Thursday, December 12, 2013

A History of Veronica, 01: The Woman

Been a long time since I posted here, ain't it? :p

If you're Catholic, chances are you've probably heard of Veronica and her veil by which she wiped Jesus' face as He carried His cross to Golgotha. Despite her not being found in the New Testament, she is commemorated in the sixth Station of the Cross, and in addition, some Jesus films choose to include her in some form or another - examples of this would include Jesus of Nazareth or The Passion of the Christ (the clip below). The story is popular, methinks, because it epitomizes compassion: a woman helping the Lord in the smallest way she could in His hour of need and being rewarded for it in the form of an image on her veil.


But here's the thing. What do we really know about the woman we call 'Veronica'? And how did her story develop over time? And what does the so-called 'veil' of Veronica have to do with it?

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we? In the apocryphal work known as the Acts of Pilate (ca. 4th-5th century), various witnesses appear at Jesus' trial to testify about Him. One of the witnesses was the woman (formerly) with the issue of blood who touched the hem of Jesus' garment (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). While in the earliest recensions of the work the woman is not named, in some versions she is given the proper name Berenice (Greek: Βερενίκη Berenikē) or some variant thereof - one of which is Veronica.
VI. 1. Then one of the Jews hastened forward and asked the governor that he might speak a word. The governor said: "If you wish to say anything, say it." And the Jew said: "For thirty-eight years I lay on a bed in anguish and pain, and when Jesus came many demoniacs and those lying sick of various diseases were healed by him. And certain young men took pity on me and carried me with my bed and brought me to him. And when Jesus saw me he had compassion, and spoke a word to me: Take up your bed and walk. And I took up my bed and walked." The Jews said to Pilate: "Ask him what day it was on which he was healed." He that was healed said: "On a sabbath." The Jews said: "Did we not inform you so, that on the sabbath he heals and casts out demons?"
2. And another Jew hastened forward and said: "I was born blind; I heard any man's voice, but did not see his face. And as Jesus passed by I cried with a loud voice: Have mercy on me, Son of David. And he took pity on me and put his hands on my eyes and I saw immediately." And another Jew hastened forward and said: "I was bowed, and he made me straight with a word." And another said: "I was a leper, and he healed me with a word."
VII. And a woman called Bernice [Latin: Veronica] crying out from a distance said: "I had an issue of blood and I touched the hem of his garment, and the issue of blood, which had lasted twelve years, ceased." The Jews said: "We have a law not to permit a woman to give testimony."
VIII. And others, a multitude of men and women, cried out: "This man is a prophet, and the demons are subject to him." Pilate said to those who said the demons were subject to him: "Why are your teachers also not subject to him?" They said to him: "We do not know." Others said: "Lazarus who was dead he raised up out of the tomb after four days." Then the governor began to tremble and said to all the multitude of the Jews: "Why do you wish to shed innocent blood?"
The Acts does not yet connect the woman with any image, although there was already a popular belief among some contemporary Christians connecting her with a certain bronze statue in Paneas (ancient Caesarea Philippi) which they purport to be be that of Jesus, believing it to be erected by the woman in gratitude for her cure. Origen, in the mid-3rd century, is already aware of such a tradition (Contra Celsum VI.34). Eusebius also mentions it thus (Church History VII.18):
Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Saviour deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Saviour to her remain there. For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers.
Eusebius seems to assume that the woman was a gentile, which for him would account for the statue. The statue itself was eventually destroyed during the reign of Julian (361-363), according to the 5th century historians Philostorgius (Ecclesiastical History VII.3, quoted below) and Sozomen (Ecclesiastical History V.21). Interestingly both accounts differ in the details:
Concerning an image of our Saviour erected by the faith of a pious woman in grateful remembrance of her cure from a bloody flux, Philostorgius writes, that it was placed near the fountain in the city among other statues, and presented a pleasant and agreeable sight to the passers-by. And when a certain herb, which grew up at the foot of this statue, was found to be a most effectual remedy against all diseases, and especially against consumption, men naturally began to inquire into the cause of this matter ; for by lapse of time all memory of the fact had been lost, and it was even forgotten whose statue it was, and on what account it had been erected. Inasmuch as the figure of our Saviour had long stood exposed in the open air, and a great part of it was covered over by the earth which was perpetually carried down against the pediment, especially during seasons of heavy rain, the notice contained in the inscription upon it was well nigh obliterated. A diligent inquiry was consequently made, and the part of the statue which had been covered up being brought to light, the inscription was discovered which explained the entire circumstances of the fact; and the plant thenceforth was never again seen either there or in any other place. The statue itself they placed in the part of the church which was allotted to the deacons, paying to it due honour and respect, yet by no means adoring or worshipping it; and they showed their love for its great archetype by erecting it in that place with circumstances of honour, and by flocking thither in eager crowds to behold it. During the reign of Julian, however, the heathen who inhabited Paneas were excited by an impious frenzy to pull down this statue from its pediment, and to drag it through the midst of the streets with ropes fastened round its feet; afterwards they broke in pieces the rest of the body, while some persons, indignant at the whole proceeding, secretly obtained possession of the head, which had become, detached from the neck as it was dragged along, and they preserved it as far as was possible. This transaction Philostorgius declared that he witnessed with his own eyes. But the district of Paneas was formerly called Dan, from Dan the son of Jacob, who was the head of one of the twelve tribes, which was situated in those parts. But in the course of time it came to be called Caesarea Philippi, and later still, when the heathen erected in it a statue of the god Pan, its name was changed to Paneas.
In any case, modern historians generally doubt Eusebius' attribution. Instead they think that the statue was either really that of the god of healing Aesculapius (due to the 'strange plant' being part of the ensemble), or a symbolic depiction of the submission of Judaea, represented by the woman, to the 2nd-century emperor Hadrian, which the locals have simply given a Christian meaning. (In his coins Hadrian sometimes used the imagery of a female personification of a given area paying homage to him, who is proclaimed as the restitutor 'restorer' of provinces like Spain, Gaul, Bithynia, Italy, Achaea, Judaea, or so on. He also minted coins commemorating his visit to Judaea - Adventui Aug[usti] Iudaeae.) Even if we suppose that the statue was originally pagan but was given a Christian meaning, however, this example shows Christian attitudes toward images at that time. Eusebius himself somewhat disliked images, but even then he did not have a problem with an image supposedly that of Christ being erected as a memorial and a token of gratitude, nor does he find it impossible or inconceivable that someone would make one.

Aside from her brief cameo in the Acts of Pilate, we don't hear much about the haemorrhaging woman (or, to use a nice term, the Haemorrhissa) in other early Christian apocrypha, although the woman and her story had a tendency to be named from time to time whenever Christian writers touched on the issue of whether to allow menstruating women into church or not, both sides - those who think that menstruating women going to church are okay and those who think otherwise - using her in support of their respective opinions.

Historically, in the East, Veronica (or should I say Berenice) tended to be associated more with the role she is given in the Acts of Pilate: as the hemorrhaging woman who was healed by touching Jesus' garment. In this capacity Berenice is usually named in early Byzantine (and Germanic) folk charms and incantations for stopping blood flow along with Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist, conflated with "Zechariah son of Barachiah" of Matthew 23:35). Here's one example:
By the great name of the almighty God. The prophet Zacharias was slaughtered in the temple to the Lord and his blood solidified in the middle of the sanctuary like a Stone. So thou too stop the blood of the servant of God, congeal disease, as that one and as a Stone, may it be annulled. I exorcise thee by the Faith of Berenice (Beraioonikii), blood, that you may not drip further; let us stay good, let us stay in fear; amen. Jesus Christ conquers.
Notice how "the faith of Berenice/Veronica" is invoked in the context of hemorrhaging. A medieval Latin charm also runs pretty much the same:
For stopping blood from the nose. In the name of Christ write on the forehead with the own blood of the same the name of Veronica. The same is it who said: If I touch the fringe of the garment of my Lord I shall be healed.
Starting from the 8th century onwards, however, we begin to see Veronica connected with an image of Jesus on a piece of cloth in the West.

1 comment:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

There's an old Portuguese tradition of singing the "Song of Veronica" during Lent, at the processions of the Senhor dos Passos. It has died out in most places, but still survives here and there. A woman sings the antiphon "O vos omnes" during the procession, while holding an image of Christ's face painted on a cloth.