As Our Lord made His way up Calvary, a touching scene occurred with an unknown woman. She was powerless to stop the injustice and offered her veil as a sign of compassion. Our Lord gratefully accepted it to wipe His bruised and bloody face. The face of the Savior was miraculously stamped on her veil, and she came to be known simply as Veronica from vera (true) and icon (image). Her gesture inspired veneration for the Holy Face of Our Redeemer, which continued throughout the history of the Church.
Devotion to the Holy Face flourished during the turbulent nineteenth Century with the efforts of Leo Dupont. Saint Therese of Lisieux increased it yet more by adding this devotion to her religious name. It is more than fitting that we recall this important devotion on this 150th anniversary of the birth of the “Little Flower.”
The Holy Man of Tours
Leo Dupont was born into an aristocratic French family during the final years of the French Revolution. Due to the upheavals in his homeland, he was sent to America. He eventually returned and finished his law studies in Paris.
Although the bloodstained guillotines were now silent, a far greater threat remained. The errors promulgated by the French revolutionaries were eroding the faith of Catholic France and spreading throughout the world.
Surrounded by a spirit of irreligion, Leo gave himself up to numerous apostolic ventures. He distributed Saint Benedict medals by the thousands and was an active member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, where he gave his time and large sums of his money to support the less fortunate. He also promoted all-night vigils honoring Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and desired to spread this nocturnal adoration the world over. Saint Peter Julian Eymard so appreciated his efforts to promote night adoration that he visited Leo at his home.
One day Leo, later known as the Holy Man of Tours, was approached by Mother Mary of the Incarnation to ask him something that would change his life. She was the prioress of the Carmelite convent in Tours and was puzzled by the revelations of Our Lord to Sister Mary of Saint Peter and the Holy Family1, one of her young novices.
The Holy Face Devotion
Our Lord asked Sister Mary to found an association to make reparation for the sin of blasphemy.
The Savior revealed to Sister Mary how blasphemy was like a dagger, continually wounding His Divine Heart. “He told me that he would give me a ‘golden dagger,’ with which to wound Him delightfully and heal the poisonous wounds caused by sin.”
This marvelous Golden Arrow Prayer became central to the Holy Face Devotion, but one part of the prayer astonished the nun. It speaks of Our Lord’s Name glorified even “in hell.”
“He had the goodness to make me understand,” Sister Mary explained, “that His justice was also glorified there… and that ‘in hell’ included Purgatory, where He is loved and glorified by the suffering souls.”2 She saw torrents of graces streaming from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, delightfully wounded by this Golden Arrow.
“You cannot comprehend the malice of this sin,” the novice reported. She said Our Lord told her, “Were My Justice not restrained by My Mercy, it would instantly crush the guilty. All creatures, even those that are inanimate, would avenge My outraged Honor, but I have an eternity in which to punish them.”3
Earthly punishments were not long in coming. On August 26, 1843, the City of Tours was nearly destroyed when the Loire River left its banks, causing a flood that caused a generalized panic. Many people recognized this disaster as a punishment from God. Even non-practicing Catholics were forced to acknowledge that it was only through a miracle that the whole city did not perish.
The Revolutionary Process Continues
First among them was a new group called Communists, whom Our Lord designated as His worst enemies. Around this time, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx were putting the finishing touches on their Communist Manifesto. The work was commissioned by an international organization called the Communist League. At this time, this anti-clerical sect was active in the intellectual field. However, it soon put theory into practice, provoking worldwide bloodshed untold in history.
The appeal for an Association, properly approved by the Church for honoring the name of God and doing reparation for blasphemy, met with resistance as foretold by Our Lord. The obstacles became so overwhelming that Sister Mary had recourse to the Blessed Mother.
“O most Holy Virgin! I implore you to come to some pious soul in the world and make her a partaker of that which has been communicated to me in reference to France.”
Her prayers were answered. Two months later, news spread across France regarding an apparition of Our Lady in the alpine mountains of La Salette to two children, Melanie and Maximin. She appeared as a weeping Madonna who requested, among other things, penance for the “crime of blasphemy.”
It was the confirmation for which Sister Mary had prayed. Although her short life was coming to an end, she knew that Leo Dupont would continue to work to fulfill this mission.
Sister Mary died on July 8, 1848, confident that she had done everything requested of her. Six months later, the hatred of the “revolutionary men” mentioned by Our Lord was directed against Pope Pius IX. His trusted assistant, Count Pellegrino Rossi, was murdered by members of an anti-clerical secret society called the Carbonari. The following day, the Pope was besieged in his palace of the Quirinal and forced to accept revolutionary ministers. A week later, he escaped in disguise to Gaeta in the Kingdom of Naples.
In January 1849, at his retreat in Gaeta, Pius IX requested public prayers for the Papal States and had the relic of Veronica’s veil placed on display for veneration in Rome. Those in attendance were astonished on the third day of the exposition when the image on the veil, formally so faint as to be barely visible, changed entirely.
“The Divine Face now appeared distinctly, as if living, and was illuminated by a glowing light; the features assumed a deathlike hue, and the eyes, deep sunken, wore an expression of great pain.”5
An apostolic notary was immediately summoned, and a certificate was drawn up and sent to the Pope. Reproductions of the veil were later printed, touched to the original and sent abroad for veneration. One copy fell into the hands of Leo Dupont. Another reached the convent of Lisieux, where an anonymous nun named Therese was practicing her “little way.” She would later become one of the greatest saints in modern times and attributed her spiritual progress to contemplating the Face of her Divine Spouse.
Saint Therese of Lisieux will always be remembered as a devotee of the Divine Infant Jesus, but “however tender was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot compare to that which Sister Therese felt for the Holy Face.”6
Leo made a shrine with his representation of the Holy Face in his small apartment and kept an oil lamp burning in front of it. One day he received a visit from a lady who complained of an unknown sickness in her eyes which caused her constant pain. At his suggestion, they prayed together in front of the Holy Face. He then took some oil from the lamp and blessed her eyes with it. To her astonishment, she was immediately cured.
Word of this prodigy spread quickly, and throngs of people visited his shrine looking for similar healings. The cures were so numerous that Pope Pius IX declared Leo Dupont to be perhaps the greatest miracle worker in Church history. Leo eventually took a photo of his picture and had 25,000 lithograph copies made and distributed at his own expense. He also began filling bottles with the oil from his lamp and eventually distributed over one million vials of the miraculous liquid.7
The effort to approve the Work of Reparation reached a turning point one day when a Fr. Musy visited the Holy Man of Tours. The priest had completely lost his voice because of a throat infection. The local archbishop, Cardinal François Morlot, suggested he visit Leo. This just happened to be the same prelate who, five years earlier, had placed the writings of Sister Mary under lock and key. After reciting the Litany to the Holy Face composed by the holy nun, Leo anointed Fr. Musy’s throat with the oil. To the astonishment of everyone present, the priest’s speaking ability was immediately restored.
In November 1874, Archbishop Charles-Théodore Colet was installed as the new ordinary for Tours. He wasted no time opening the sealed archives with the revelations of Sister Mary. He read them all and was so edified that he had them sent to the Benedictine Fathers at the Abbey of Solesmes, where they were given the highest recommendations.8
In 1885, Pope Leo XIII endorsed this devotion by establishing an Archconfraternity of the Holy Face. In 1958, Pope Pius XII formally declared the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus as Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) for all Roman Catholics.
The Holy Man of Tours, now Venerable Leo Dupont, died in 1876 with his dream fulfilled. What he did not know was that Therese Martin, who was not yet two years old at the time, would carry on this devotion.
Reason for Saint Therese’s Devotion to the Holy Face
Besides Veronica’s veil, the only other imprinted picture of our Lord is His burial cloth, the Shroud of Turin. Both images are impressive because they depict Our Lord’s face as He wanted to be remembered. Whereas most people choose to look their best for the camera, our Lord left two representations of his Divine face that are very disfigured.
Saint Therese had such devotion to the Holy Face because of this distortion. It was the way in which her Divine Spouse chose to hide Himself.
“He whose kingdom is not of this world,” Saint Therese once said, “showed me that true wisdom consists in desiring to be unknown and counted as nothing. Ah! I desired that, like the face of Jesus, my face be truly hidden, that no one on earth would know me. I thirsted after suffering and I longed to be forgotten.” What a lesson for modern men who seek the limelight but are forgotten in death! Saint Therese chose the opposite path and is loved the world over.
Our Lord’s exemplary attitude also reminded her of her father’s final illness, Louis Martin, who suffered two strokes before her entrance into Carmel.
“Just as Jesus’ adorable Face was veiled during His Passion,” the saint said, “so too the face of his faithful servant had to be veiled during the days of suffering, in order later to shine forth in the Heavenly Homeland next to his Lord.” It was then that she changed her religious name and began to sign her letters “Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.”
The Need for Other St. Veronica’s
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is unparalleled in history for its brutality. Of all the ill-treatment heaped upon Our Lord, however, none was more injurious to His infinite dignity than that directed at His adorable Face. “If I have spoken the truth, why dost though strike me,” was His response to the buffet of a servant of the high priest. When slapped, He meekly turned the other cheek, and when His enemies went so far as to spit in His Face, he merely lowered His eyes. In such a way, He was wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins.9
This is a testimony to His enormous sacrifice for us. This treatment might have disfigured His Face and obscured its majesty, but it did not dampen the affection of His followers.
To love Our Lord in all of His splendor as upon Tabor is easy. It is quite another to love that same beauty veiled under the spittle, dust, sweat and blood during His Passion.
Catholics today are therefore faced with a situation like that of Veronica. While Our Lord’s enemies today cannot harm His person, they crucify Him again in His Mystical Body, the Church. This is especially true for those within the Sacred Hierarchy who, like Judas, deny or even outright promote the sinfulness of the LGBT lifestyle.
These insults, which have become public and notorious, demand public reparation. “Woe to those cities,” our Lord told Sister Mary, “that will not make this reparation.”10
If Veronica had stayed home and done nothing, she would have remained anonymous in the face of the most monstrous crime in history. By doing otherwise, she became the patron saint for those willing to face the multitudes in defense of Our Savior. With a simple and public act of generosity, a previously nameless, anonymous individual walked out of obscurity onto the stage of history and, like Saint Therese, will never be forgotten.
- Marie de Saint-Pierre et de la Sainte Famille
- M. L’Abbe Janvier, Life of Sister Mary St. Peter Carmelite of Tours (1884) P. 128.
- Dorothy Scanlon, The Holy Man of Tours, (Tan Books and Publishers, 1952)126
- Ibid., 131
- Testimony of Sister Agnes at the Canonization process of her sister, St. Therese.
- Scanlon, 176
- Ibid., 198
- Isaias: 53
- Dorothy Scanlon, The Golden Arrow (Tan Books and Publishers) 132