Saint Veronica

General Information

(Catholic Perspective)

(First Century)

Few Christian legends are better known and more valued than that of St. Veronica, who compassionately wiped the face of Jesus when He fell beneath the load of His cross on the way to Calvary. Nor is that to be wondered at, for it is a most touching story that appeals at once to the heart of every Christian and, in the version which makes her the wife of a Roman officer, is a moving example of contempt of public opinion and human respect. But the legend, though ancient, has only a vague tradition to support it, and the identifications of the woman to whom the name Veronica has been given are several and various.

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In its origins the story seems to have been more concerned with the miraculous image of our Lord's face on the cloth with which it was wiped than with the love and charity that prompted the action. Thus in a widespread western version Veronica came to Rome and cured the Emperor Tiberius with the precious relic, which at her death she left to Pope St Clement. In France, on the other hand, she is called the wife of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-10), who when her husband becomes a hermit (under the name of Amadour at Rocamadour), helps to evangelize the south of France. Other versions make her the same person as Martha, the sister of Lazarus, the daughter of the woman of Canaan (Matt. 15:22-28), a princess of Edessa, or the wife of an unknown Gallo-Roman officer. The earliest version of the Veronica story is found in a later Latin addition to the fourth or fifth-century apocryphal work The Acts of Pilate or Gospel of Nicodemus; it is called there Cura Sanitatis Tiberii, and in it Veronica is identified with the woman who had an issue of blood (Matt. 9:20-22), and this identification occurs elsewhere.

The name Veronica has been the subject of a good deal of speculation. It has been suggested and widely received that among several alleged authentic likenesses of our Lord (generally "not-made-with-hands") the one on the handkerchief of the kind woman was distinguished as vera icon, the "true image"; this became veronica and was transferred to the woman as a personal name. Certainly such images were and are called holy-veronica, corrupted in Middle English to "vernicle". But it is significant that in the East the haemorrhiossa was called by the name Berenike (victory-bringer) before ever there was any indication of an association with a miraculous image. Origen, in the first quarter of the third century, in his polemic Contra Celsum, speaks of the Valentinians regarding the haemorrhoissa as a type of Wisdom under the name of Prounike, whom Celsus had confounded into a Christian virgin.

St. Veronica is not mentioned in any of the earliest historical martyrologies, nor is she named in the Roman Martyrology today, and St Charles Borromeo removed her feast and office from the church of Milan. A house of Veronica was pointed out at Jerusalem in the early fifteenth century, when the devotion of the stations of the cross was beginning to take its present form; but the Veronica incident, in common with several others, only gradually became a permanent station in the series. It was omitted in Vienne so late as 1799.

That a compassionate woman wiped the face of our suffering Lord may well have happened, and Christians do well to ponder her action and revere her traditional memory. The existence of a cloth claimed to be the original veil of Veronica in St Peter's at Rome is a greatly venerated witness to the tradition, but from the nature of the case there can be no guarantee of its authenticity.

The Bollandists discuss this legend in two different places, first in February, vol. i, and then again in July, vol. iii, dealing with the supposed identity of Veronica with the woman whom our Lord healed of an issue of blood. A considerable literature has grown up in connection with the Veronica legend. After K. P. Pearson, Die Fronika (1887), we have the excellent investigation of von Dobschultz in his Christusbilder, continued in his article "Das Shweisstuch der Veronica" in Monatschrift f. h. Kunst (1909); and see P. Perdrizet "De la Veronique et de Ste Veronique", in Seminarium Kondakoviarum (1932), pp. 1-16. See also H. Leclercq in DAC., Vol. vii, cc. 224-225 and 2458-2459. The suggestion that Veronica = vera icon has sometimes been attributed to Mabillon, but it is found already in the Speculum Ecclesiae of Giraldus Cambrensis: see Thurston, Holy Year of Jubilee (1900), pp. 58, 152-153 and 193-195, where the passage is quoted in full. In the time of Dante and Petrarch an immense devotion centred in this supposed relic kept in St Peters; there is some evidence that the cloth, the lineaments depicted upon which are now completely effaced, has been preserved there ever since the time of Pope John VII, A.D. 7O5-707. For the sixth station in Jerusalem, see Revue biblique, t i (1892), pp. 584 seq., and H. Vincent in Le Lien, February 1951, pp. 18-26.


Saint Veronica

General Information

(Protestant Perspective)

Veronica was a woman of Jerusalem who, according to legend, gave Jesus her veil to wipe his face as he bore his cross to Calvary. He returned it with his countenance miraculously imprinted on the fabric. Modern scholars believe that her name, which is also applied to the veil itself, is derived from the Latin vera and the Greek eikon, meaning "true image." The legend is represented in the 6th of the 14 Stations of the Cross. Of the several cloths reputed to be the original veil, the most celebrated is kept at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, where it became an object of popular veneration during the Middle Ages.


Saint Veronica

Advanced Catholic Information

In several regions of Christendom there is honored under this name a pious matron of Jerusalem who, during the Passion of Christ, as one of the holy women who accompanied Him to Calvary, offered Him a towel on which he left the imprint of His face. She went to Rome, bringing with her this image of Christ, which was long exposed to public veneration. To her likewise are traced other relics of the Blessed Virgin venerated in several churches of the West. The belief in the existence of authentic images of Christ is connected with the old legend of Abgar of Edessa and the apocryphal writing known as the "Mors Pilati". To distinguish at Rome the oldest and best known of these images it was called vera icon (true image), which ordinary language soon made veronica. It is thus designated in several medieval texts mentioned by the Bollandists (e.g. an old Missal of Augsburg has a Mass "De S. Veronica seu Vultus Domini"), and Matthew of Westminster speaks of the imprint of the image of the Savior which is called Veronica: "Effigies Domenici vultus quae Veronica nuncupatur". By degrees, popular imagination mistook this word for the name of a person and attached thereto several legends which vary according to the country.

These pious traditions cannot be documented, but there is no reason why the belief that such an act of compassion did occur should not find expression in the veneration paid to one called Veronica, even though the name has found no place in the Hieronymian Martyrology or the oldest historical Martyrologies, and St. Charles Borromeo excluded the Office of St. Veronica from the Milan Missal where it had been introduced. The Roman Martyrology also records at Milan St. Veronica de Binasco, the Order of St. Augustine, on 13 January, and St. Veronica Giuliani on 9 July.

Bibliography
Acta SS. Bolland., Feb. I (Paris, 1863); Maury, Lettres sur l'etymologie du nom de Veronique, apotre de l'Aquitaine (Toulouse, 1877); Bourrieres, Saint Amadour et Sainte Veronique (Cahors, 1894); Palme, Die deutchen Veronicalegenden des XII Jahrh. (Prague, 1892)

Antoine Degert

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV


Also, see:
Stations of the Cross


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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