He wrote a letter to Jesus (or did he?)

Having introduced Hovak Najarian I share his first post as an author. For those who pray the “Way of the Cross” also known as the “Stations of the Cross” the legend/tradition presented here is preserved in Station 6: “A woman wipes the face of Jesus.” Growing up Roman Catholic I KNEW the name of this woman: Veronica. But did I know the truth? Decide for yourself. Leave a comment. ~dan rondeau

Image of a face from the Shroud of Turin
The image of a face from the Shroud of Turin

King Abgar V of Edessa 

In the early part of the first century AD, a time when the Romans and the Parthians were dominant powers in Asia Minor and the Near East, Abgar V, a nephew to Tigranes the Great, was the king of Armenia.  In order to stay out of the way of both major powers, he moved his court to the Mesopotamian city of Edessa where he could remain on good terms with both nations.  Edessa prospered during this time but while Abgar was away on a trip to settle a dispute between the Armenians and Persians, he became ill.  He remained ill after he returned home.  Having heard reports of Jesus’ miracles of healing, he decided to invite him to Edessa.

The legend:

King Abgar sent his archivist and court painter, Hannan, with a letter asking Jesus to come to Edessa to heal his illness.  Hannan also was asked to paint a portrait of Jesus in order that Abgar could see his image.  A return letter from Jesus stated he was unable to come to Edessa but later would send one of his disciples.  Hannan made a portrait and returned to Edessa with the letter and painting.  In his Historia Ecclesiastica (AD 325), Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote of the correspondence between Abgar and Jesus and included a text of the two letters.  There may have been letters exchanged but both letters published by Bishop Eusebius have been proven to be fabrications.  A painted image of Jesus (known as The Holy Face) is of questionable origin as well.  Several early icons depicting the face of Jesus are known but there is no evidence to confirm that any of them were painted from life or if one of them was painted by Hannan.  A few centuries later it was said Jesus produced The Holy Face himself by pressing a wet cloth to his face and causing the image to appear miraculously.

After the death of Jesus, his disciple, Thaddeus, came to Edessa and gave Abgar a cloth on which there was an image of Jesus (known as the Image of Edessa) – as a result of the visit and the power of the cloth, according to the legend, Abgar was converted and healed.  The cloth was folded in such a manner that only the face could be seen.  In 942 AD, under the threat of being overrun, the Image of Edessa was turned over to the Byzantines as part of a bargain to maintain peace.  When it was taken to Byzantium (later called Constantinople and now Istanbul) and unfolded, the full figure of a man was revealed.  It is believed this is the cloth that now is known as the Shroud of Turin (a linen cloth with an unexplained imprinted image of a man who had been crucified).  It has been suggested this may have been the actual cloth placed on Jesus at the time of his burial.

Inasmuch as the cloth remained folded for many years and only the face was seen, it is speculated the legend of Veronica’s veil also is based on this shroud.  According to a story that has no scriptural bases, a woman used her veil to wipe the sweat off Jesus’ face while he was carrying his cross to Golgotha.  Afterward, a miraculous image of his face appeared on the cloth.  Church fathers accepted this story as fact and gave this mythical woman the name Veronica; a name derived from vera icon (Latin for true image).  The story has become part of Roman Catholic Church legend.

In ancient times it was not unusual for myths, legends, and partial facts to be blended, modified and embellished; later they would be recounted as “tradition” or even reported as fact.  If a tradition were of a religious nature, often it would be incorporated into church worship services and festival days.

The current status of these legends:

The Armenian Apostolic Church:

In the Armenian Church, Abgar is regarded to be a saint and his story continues to be told as tradition.  The Church calendar honors “St. Abgar” in a worship service in December of every year and the name Abgar continues as an Armenian given name.   It also is the root of the surname Abgarian (also spelled Abkarian, or Abcarian); from the family of Abgar.

The Roman Catholic Church:

Despite an absence of Biblical reference or historical evidence that a person given the name Veronica ever existed, canonization took place and now “St. Veronica” is celebrated on special church festival days.  The whereabouts of the veil is obscure; it is said to be in the Vatican archives but other locations have been suggested.   A great number of churches and schools are named in honor of Veronica and it is a popular given name.

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin underwent radiocarbon testing in 1988 and the result of the test indicated the cloth was made during the Middle Ages approximately 1300 years after the death of Jesus.  Unanswered questions remain, however, and the test result neither satisfied nor was accepted by people who believe the Shroud is, in fact, the actual cloth used to cover the body of Jesus.  The tested portion, they believe, was from a section that was a restoration and not part of the original cloth.  It has not been tested again.

Hovak Najarian © 2008

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