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!