The Roman Veronica and the Holy Face of Lucca: parallelisms and tangencies in the formation of both traditions

Raffaele Savigni

(Università di Bologna)


There are various points of contact between the cult of the Holy Face of Lucca (which is documented from the end of the 11th century but only becomes a consolidated tradition in the early 1200s) and that of the Veronica. Although the former is a wooden statue (despite being defined vultus), Gervase of Tilbury puts them on equal terms in his Otia imperialia.

Prior to the publicaton of a critical edition of the Leobinian legend, Michele C. Ferrari has formulated various hypotheses regarding its formation in two distinct editions from the 12th century, with the later addition of the Miracles. In this Appendix, the narration of the making of the Holy Face by Nicodemus is included, who supposedly sculpted the Face of Christ on the basis of an image left by his body on the veil (velamen) he had been covered with. On the strength of various clues, particularly a list of the altars in St Martin’s Cathedral, which distinguishes between the altar ante vultum and that ante crucem veterem, Chiara Frugoni has hypothesized that in Lucca there was a painted image similar to the Veronica at the same time as a Crucifix.

Codex 490 from the Chapter Library in Lucca contains the text of Cura sanitatis Tiberii. Romano Silva has underlined the symmetry between the location of the Holy Face in Lucca Cathedral and that of the Veronica in St Peter’s, both on the right of the entrance; and Emperor  Charles IV from Bohemia, who freed citizens of Lucca from the domination of Pisa in 1369, appreciated both cults, and promoted their spread in Prague.

This paper presents an interpretation of these clues in an attempt to reconstruct the spread of apochryphal traditions regarding the civic value attributed to the two cults, and analyzes, as far as possible, the traces documented of pilgrimages to Rome by citizens of Lucca.

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