Miraculous art

What makes a work of art Sacred? The subject matter, of course, but ancient tradition goes much further than that. Some artworks, it was said, have miraculous properties. Gabriele Paleotti, 16th century archbishop of Bologna, defined what those special properties were in 1582:

An image is called sacred if it enters in to contact with the body or with the face or with other parts of our Lord or one if his saints, where, just by means of that contact, the figure of the body or the part of the body that was touched is printed there.

An image is called holy that would be made by a holy person, like those made by St Luke or painted by other saints.

An image is called holy because it was made in a miraculous manner, that is, not by the hand of man but invisibly, by the work of God, or by other similar means.

An image is called holy when God has performed manifest sounds and miracles in that image, as are seen at times with the face radiant, at times with tears spilling from the eyes, or drops of blood, or they make some movement as if they were alive: also God, through them, has, in an instant, healed the sick, restored vision to the blind and liberated others from various dangers.

To the modern sceptic this is nonsensical, but nevertheless, the tradition is a fascinating one. In this study I’ll be looking at a range of artworks that match the archbishop’s criteria, and asking the question, could some strange truth be lurking behind these beliefs?
  I will divide the archbishop's final holy definition into two parts; images that produce sound or make movements, and images that work miracles.

1. Miraculous by touch

  The two best known examples of this are the Turin Shroud and the Veil of Veronica. We'll look at these two relics here.

The Turin Shroud

Opinions still rage over the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial shroud of Jesus. There is no history of it before the mid fourteenth century, and some were suspicious of it even then.
  Recent scientific analysis has cast much doubt on the claimed provenance. Radiocarbon dating dates the shroud to c1260, though some still argue that this is due to later contamination. Perhaps the most decisive denial of the legend is the material used to make it, which is woven in a manner far advanced from that used in biblical times.
  There is still, however, a question about the shroud that cannot be answered – how the image appeared (or was put) on the shroud. It remains a much-venerated relic.

The Veil of Veronica

Statue of Veronica and the Veil, St Peter's Rome

Via Crucis Station 6

The story of the Veil of Veronica comes from various confusing medieval legends. It was said that a woman named Veronica wiped the sweating face of Jesus as he carried the cross, and a miraculous image appeared on the veil. It occurred at the sixth station of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem – see my photograph above. The legend continues; Veronica then took the veil to Rome and used it to cure Emperor Tiberius.
  Was there really someone called Veronica? It is suggested that the name was formed from the Latin word ‘vera’ (truth) and the Greek word ‘eikon’ (image).
  Its presence in St Peter’s Rome is shrouded in mystery. A ‘Veronica chapel’ was in place in the early 8th century, though the first mention was in 1101. By the third century the veil was annually paraded through Rome.
  Now was it destroyed during the sack of Rome in 1527? Was it taken elsewhere – there are a number of relics claiming to be the original in various places. Or is it still in St Peters? A relic there, said to be the veil, is displayed once a year in Lent, though there is no discernible image.  Below is one of the relics from elsewhere, the one with the best image; The Manoppello Image, now in a church in Manoppello in Italy.

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