Did A Woman Wipe Jesus Christ’s Face Before He Died?


Some depictions of the crucifixion, like Mel Gibson’s well-known movie, The Passion of the Christ, include a scene of a woman wiping sweat from the face of Jesus Christ. Various pieces of art in Catholicism, like statues and paintings, also depict a woman making the same gesture. Does the Bible contain this scene?

Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John mention a woman wiping the face of Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion or at any other time in his life. Other New Testament writers like Paul, John, and Peter don’t mention the story either. A legend in the Catholic Church identifies the woman as Veronica.

When did Veronica first appear in the writings of the Catholic Church? Why do artists depict Veronica holding a cloth with Jesus’ face on it? Did the Catholic Church say they had the cloth at one point? Is Veronica a part of the Stations of the Cross in Catholicism? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Saint Veronica statue
Is the first document that mentions Veronica reliable? See below

When does Veronica appear in the writing of the Catholic Church?

To be clear, there is no one named Veronica mentioned in the Old or New Testaments, in the original languages, or when changed to conform to another language like Latin.

What document first mentions Victoria? Historians believe that Veronica first appeared in a document called The Gospel of Nicodemus, also called The Acts of Pilate, which, despite its biblical name, was written 400 to 500 years after the New Testament. The document has no connection to the Nicodemus who is mentioned in the Gospels.

What does the Catholic Encyclopedia say about the document? “The title ‘Gospel of Nicodemus’ is of medieval origin. The apocryphon gained wide credit in the Middle Ages, and has considerably affected the legends of our Saviour’s Passion… The Latin versions were naturally its most current form and were printed several times in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” [1]

Did the authors expect readers to take the document seriously? The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that they probably didn’t. “The book aimed at gratifying the desire for extra-evangelical details concerning Our Lord… the writers (for the work we have is a composite) could not have expected their production to be seriously accepted by unbelievers.” [2]

Veronica with a cloth
Who gave Veronica the portrait according to the legend? See below

Why do artists depict Veronica holding a cloth with Jesus’ face on it?

An image that dates to the Middle Ages shows a woman who is supposed to be Veronica holding a cloth with the face of Jesus Christ on it. There is no biblical basis for the depicted woman, the cloth, or the image of a face on it.

The image of Veronica with a cloth with Jesus’ face on it originated in the 11th century, approximately 1,000 years after the New Testament.

The story behind it alleged that Jesus gave Veronica the cloth that had his portrait on it. It’s unclear from the legend when this occurred. Yet the story adds that the cloth cured the Roman Emperor Tiberius of a health ailment.

The legend of Veronica expanded again in the 1800s. A Carmelite nun named Marie of St. Peter, who lived in Tours, France, claimed that in a vision, she saw Veronica wiping spit and mud away from the face of Jesus. She supposedly used her veil to clean Jesus’ face as he walked to the place of his execution with a cross on his back.

In the vision, Marie says that Jesus himself told her that he wanted devotion to his holy face. “The Holy Face of Jesus” is a title for certain images that some Catholics believe accurately represent the real face of Jesus Christ. The Shroud of Turin is the best-known example. The depiction of Jesus’ face on Veronica’s cloth, as depicted in Catholic art is another.

Veronica
How many Stations of the Cross have a biblical basis? See below

Did the Catholic Church say they had the cloth at one point?

For a time, the Catholic Church claimed it had the original cloth that Veronica used to wipe Jesus’ face. It was put on display for people to see. In 1436, a Spanish traveler mentioned seeing it:

“On the right hand is a pillar as high as a small tower, and in it is the holy Veronica. When it is to be exhibited an opening is made in the roof of the church and a wooden chest or cradle is let down, in which are two clerics, and when they have descended, the chest or cradle is drawn up, and they, with the greatest reverence, take out the Veronica and show it to the people, who make concourse there upon the appointed day.”

Some historians believe the cloth was destroyed when Rome was conquered in the 1500s. Others believe, with proof, that the cloth is stored at the Vatican.

Veronica is the Stations of the Cross

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus takes up his Cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments (sometimes called the “Division of Robes”)
  11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, eight have a clear biblical basis. Station 4 appears out of order from scripture; Jesus’ mother is present at the crucifixion, but is only mentioned after Jesus is nailed to the cross and before he dies (between stations 11 and 12).

As stated above, the New Testament contains no accounts of any woman wiping Jesus’ face. It also doesn’t mention Jesus falling as stated in Stations 3, 6, 7, and 9.

Station 13 — Jesus’ body being taken down off the cross and laid in the arms of his mother Mary — differs from the gospels’ record, which states that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus down from the cross and buried him.

References:
[1] Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Acta Pilati

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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