St. Veronica: Evolution Of A Sacred Legend -- By: Andrea Lorenzo Molinari

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 28:2 (Spring 2014)
Article: St. Veronica: Evolution Of A Sacred Legend
Author: Andrea Lorenzo Molinari


St. Veronica: Evolution Of A Sacred Legend

Andrea Lorenzo Molinari

Andrea Lorenzo Molinari (PhD, Marquette University) has taught for more than twelve years at Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) and Barry University (Miami, Florida). He is author of four books, most recently Romans and Christians A.D. 64, and is preparing to publish his fifth. His most recent projects include audio courses on the apocryphal acts of the apostles and martyrdom and persecution in the early church.

When I was a child, the Stations of the Cross were a big part of my experiences of Holy Week at my home parish. I am a very visual person, so I remember well the stations that were on display. They were carved from a light-colored wood and rendered in a very realistic and striking style.

Of these stations, one in particular always stood out to me, the sixth station: Veronica Wipes Jesus’s Face. Even as a child, I was deeply moved by Veronica’s compassion for the Lord. Her simple yet profound act of mercy in his greatest moment of need had an unforgettable quality to it. Little did I know that the Veronica legend was so convoluted from a literary point of view and that it extended so profoundly into art, theology, and spiritual devotion.1

Earliest References

First things first:2 Veronica’s real name is Bernice or Beronikē in Greek, meaning “bearer of victory.” In addition to the Greek interpretation of the name, there is ancient speculation such as that of Gerald of Wales or Giraldus Cambrensis (ca. 1146-1223), an archdeacon of Brecon (1175-1203) and medieval historian, in his Speculum ecclesiae (“Mirror of the church”; written ca. 1219), that claims that the name Veronica actually derives from the Latin vera (true) icon (image).3 Literally, in this way of thinking, the woman was named for the object she venerated, i.e., the image of Christ’s face. However, it is highly unlikely that this is true. Alvin Earle Ford, who is extremely conversant with the various incarnations of the Veronica legends, states that such an explanation “likely represents nothing more than an example of post-factum folk-etymologizing.” Ford prefers to believe that any one of the various Greek versions of her name could have been Latinized into Veronica without any reference to her ownership of the sacred image.4

However one interprets her name, her first literary appearance is quite late, in a gospel-like text called the Acts of Pilate (a.k.a. the Gospel of Nicodemus)You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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