I love this book…UPDATED

The nicest part of my job is that I get a ton of books to read and review. Unfortunately I can’t always find time to really give a book a good going-over, but when Paul Badde’s The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello arrived in my mailbox, I did my usual thumb-through and found myself utterly hooked.

This lavishly illustrated volume chronicles a very personal journey for Badde — a tracing of the history of the Shroud of Turin and the lesser known veil that begins in Jerusalem and brings him through the Holy Land, thence to Europe and finally to a small church where a remarkable bit of sea silk holds him captive with its imprinted, pigment-free image. Along the way, he manages to give a first-hand account of the lighting of the mysterious and “Holy Fire” at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Ephesus where he ponders Mary’s connection to these inexplicable icons.

I have always found the image of the shroud to be intriguing, but it’s never grabbed me and held my attention, before. I think of the Shroud as a possible relic, an image perhaps caused in some flashing and mysterious moment of Christ’s reanimation. My reason says it is probably the burial cloth of Christ, but my faith says, whether it is or is not does not affect my belief, either way.

But here, to turn a page and see a high-def, full-sized image of the face, with the herringbone weave in such detail — the first time I saw it, I confess, it literally took my breath away. During Lent I have found myself turning to the page again and again, to just gaze upon it. I can’t find a comparable image on line to do it justice.

The Veil of Manoppello — which Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2006 — is something else. Badde confesses he has taken thousands of shapshots of the thing and still cannot capture it. After taking in the photos he shares in the book, one understands it; in every shot, the veil seems different — full of human expression and of something undefinable, as well.

Father Dwight Longenecker says of the image:

This is one relic that is both difficult to accept and difficult to reject. On the one hand, the image looks, on first inspection, to be obviously painted. You can see what seem to be brush strokes and fairly crude shading on the face. On the other hand, the image is truly marvelous. It turns out to be imprinted on an amazingly rare fabric called ‘byssus’ or ‘sea silk’ or ‘mussel silk’. The stuff is woven from the filaments some mussels spin out to anchor themselves to the sea floor. It is extremely fine–like gossamer– and in ancient times it was extremely precious. It is an ancient fabric with a royal connection. It has been found in the tombs of pharaohs and is still extremely rare and unusual.

Furthermore, byssus can best be described as ‘woven threads of mother of pearl.’ Therefore it is waterproof and flame resistant while still being very fine and transparent. It is also extremely tough. Also, like mother of pearl–it is resistant to dye and paint. In other words, you can’t paint on it. Therefore if it is a man made image, then the image of Manoppello has been produced using a technology unknown even to the few experts in mussel silk who still survive.
[...]
Like the Shroud itself, there is an intriguing elusiveness about the image of Manoppello. Just when you think you have de-bunked it some other strange and fascinating details is discovered which makes you think again. Just when you have decided that this is a supernaturally produced image of the risen Lord Jesus Christ something is discovered which undermined the history, calls into question the theories and makes you pull back.

Perhaps that’s the whole point — perhaps we’re not supposed to know these images except through wonder. All I know is, as with the Shroud image, as I turned a page and found myself face-to-face with the thing, I couldn’t look away. Seen at different angles and in different light — it frankly just seems alive.

Anyway, the book is beautifully wrought — even the interior endpages are gorgeous, and I think it’s a useful book for Lent or a really splendid gift for Easter. I recommend it!

The two images, together

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://breadhere.wordpress.com Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    That looks amazing – I must get a copy. Thanks!

  • jkm

    Oh, yes. This whole little corner of Catholic iconography–the acheiropoieta, the “image not made with hands”–is one of my favorite places to hang out. Thank you for the tip.

  • Kdaunt

    When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my family went on a Catholic retreat. We boys were often separated from our parents for various activities, but one event we all attended. It included slides of the Shroud of Turin. I’d never seen it before, and had recently been entertaining the idea that perhaps the Bible was fiction, that maybe someone had made it all up. But when I saw the Shroud I completely changed my mind. That was about fifty years ago, and the image still moves me in ways I can not describe. Just now, having visited your link to the picture showing the images of the two different cloths superimposed, my breath was taken away. I think everyone has their own personal touch point and the Shroud is definitely mine. Authentic or not, it’s a symbol that helps me keep my faith energized. Thanks.

  • Paul Badde

    Thanks, dear Elizabeth, for your deep and rich review. But what struck me most is that you are a Benedictine Oblate! For I’m a Benedictine Oblate myself, too, together with my wife – the first ones from the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem so that I wonder if it is a matter of Divine Providence that we now met at this occasion in cyberspace or is it just another curiosity. Anyway I’ll forward to you some more photos of the most beautiful countenance between heaven and earth as soon as I have your address as a little reward. Pace e bene! With love from Rome, Paul

  • Steve T.

    The Veil of Manoppello is beautiful and mysterious. But The Sudarium of Oviedo (www.shroud.com/heraseng.pdf) seems to be the cloth that covered Christ’s face as His body was taken down from the Cross.

  • Gail Finke

    I will have to check out this book. There are similar claims for the Sudarium — that if you superimpose it and the face on the Shroud, they match up. The image on the Shroud does not look like medieval art — which was very stylized (in different ways depending on the era and location). The image of the face on the Manoppello DOES look like a medieval painting. It’s flat, it’s stylized, you can see brush marks… plus, it’s crooked! But then, how did the picture get on there if you can’t paint on byssus? But then, why would he have a veil made of byssus in the first place? How would anyone get it to him and why would they have it ready, as if for a funeral, if they didn’t expect him to die? But then, where DID it come from? Hmmmm.

  • Brian Murphy

    If Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man, it might be that a cloth of sea silk was one of the luxuries he had collected over the years…perhaps with a view towards using it for his own burial preparations. If he was a secret follower of Jesus, as we are told, and he witnessed the death of Christ on the Cross, being a man of means he could insure that Master was interred with dignity and honor. His servants would have had plenty of time to retrieve the cloth and bring it to him at Golgotha.
    The Shroud of Turin remains an incomparable relic. I first learned of it around age 15. Since then I have kept it close to my heart. Is it real? I think so…I hope so… But my belief in Jesus Christ remains the same no matter what.


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