A Woman Wipes the Face of Jesus

By tradition and a handy little play on words, her name is Veronica, meaning true (vera) image (icon).  Like Simon of Cyrene, she’s a stranger to the narrative of Jesus’s life and teachings, although she might have been one of the women who followed him around.  But she only steps into the story as a distinct actor in this moment, when she wipes his face with a cloth as he trudges to the cross.  She is known to us for this single action in what I imagine must have been an otherwise very full life.  Did she fall in love, have children, find her way to purpose in a thousand small ways, like the rest of us do?  I hope so.  Her legend didn’t really develop until the 14th c., so there aren’t any stories of her going and evangelizing in some far off corner of the world, although she is credited with using the cloth that she wiped Jesus’s face with to cure the Emperor Tiberius.  Since Tiberius was a miserably cruel and misanthropic man, I’m left wondering whether this was a good thing.

When the dust clears, what we see is a woman holding a veil, and that’s about it.  The dirt and grime of Jesus’s face is imprinted on the veil.  I’m tempted here to write something pithy about the veils that we all wear, the way we struggle to show our true selves to other people.  But really I just want to sit with the image of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus – the sense of having come into contact with something strange and mysterious and terrible, the fear and wonder, the knowledge that she has had the courage to show her love, the awareness that doing so is a very small thing, but also so profound that people will ponder it for ages to come.

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