How and when did the Holy Face arrive at Manoppello? A friar of ours, Father Donato da Bomba, started some researches in 1640 and wrote a “Relatione historica” (historical report) at present kept in the Provincial Archives of the Capuchins in the convent of St. Clara in L’Aquila. Both the deed of gift and the report were certified in 1646 by public reading, according to the Capuchins’ will, by a notary in the townhall. This report relates that the Veil was taken to Manoppello by a stranger in 1506 and consigned to a notable of the place, a certain Dr Giacomo Antonio Leonelli, who was sitting on a bench in front of the church. The doctor went into the church and opened the parcel containing the Veil. At once he went out of the church but he did not find the disappeared bearer of the packet. The Veil was for nearly one century inherited by the Leonelli till it was assigned as a wedding-present for a female member of the family, Marzia Leonelli, but not really given. In 1608, Marzia’s husband, Pancrazio Petrucci, a soldier, stole the Veil in his father-in-law’s house. A few years later, Marzia sold it for 4 scudi to Doctor Donato Antonio De Fabritiis to ransom her husband, prisoner in Chieti. The Veil was given by the De Fabritiis to the Capuchins. This is the matter of the “Relatione historica”. But if we read it carefully, we can notice that it consists of two parts: the beginning more narrative and the central part with reliable historical dates. From start it arouses the impression to be a whole magnificent construction. There is a list of all the governors of the year 1506, when it seems that a stranger took the Veil in a parcel to Manoppello. Narrated in a lively style, it seems to be a fantastic yarn: the unknown man gave the parcel to a villager and then disappeared in a trice and nobody found him. It seems that Marzia Leonelli sold the Veil in 1618 but neither this date is historically certain. According to the first hand-written version of the ”Relatione” the Veil was sold in 1620. The above-mentioned date 1618 is written in the version assigned to the Minister General of the Order of the Capuchins.

The first version was kept in the Holy Face Sanctuary at Manoppello, while that one assigned to the Minister General is, together with a copy written by the same hand, in the archives of the Abruzzi region in L’Aquila. The only event we must consider historically verified is that Marzia Leonelli sold the Veil to Doctor Donato Antonio De Fabritiis in 1618-1620. The date 1608 in the manuscript of the Abruzzi region is in the margin, written by another hand. At this point let’s leave the territory of Manoppello and let’s go to Rome to compare the dates. The first date 1506 and the government of Pope Julius II, mentioned in the “relatione historica” coincide with the plane of demolition of the crumbling St. Peter’s basilica and the plane to replace it with a new, more grandiose edifice. Its demolition really began in 1507. The second date 1608 written only in the margin of the manuscript kept in the archives of the Abruzzi region, coincides exactly with the demolition of the second part of the Vatican Cathedral, included the Chapel, built under Pope Johannes VII in the year 705, where was preserved the Veil of Veronica or, as it was called in Rome, the “Veronica”. This demolition could have been a right occasion for the loss of the precious Roman Relic. And now let’s see what had happened a short time before, i. e. the third event mentioned in the “relatione historica”: the sale of the Veil with the image of Christ at Manoppello in about 1618/20. In 1620 the Imperial Court of Vienna demanded to Pope Paulus V a copy of the Veronica for the queen Maria Costanza of Poland. Although there were until then lots of copyists of the Roman Relic, the so-called “pictores Veronicae”, in that occasion a canon of St. Peter’s, named Strozzi, was charged with the copy and then further copies were forbidden. We must deduce that the “pictores Veronicae” lost their skilled labour at least beginning from this time.

The papal bull dated 7-X-1616 told that only the canons of St. Peter’s could execute copies of the Veronica. During the pontificate of Gregorius XV exceptionally were made two copies more and soon after to realize copies from the copies was forbidden on pain of excommunication. Their common peculiarity is the representation of the image with closed eyes. These copies not at all coincide with the old representations of the Roman Veronica. One of the justified copies is still now in the sacristy of the church dedicated to Jesus in Rome: it is so ugly that nobody can believe it is really a duplicate of the Image all the pilgrims wanted to see. This copy is only a valueless work, a daub made by a remembrance of the Veronica, by the shape of Mandilion, kept in that time in St. Silvester’s in Rome and by the knowledge of the Shroud of Turin thanks to a copy of the same size as the original and was in the church of the Sudario since the end of the sixteenth century. In the same year (1618) a thin Veil with a more beautiful figure corresponding in all the features to the Roman Veronica was sold in a small town of Abruzzi and this coincidence makes the events in Rome more extraordinary. Our attention increases when we learn that the successive Pope Urbanus VIII not only prohibited all the copies of the Veronica, but also ordered the destruction of the extant copies made in the last years. During his pontificate was written the “relatione historica” started from about 1640 and finished, after the death of Pope Urbanus VIII, with the notarial reading and authentication. Becomes more and more substantial the supposition that the Veil was stolen in the times of Pope Paulus V and taken to Manoppello. It is not verified if the soldier, prisoner in Chieti, husband of the woman who sold the Veil with the image of Christ in 1618 to doctor De Fabritiis, is the same thief who stole the sacred Relic in Rome. In a second time Pope Urbanus VIII maybe was informed about this disappearance of the Veronica; only in this way we can understand his measures. We become more and more suspicious considering that in Rome there were lots of painters making copies of the Veronica and that the Pope ordered to destroy all the ones that could be found. In 1618 the archivist and canon of St. Peter’s, Jacopo Grimaldi, listed all the things, carried to the archives, that before were in St. Peter’s in the Vatican City; among other things also the Shrine of the Veronica and he wrote that the two panes of glass were broken, probably owing to the inattention of the guardians. This reliquary of the Jubilee of the year 350 is still kept and can be admired in St. Peter’s treasure. From all these dates, observations and events we arrive to an interesting conclusion, i. e. that the Veil, the Veronica, was lost and violently taken off his reliquary.

Such being the case, let’s read again the passage of the “relatione historica” describing the criminal action of the soldier of Manoppello: “He went into Leonelli’s house and took the Holy Image of great value as portion of inheritance”. In reality this passage refers to the archives of St. Peter’s or even to the chapel of the “Veronica” and not to Leonelli’s house. In the course of a work always there are the best opportunities to steal valuables. The “relatione historica” expressly affirms that the violent action of Pancrazio Petrucci, Marzia’s husband, damaged the Veil: “He seized it with arrogance and fury as the soldiers use to do in similar occasions and he did not fold back it with the due diligence and devotion for a very miraculous and divine thing but, wrinkled and badly enveloped, he took it home where he kept it for a term of years with not much care and estimation. (rel. hist. Arch. d. Prov. Cap. p. 17s.).

Such a description of the object in bad condition can be easily understood as the result of the violent action when the reliquary of the Veronica was broken. If we observe carefully the Veil, we can notice that a bit of glass remained stuck on the Veil: this means that it was necessary to break the glass-sheets to remove the image, so a little fragment of glass remained on the lower edge. The same archivist is the author of “Opusculum de sacrosancto Veronicae Sudario” written in the same year 1618, if the date was not falsified later on. The last three Roman numbers probably could have been added or at least the last two because they are written in the margin while the other numbers are on the title page of the manuscript that is now kept in the archives of St. Peter’s Canons. So probably MDCCXV was changed in MDCCXVIII. On the same title page there is a Grimaldi’s free-hand drawing, showing the Veil in its Reliquary not yet broken: it coincides exactly with the Holy Face of Manoppello in the open eyes looking upward a little obliquely, in the long and wavy hair, in the short and sparse beard, in the half-open mouth, in the shape of the Face.

Heinrich Pfeiffer *


* Father Jesuit, professor of History of Art at the papal Gregorian University in Rome and Director of the Course for the Cultural Property of the Church; expert in eastern and western iconography.
** H.Pfeiffer interviewed in an Italian telecast.