“Datum Avenioni” Avignon Papacy and the Custody of the Veronica

 Chiara Di Fruscia



Starting with Pope Innocent III and throughout the 15th century, Catholic popes have enriched the symbolism related to the Holy Face of Christ by associating themselves to the expression vicarius-Christi. Such a conception clearly entails all sorts of ideological and political implications, therefore, we cannot consider the Veronica as the image of Christ alone, but of the papal, religious and theocratic power altogether.

The way the Avignon popes used the veil with the Holy Face demonstrates the exact match between the figure of the pope and the veil itself. The presence of the image that best represents the pope compensates the absence of the Vicar of Christ from Rome.

Our sources consist mainly in letters and papal bulls authorizing, through the Vatican Chapter, several expositions of the Veronica in Rome. During the Avignon Papacy, the administration of this cult became a prerogative of the canons, who had already been in charge for over a century of keeping the Veronica’s altar and of everything that concerned its cult and veneration. During the 14th century, however, their tasks were enriched with importance and meaning, giving the direct dialogue the pope had with them, addressing exclusively to them the documents ordering the exposition of the relic.

Private ostensions of the relic, a habit born in the 12th century and perhaps the most interesting phenomenon related to the Veronica, became more widespread.

Throughout the 14th century in fact, popes granted private ostensions to men and women who had distinguished themselves for their various support for the papacy. Therefore, the view of the veil with the Holy Face of Jesus was a kind of reward, and it remarked the extremely high value it held for the pope and for all of Christianity.

The European Fortune of the Roman Veronica ​in the Middle Ages