It seems appropriate some reference to the story of King Abgar V from Edessa (+ c.50 A.D.), Syria, about his sickness and the “portrait of Jesus” that cured him, speak of the strong desire to see the Holy Face. This story created such an impact as to nurture several legends, increasingly embellished, about the “Face of Christ” and Abgar. It was quite popular in the East. By the 6th century there was an increasing mix of history and legend,
King Abgar of Edessa with a image of a Face of Christ
clouding a nucleus that cannot be avoided: the influence of some sort of archetype or model in the iconography of Jesus, as can be seen in so many paintings.
In the West, for example, after the Council of Nicaea, in Tuscany, Italy, a beautiful crucifix in wood is given the name of “Santo Votlto” (Holy Face). The interest in looking at a depiction of the Face of the Lord will strongly continue in history up to our time. Nevertheless there seems to have been a very important moment for the Catholic devotion to the Holy Face in the XIX and XX century.
Venerable Leo Dupont (1797 – 1876), also known as the “Apostle of the Holy Face”. Alongside with other devotions and charitable works, Leo became involved in promoting the veneration of the Holy Face under the influence of sister Mary of Saint Peter, a Carmelite, that said she had visions of Jesus and Holy Mary c. 1845. Leo encouraged with enthusiasm the “Holy Face Protection Cross”, that had the words “Blessed be the Name of God”, at the center of the transverse piece an image of the Veronica Veil, and on the right an image of the Sacred Heart, and on the left the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In 1851 he formed the “Arch-confraternity of the Holy Face”.
On Lent, 1936, another nun, the Milanese Blessed Maria Pierina De Micheli (1890-1945), Daughter of the Immaculate Conception, claimed to have visions of Jesus inviting her to promote the devotion of the Holy Face. As an answer to those manifestation sister Maria obtained permission to cast the medal known as the Holy Face Medal. On one side the medal has an image of the Holy Face from a photo, by Giovanni Bruner, of the Holy Shroud of Turin. I and an inscription based on Psalm 67(6):2: “Illumina, Domine, Vultum tuum super nos” (Lord, let your Face shed its light upon us). On the other side of the medal, there is an image of a radiant Sacred Host and the inscription “Mane nobiscum, Domine“(Stay with us, Lord). The first medal of the Holy Face was offered to Pope Pius XII who approved the devotion and the medal. In 1958, he formally declared the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus as Shrove Tuesday (one day before Ash Wednesday).
In Rome she met Abbott General of the Silvester Benedictine Order, Hildebrand Gregori, four years younger. He was influenced by sister Maria Pierina as to set up the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face of Jesus. One of their aims is the propagation of the devotion to the Holy Face medal. Blessed Jon Paul II wrote, on occasion of the 50th Anniversary of their foundation; “Constant reference to the Holy
Holy Face Medal
Face of Christ has sustained the spirituality of those who, from the foundation of the congregation until today, have endeavored to make reparation for the offenses daily committed against the Lord: an endeavor translated, according to the invitation of St Benedict, into a daily life of prayer (“ora“) and the unceasing effort (“labora“) to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified. The Virgin Mary is the model chosen for the Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face by the Servant of God Abbot Hildebrand Gregori when he founded the congregation on the feast day of the Assumption”.