As I have said elsewhere, our little family has this Holy Image in our home at two different locations, and we daily pray in front of it, in the morning and in the evening. It is a great blessing to be able to speak directly to the trusted countenance of Jesus Christ, as He looked when he walked on this earth.
The current bishop of Chieti-Vasto is Archbishop Bruno Forte whose name is likely well-known to many of our readers, especially because of his very disturbing role during the first 2014 Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family and because of his more recent personal disclosure concerning the pope’s own advice to him not to mention some of the divisive themes ahead of time in order to conceal their larger and real agenda at both of the Family Synods. However, in this Badde interview, Forte shows himself to have studied the question of the Volto Santo intensively and extensively. And, by virtue of his own authority as the bishop responsible for the Volto Santo, he is now intent to defend its authenticity and importance.
The occasion for this Badde interview with Archbishop Forte is the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Shrine of Manoppello, in Italy’s Abruzzo mountains, where a little Church hosts this precious relic. Pope Benedict had visited the pilgrimage shrine on 1 September 2006, and as Forte reveals, the pope came on his own behalf and at his own initiative. As Forte recounts:
Here I must specify that Pope Benedict’s decision to come to the Volto Santo was made by he [sic] himself, and totally alone. He shared that with me even before his election to be the Successor of Peter and after the election in the course of an audience, in which I participated as member of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. This initiative was a great gift from him. I was very happy about that and it filled me with great thankfulness towards him.
Forte also describes in the Badde interview his own impression of Benedict’s visit:
In those moments, my eyes were going back and forth between the venerated image and the face of the Successor of Peter, who contemplated it intensely, as if to be captured by the image and at the same time challenged to enter into that which this veil suggests – with that extraordinary mystical and inquiring intelligence that characterized the whole work of Joseph Ratzinger and Benedict XVI. It was like attending a dialogue in which silence was more eloquent than each word: a silence from the surplus, touching and being touched on the threshold of mystery from whose depths allows itself to be illuminated.
Most importantly, Forte makes many earnest and historical statements concerning his moral certitude that the Holy Image of Manoppello is, indeed, identical with that cloth that the Evangelist St. John mentioned as the “soudarion” from Christ’s empty tomb in Jerusalem. Forte says:
John names it in verses 6 and 7 in the 20th chapter of his Gospel: “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths, but rolled up in a separate place.” The burial cloths – in the original “tá othónia” – correspond in all likelihood with that unique witness that we have in the famous Shroud of Turin (or Santa Sindone in Italian). The “Soudárion,” on the other hand, allows me to say from my moral certainty that it corresponds with the veil from Manoppello. This certainty is supported by various data. First and foremost, the veil was kept in Jerusalem as a precious remembrance of the Redeemer. Then it was taken to Camulia in Cappadocia where it was venerated for a long time. From there it was later taken under the threat of the so-called iconoclasts first to Constantinople and then in safety to Rome. Here it was displayed at the beginning of the 13th century for the public to view, where it was treasured as an incomparable relic at St. Peter’s Basilica. When the new construction of the magnificent and current St. Peter’s began on April 18, 1506, the sacred Sudarium was still located in a vault, from where the veil in all likelihood was brought to safety by Cardinal Giampietro Carafa, Archbishop of Chieti and later governor of the city (and future Pope Paul IV) in 1527 as German and Spanish soldiers ravaged Rome in the so-called “Sack of Rome.” And which place was safer than a monastery on the other side of the Papal States’ borders – in his Diocese of Chieti-Vasto, Manoppello was the first town behind the border, which is reached as soon as one comes out of Rome and therefore the holy veil arrived here at a Capuchin monastery after it was previously kept in sure hands in private homes. But when it was decided in 1640 to put the veil on display for public veneration, the threat that the Vatican’s Chapter of Canons could demand to get the veil back was foiled and thwarted by a certain Fra’ Donato da Bomba with a chronicle in which he asserted that the holy veil had already reached Manoppello in 1506, when the new construction on St. Peter’s began. Therefore, it could not be possible to be the so-called Veil of Veronica as it was back then also called in Rome. It was thus a pious lie, but nevertheless a lie, even if it was pronounced with good intentions, which saved the whereabouts of this genuine divine proof of the passion and resurrection of Christ for the people of Abruzzi and for all of us… [my emphasis added]
After showing the further history of this Holy Image, Archbishop Forte also refers to the very important work of the beloved nun who has dedicated her life to this holy relic, Sister Blandina. When asked about the relationship between the Holy Face of Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin, Forte answers:
The Shroud of Turin has been well known and honored for a long time throughout the world; however, the Holy Face of Manoppello seems for some still to be something unheard of and new, which is not supported in the same way from the perception and tradition of the faith of the people of God. But it is not so in reality, as I have just called to mind. Between these two incomparable witnesses, there is not only no contradiction, but also they have even been proven for a long time to concur and correspond perfectly to one another. The Trappist sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer has compellingly pointed out a variety of concurring points that show the extreme compatibility between the face on the Sindone (or Shroud) and the face on the Sudarium. It indicates that there is a relationship between both cloths, which were established in the holy tomb in Jerusalem. In any case, the Shroud of Turin and the Manoppello Image show the inexplicable and mysterious way the same person once dead and once alive. It is Jesus Christ, the Lord. [my emphasis added]
As Sister Blandina’s research has shown, both faces – the Manoppello and the Shroud face – are completely compatible. Even moreso, when put on top of each other, on two foils, they form a new, more vivid and filled face than each of them alone shows. I can speak of this matter myself since one of my family members kindly sent me a gift from Manoppello – made by Sister herself – where the Volto Santo is put together in one frame with the image of Jesus’ face from the Holy Shroud of Turin. Archbishop Forte also refers in this interview to the ongoing research concerning the question as to whether the Holy Face of Manopello is man-made:
The Veil of Manoppello was tested under an electron microscope and even in extra enlargements, no traces of paint were found. The image was not painted; rather, it is a true image – and that makes it even more precious because it provides us with a kind of authentic image which we have of the Redeemer of the world.
On this background, Archbishop Forte himself declares to be wrong those theories which deny that Christ truly resurrected:
In the gap of time between the death of Jesus on the cross and the new beginning of Easter, something essential must have happened in order to transform the frightened and fleeing disciples on Good Friday into the bold heralds of the resurrection of Christ on Easter. This “something” was not a fruit of hysterical imagination of the events as, for example, Ernest Renan declared; rather, it approaches them externally as an unexpected gift that transformed their sorrow into joy and their fear into audacious courage and their escape from Jerusalem into a new life and worldwide mission. To conclude, there is almost complete unanimity in serious research since then on the historical Jesus.
It is to be hoped that this interview – conducted by Paul Badde and supported by the important work of Sister Blandina Schlömer (who now lives and still works in Manoppello) – will help many Catholics to realize what a precious gift God has given us in this miraculous image: namely, the gift of seeing His True Face, and an opportunity, when praying in front of it, of drawing much closer to Him in a more incarnate and intimately human way. This gift Saint Padre Pio himself once called “the greatest miracle we have.” He himself was found – in bilocation, very shortly before his own death – kneeling and praying in Manoppello before this Holy Image, asking God to have mercy on him.