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An image for
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placeholder March 14, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 5   •   Oakland, CA
Holy Week & Easter Liturgies

Rev. Michael Morris, OP, and the painting, The Holy Face.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

An image for Holy Week: The Holy Face

Among the treasures on exhibit in the Blackfriars Gallery at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology is "The Holy Face."

Rev. Michael Morris, OP, director of the Santa Fe Institute, a research library dedicated to the study of religious art, recounts the story of how the painting made its way from the Vatican to a wall in Berkeley.

 
Blackfriars Gallery
Dominican School of
Philosophy and Theology
2301 Vine St., Berkeley
Open during business hours, Monday-Friday

www.dspt.edu/blackfriars
-gallery


Current exhibit: "Ars Mystica: Dreams, Devotions, Magic & Miracles," collected and curated by Rev. Hilary Martin, OP, and Ethiopian art collected and curated by Eleanor Hopewell
 
The Holy Face, he said, "commemorates a miracle that took place in the Vatican in 1849.

"In 1848, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto came out, and people were rioting all over in the capitals of Europe, including Rome," he said. The pope, held captive within the Vatican, "escaped by disguising himself as a regular parish priest and fled to the fortified city of Gaeta."

While in exile, the pope asked that the Veil of Veronica be exposed in St. Peter's Basilica from Jan. 1 to the Epiphany and that people come and pray for his safe return.

"In the third hour of the third day, the veil of Veronica started to glow, an incredible amber glow," Father Morris said. "They rang the bells of the basilica. A notary took down notes of everything that was happening. It was published in the local papers.

"This is what the people saw over the veil of Veronica: It was a radiance that had the face of Christ. The veil of Veronica is very smudgy. People have even over painted it. When it started to glow, people could see the face of Christ, with his eyes open and the mouth moving, but nobody could hear anything he was saying.

"For three hours, this manifestation occurred. In that crowd, as half of Rome showed up in the basilica, there was a Peruvian artist who took sketches of what he saw, then raced to his studio, completed the painting and brought it back to the Vatican as a present, a record of what the people saw. They touched it to the veil of Veronica, so this painting itself is a relic."

The Vatican had it from 1849 to 1923.

"In 1923, the Vatican decided to give it as a gift to Peru," Father Morris said. "The artist had originally been Peruvian, but we don't know his name. It was a gift of love; he didn't want to take any credit for it.

"In the oldest Carmelite monastery in Peru this painting was deposited as a gift," he said.

The Carmelites have long had a devotion to the Holy Face, including St. Therese of Lisieux of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She wrote prayers to the Holy Face.

"They had it until a series of earthquakes wrecked their chapel, wrecked the painting," Father Morris said. "They sold the painting to the Santa Fe Institute, through a nice intermediary. It came to us totally wrecked.

I didn't have any money left for restoration. It was my possession for two years. A Protestant friend of mine who is an artist said, 'I'm working for a Catholic gallery owner in Sierra Madre. Why don't you bring it to him?'

"I took it to Sierra Madre. He took apart the cardboard. It had holes in it. It was just a mess. He looked at it. He gasped. He genuflected. Then he said, 'I will repair it and frame it for you for $1.'

The gallery owner did as he said he would. "Little did I know he was dying of terminal cancer," Father Morris said. "This was a gift of his to God. He had it exhibited in his parish."

After his death, there were parts of the painting that were starting to fall apart. I said to my friend, "There are little patches that are starting to become unglued. I think you need to do some repair."

She was happy to do so. "She was totally beguiled by it," he said.

As she was finishing it, he said, she had it in her backyard on an overcast day. "The painting glowed, not just once, but twice," he said. She ran into the house to get her camera.

But by the time, she returned, it had stopped glowing

She called him to report, "I was not imaging it, there was no sun, no plane. It was an incredible amber glow just around the face."

 
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