‘Veronica’ images in England c.1240-c.1280

Nigel Morgan

(University of Cambridge)


It has long been well-known that Matthew Paris, Benedictine monk of St Albans and chronicler, made two drawings of what he considered to be the image of the Veronica Head of Christ (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 16 and 26). One of these is accompanied by prayers. The earliest date for Matthew’s images is c. 1240. Subsequent to his two drawings there were seven other ‘Veronica’ images made in England c. 1240-80 (+ another planned but never drawn), most with accompanying prayers, but compared with those by Matthew Paris they have been little discussed. The images by Matthew can only be seen properly in context against the evidence of these other versions of the image.

  1. London, BL Arundel 157 – an addition made c. 1240-50 to an early thirteenth-century English Psalter associated with the Augustinian canons of Oxford – this painted drawing has wrongly been attributed to Matthew Paris by several writers – both stylistically and in iconography it differs from the two drawings by him
  2. London, BL Royal 2.A.XXII – part of a series of drawings added c. 1250 to a c. 1200 Psalter made for the Benedictines of Westminster – as the Psalter was still at the Abbey later in the Middle Ages it is to be assumed it was there when the ‘Veronica Head’ with its accompanying prayers was added c.1250 – also mistakenly attributed by some to Matthew
  3. London, BL Add. 44784 – on the verso of the miniature of the Crucifixion before the psalms, accompanied by prayers, in a Psalter made c. 1250-60 for the Benedictines of Evesham, but probably not at Evesham itself – perhaps made at Worcester
  4. London, Lambeth Palace 209 – part of a set of devotional pictures at the end of an illustrated Apocalypse made for Eleanor de Quincy, Countess of Winchester c. 1260-70 is the Veronica image accompanied by prayers – there is no convincing evidence for its place of production, but London is possible
  5. Lisbon, Museu Gulbenkian L.A.139 in a narrative context in one of the commentary illustrations of an Apocalypse of c. 1270 – the Apocalypse illustrations are closely related to those of the Lambeth Apocalypse, but as for Lambeth where this book was made is uncertain, but London is possible
  6. Paris, Bibl. Arsenal 135 – a c. 1270-80 Sarum/London Missal has a drawing of the ‘Veronica’ head at the end of the Ordinary of the Mass – probably made in London
  7. London, Lambeth Palace 368 of c. 1270-80 – a Psalter made for the Benedictines of Norwich. The Holy Face is set before Psalm 109 – probably made in Norwich

There is also one additional example of c. 1280 intended by leaving a blank space before the accompanying prayers, but never drawn, in a Psalter for the Augustinian canons of Guisborough (Oxford, Bodleian Laud lat. 5).

The nine images made in England c. 1240-80 represent the ‘Veronica’ head in several slightly different ways, but with many features in common. None seem to be direct copies of Matthew Paris’s c. 1240 images, although some are close in significant features. How these images originated in England and how they developed in these forty years is the subject of this paper, and also the variants in the accompanying prayers. It will be tentatively suggested that somehow knowledge of the appearance of some acheropoietic images of Christ in Rome was current in England, although not necessarily of the Veronica image itself. Other images like the Christ head of the Sancta Sanctorum image in the Lateran seem to have been influential.

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