(University of Reading)
This paper will examine the cult of the sudarium known as Veronica’s Veil which was created in 1208 by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), became an important focus of pilgrimage to Rome during the thirteenth century and for the Jubilee Year of 1300, and was to continue as an inspirational source of lay piety in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The long term impact of Innocent III’s enthusiasm for Veronica’s Veil was not only to propagate the idea of a true image of the Holy Face to an age peculiarly receptive to devotional images, but was to inspire the spread of the cult of Corpus Domini. The paper will examine recent historiography which has argued either that Innocent III’s propagation of the cult was a public relations stunt aimed to enhance the status of Rome, the papacy and his pontificate, or part of a religious programme of reform and renewal to emphasise the Eucharist at the centre of Catholic life, as manifested in Constitution One of the Fourth Lateran Council which in 1215 formally proclaimed the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. This paper will argue that the cult of Veronica’s Veil was not only an exercise in public relations to foster the growth of papal power, nor a mere symbol of the religious climate of an age which saw the formalisation of sacramental theology. Rather, it should also be understood in the light of Innocent III’s particular and personal devotion to the Eucharist manifested through both his public preaching and private prayers and his complex character which saw no dichotomy between the political and the devotional. Hence the phenomenon of Veronica’s Veil tells us not only much about the nature of medieval piety but gives us an iconic insight into one of the most formidable and complex popes of the High Middle Ages.