Revista Studii Teologice


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"Τὸ ἅγιον μανδήλιον: istoria unei tradiţii"

ΤΟ ΑΓΙΟΝ ΜΑΝΔΗΛΙΟΝ: The History of a Tradition


Summary: ΤΟ ΑΓΙΟΝ ΜΑΝΔΗΛΙΟΝ: The History of a Tradition
Starting from a short historical and theological presentation of the icons ’not made by a human hand’, the present study aims at showing the phases that forged the tradition of the Holy Mandylion of our Lord in Edessa. It reconstitutes the main moments of its history that were certified with documentary evidence (its transfer to Constantinople in 944, event liturgically celebrated in the Orthodox Church on the 16th of August; the period when it was placed with the treasure of the Pharos imperial chapel, followed by its disappearance in 1204, when the Byzantine capital-city was occupied by the knights of the IVth Crusade), as well as the echoes left by the Holy Mandylion in the orthodox iconography until the XIVth century. On a secondary basis, Western traditions about Veronica and their interference with the history of Abgar will be briefly analysed. In the end, we will focus on the profound reception of the Holy Mandylion from a theological point of view in the Byzantine tradition, by presenting a splendid ’Didascalia’ delivered by Constantin Stilbes in the last years of the XIIth century about the Holy Mandylion and the Holy Keramion, now rendered for the first time in a Romanian version.
In spite of the disconcerting complexity of the versions referring to the origin of the Holy Mandylion of our Lord, one can notice the fact that they develop around two main aspects: the history of Abgar, in the East, and the history of Veronica, in the West. We consider it useful to unveil in parallel the key moments of their crystallization, in order to show the syncrony and the interferences that have been established between them.
Both traditions appear undoubtedly before the IVth century in the Syro-Palestinian Aramaic-speaking area and are mentioned for the first time by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History (300-320): the correspondence between Abgar and Christ the Saviour, as well as His statue set up in Paneas by the woman healed of bloodflow. Around the year 400, The Doctrine of Addai mentions our Lord’s portrait painted by Anania, Abgar's painter and messenger, whereas Acta Pilati attributes to the woman with the flow of blood the name Berenice (Veronica, in Latin). In the Vth century we can see an interference between the two traditions: if Moses of Chorene asserts that the icon of Edessa was taken to Jerusalem by Abgar’s widow, Macarios of Magnesia identifies Berenice with the queen of Edessa. At the end of the VIth century, the Icon of Edessa appears for the first time as considered „not made by a human hand” in the Ecclesiastical History by Evagrius Scholasticus. In the VIIth century some New-Testament apocrypha take shape and according to them, Christ miraculously imprinted His face on a piece of cloth that he eventually sent to Abgar (The Acts of Mari and The Acts of Thaddeus) or entrusted to Veronica (Mors Pilati). During the iconoclastic crisis (726-843), the Mandylion of Edessa is called as a strong argument in favour of the cult of the icons by the iconodule apologists in Christian East and West. In the Xth-XIth centuries, three important translatio take place in the Byzantine world (944, 967/8, 1032); as a result, the three precious relics (The Mandylion, the Keramion and the Epistle of Jesus) are brought to Constantinople, events that lead to the systematization of the versions of Abgar’s history. This is how Narratio de imagine edessena (945) and Epistola Abgari (XIth century) appear. These texts mention the imprinting of Christ’s face on the Mandylion, but also its miraculous appearance on two bricks (Hierapolis and Edessa). If betwen 944-1204 the presence of the Mandylion of Edessa in Constantinople is strongly certified by Byzantine sources and by descriptions made by foreign pilgrims, the presence of Veronica’s Sudarium in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome is confirmed for the first time only in the middle of the XIIth century. When the Mandylion of Edessa disappears from the Byzantine capital-city during the Latin domination (1204-1261), the cult of Veronica spreads a lot in the West, especially due to the actions taken by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). The Roman Mandylion gets more and more related to the Passion of Christ (Ghetsimani, 1160-Golgotha, 1300) and even one of its instruments (arma Christi).
By comparing the two main traditions, of Abgar and of Veronica, in the light of the written sources, we can mention, in spite of their complex development, several common constant aspects: 1. The Holy Mandylion is not an ordinary icon, it is an acheiropoieton; 2. The face of our Lord imprinted miraculously on a cloth, as it is the case of other acheiropoietai images of the Lord in the East (Camuliana and Memphis) or in the West (Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin); 3. The Holy Mandylion is also a relic, as it touches directly Lord’s body; 4. The Holy Mandylion has special healing properties – it can heal not only those who touch it, but also those who see it; 5. Jesus imprints His face on a Mandylion in the context of the Passion (Palm Sunday-Holy Wednesday-Ghetsimani-Golgotha), wiping away the water-’a sweat like drops of blood’- a blood.
The similarities between the two traditions become obvious if we compare the iconographic representations of the Byzantine Mandylion and those of Veronica’s Sudarium, as well as their well-known copies, considered as authentic acheiropoietai images: Mandylions in Genoa, Vatican or Tbilisi, the Veil of Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin. If in the case of the last mentioned ones we can notice as common characteristics thr dark colours, the graphic character of the painting, frontality, symmetry and most of all face framing, in the case of the iconographic types of the Mandylion and of Veronica’s Sudarium, we practically deal with „the icon of an icon”: on the wall or wood surface we can see Christ’s head painted on a the background of a white cloth, framed by the aureola and sometimes sustained by angels or Abgar (Thaddeus or Anania, the messenger), or by Veronica, respectively.
As a conclusion, we can assert that, even if the „historical” orgins of the Holy Mandylion are difficult to specify, an Icon-relic certainly exists and it inspired numerous faithful copies, iconographic types that are similar in Christian East and West, as well as a relatively integrated tradition, in spite of the diversity of versions that present it, trying to explain the origin of this ’mark’ of Christ’s human face, epiphany and undeniable evidence of His embodiment.

Pagini: pp. 109-186