Friday, July 12, 2013

Saint of the Month: St. Veronica!

Robert Campin, 1406-1444.
Left Tournament (0-2) February 2013.

Saint Veronica
AKA: Berenice.
Feast Day: July 12.

Really Existed? Probably not.
Timeframe: Contemporary of Jesus Christ.
Place: Jerusalem.

Credentials: Venerated by tradition since the fifth century, with occasional official objections.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: against bleeding, dying people, maids and washerwomen, photographers, and seamstresses.
Symbolism: holds a cloth with the image of Christ’s face.

The "Stations of the Cross" are fourteen incidents from the story of the execution of Jesus Christ. In Catholic and occasionally in other Christian churches, these scenarios are depicted in a series of paintings or sculptural works, often arranged around the perimeter of the sanctuary.  They are intended, as I understand it, to be used as a series of prompts for devotional meditation, and I hope it doesn't sound irreverent that I've always associated this with those fitness parks you see in some towns where simple exercise equipment is installed at regular intervals alongside a running path.  The one is a worship workout, so to speak, the other a worldly workout.  Practicing Catholics, feel free to bring me up to speed if I'm off base here.

St. Veronica owes her status as a high-profile saint to her inclusion in the Stations of the Cross.  She is in number six.  As he is being driven to the place where he will be tortured and killed, Veronica compassionately wipes Jesus' face with a cloth.  Subsequently, a miraculous image of his face appears on the fabric.

The problem with Veronica -- if you want it to be a problem -- is that she doesn't appear in scripture.  No one mentioned her at all, in fact, until at least the late fourth century, and she does not appear in any of the documents of the early Church.  Attempts to situate her within the gospels have led to many theories, and she been identified variously as the wife of a Roman officer, the wife of Zacchaeus (the guy who climbed a tree to see Jesus), the bleeding woman cured by the Christ earlier in his career, the same person as Martha the sister of Lazarus, or even a princess of the Mesopotamian city of Edessa.  Some stories have her going on to cure the Emperor Tiberius with her miraculous cloth and/or evangelizing southern France.

Hans Memling, 1433-1494. 
Expected Tournament entry Winter 2015.

The Church makes no claim whatsoever for the veracity of any of these stories.  The vintage Catholic Encyclopedia lists all of the places where Veronica is missing from the written record, and concludes that
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.  
Some folks go so far as to conjecture that "Veronica" is a amalgam of vera icon, "true icon," and by implication that the saint was cooked up as a marketing vehicle for cloth with apparently miraculous images of the face of Christ on them.  However, this theory apparently has some historical holes in it too.

Jan Toorop, 1858-1928.  Tournament Non-Participant.

The Stations of the Cross made Veronica famous throughout the Catholic World after its popularization in the 1600s and 1700s (although, check it out, the paintings I have found make it clear that she was well-established at least by the 1400s).  It is possible she may lose prominence in the future, if the "Scriptural Way of the Cross" inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in 1991 gains ground against the traditional Stations. The Scriptural Way is just what it sounds like: an alternative list of fourteen stations that comprises only incidents supported by Scripture.  Needless to say, St. Veronica isn't in it.

Mattia Preti, 1613-1699.
Tournament Non-Participant.
"Master of St. Veronica," ~ 1400.
Tournament Non-Participant.

Lucas van Leyden, 1494-1533.
Tournament Non-Participant. (?!?!)

Mel Gibson included the Veronica legend in his Passion of the Christ; a clip is currently available here. For the squeamish: like most of that film, this short scene is rather bloody, but there is no active violence in the clip outside of some background scuffling.

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