I had never known about the Volto Santo (Holy Face) of Manoppello before a three month sabbatical to Italy a few years ago. From Rome, the shrine housing the relic is a long train ride down the Adriatic coast and then a bus ride to the top of the mountain. This is how the Franciscans introduce visitors to the Holy Face.
The Sanctuary of the Holy Face is looked after by the Capuchin Friars of the Tarigni Hill at Manoppello in Abruzzo, Italy. Carefully protected there, is a unique relic which reproduces the face of Jesus Christ on a delicate fabric. Paced between two glass plates, is a flimsy veil, almost non-existent, as if it were pure fantasy, showing a face with high forehead and a penetrating, life, sweet gaze.
The half-open mouth reveals some teeth, giving the impression of a person wanting to speak. His left cheek is swollen. A lock of hair rests on the forehead. On the upper lip some hairs can be seen as well as a slight beard on His chin. A small amount of hair in the style of a man from Nazareth, frames the face. This is not a face painted by a human hand, rather it is transparent and visible both in front and behind like a slide.
The density of color is very strong but it is not of color used in painting. The cloth has been preserved intact without any modifications despite the passing of centuries. Scholars have agreed in affirming that the Holy Face is the original Acheropita (image not made by human hands) that for centuries has influenced the images of Christ in which the features are similar. The image of the Holy Face is said to coincide with the face of the Shroud of Turin at 1000 points. Thus is has been proposed that the image is of Jesus Christ in the very moment of His Resurrection - when his soul returned to his human body.
And here is Saint John's Gospel account of Easter Morning and the discovery of the empty tomb and the linen cloths. Many believe that the Holy Face is the cloth which had covered the face of Jesus and was found rolled up in a place by itself. I have made two pilgrimages to Manoppello and spent many hours before the relic. The image is so alive, it seems to change with each glance.
Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Pet and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where thy have laid him." Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. John 20: 1-7
The image of the Holy Face is described as having a somewhat opened mouth as if wanting to speak. We might make that feature a point of prayerful meditation: approaching the imprinted cloth in silence and allowing Jesus to speak to each of us personally.
Let's remember to pray there for our world filled with suffering.