(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Veronica, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
A certain degree of legend surrounds the lives not only of our saints but of men and women of history as well, primarily because of those who, in an effort to glorify their heroes and heroines, have damaged them instead by creating legends that cloud the actual facts and place even the bare truth under suspicion. The separation of myth from fact compounds the dilemma because where one aspect is called fact the other is called myth, the result of which is a generally discouraged reader, the wisest of whom will simply accept the basic facts and let the rest take care of themselves. Such is the case with St. Veronica, about whom the basic facts are determined from biblical accounts, and the legendary accounts are an embellishment on a person who lived during the lifetime of Jesus Christ and was privileged to touch the face of the Son of God.
St. Veronica is identified with a hemorrhaging woman in the New Testament passage which reads: “And behold, a woman which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years came behind Him and touched the hem ofHis garment, for she said within herself, ‘If I may touch His garment I shall be made whole.’ But Jesus...when He saw her said, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole’” (Ma . 19:20). It is known from the Gospel that Veronica was not only a real person but one who was ailing and who was but one of many healed by the Savior. Thereafter, she is said to have had a statue of Christ, arms extended to comfort the world, erected and placed in front of her home as a token of her gratitude and reverence.
St. Veronica, whose name is a compound of the two words “Vera” and “Icon” which means true image, has origins none too distinct. The Western Church has suggested that she was originally known as Martha, the sister of Lazarus, but the Eastern Church disputes this and, in fact, she is referred to by some Eastern theologians as having originally been named Berenike. This welter of names and origins has in no way detracted from her image as a pious woman of God who has come down to us as Veronica, who by any name would have been ennobled by her close association with Jesus Christ.
On the first Good Friday, St. Veronica was the woman who stepped out of the crowd and wiped the perspiring face of Christ as He struggled to carry the cross on the road to Calvary. The cloth she used miraculously retained an imprint of the countenance of the suffering Messiah, an incident which gave rise to the legends which surround what has been called Veronica’s veil and which has been the subject of many moving tales.
This incident also produced thereafter a number of veils, all of which reverent Christians came to look upon as genuine, not daring to deny any of them for fear they might be denying the actual veil of Veronica.
The actual veil is now the precious property of the Roman Catholic Church, placed in a hallowed corner of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where it is put on display the second Sunday a er Epiphany, the four days of Holy Week, Easter Sunday, the Monday after Easter, Monday of Pentecost, February 22, May 3 and November 18 of each year, as well as on other special occasions. The rest of the year it is carefully guarded against deterioration or vandalism, which is not beyond the realm of possibility when it is remembered that a hammer-swinging madman damaged the glorious Pietà of Michelangelo and would have ruined this priceless treasure had it not been for quick restraint by the guards.
St. Veronica married a Christian convert named Zacchaios who joined her in all of her religious efforts, which were considerable and included missionary work, during which time she held tight to her precious veil. She was called to the side of the ailing Emperor Tiberius, whose physicians had given up hope. At the mere sight of the veil which Veronica held forth, he was cured of his malady.
Together with her converted husband, Veronica undertook to carry the message of Christ to remote areas, concentrating on what is now the south of France. At about this point in the history of the Church, Veronica drops out of sight and nothing is known about her final days, although several versions are offered in legendary accounts.