Sometimes you start thinking (or even writing) about something, and it suddenly becomes more complicated than you initially imagined. Ideas tumble; you hope not uncontrollably.
The Veil of Veronica is such a case for me.
As a convert to Catholicism – one whose growth in the faith has come in fits and starts over 43 years – I’ve been both attracted to and repelled by relics. I’ve a bit of the attitude, I suppose, of the Catholic humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (d. 1536), who wrote of fragments of the True Cross that “if all. . .were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.” Mind you, Erasmus believed in Christ and probably assumed some of the wooden shards encased in altars or displayed under glass in churches and cathedrals were authentic; he simply doubted that all of them were.
But I’m not a skeptic. For instance, I’ve come to believe the Shroud of Turin is exactly what it’s claimed to be. In the matter of the Veil of Veronica, however, I’m not so sure.
Who was this Veronica? Well, she is alleged to have been an early Christian woman, one among those along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. She knelt to press a towel or cloth (velum in Latin, thus our English word “veil”) to the face of our suffering Savior when He fell beneath the weight of the Cross.
Her name, however, is unlikely to have been Veronica, because that is a portmanteau word formed from the Latin vera, meaning truth, and the Greek eikon, meaning image, which is to say this woman was the bearer of the True Image, the Real Icon, the Veronica.