I was brought up Catholic and as a tiny tot was schooled by nuns at the Ursuline Convent. They were a pretty nice bunch of women; although Sister St Jude had a reputation for being a bit of a cow.
Truth be told, if I was condemned to spend 5 days-a-week in front of 4-year olds for the rest of my life, then Sister St Paul (the drag nun) would be a hell of a lot worse than poor Sister St Jude ever was.
On the first day I’d storm in with a face like dip, and ‘hate’ and ‘hate’ etched in felt-tip pen on the knuckles of each hand, then proceed to rip a telephone book in half. (Apparently it’s quite easy: you soak it; bake it in the oven… and remember to break the spine beforehand.) ‘One peep outta you little bleeders….’ I’d roar, promptly sending the little cherubs into a cataleptic shock so profound they’d be lucky to see Christmas.
The other thing I remember was a picture that looked like a black and white photograph. It was a piece of cloth with Jesus’ face so convincingly rendered I thought that was photographed too. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a picture of the Veil of St Veronica – known as ‘the Veronica’.
The story goes… When Jesus was on his way to the crucifixion he passed a bunch of weeping women and said to them…
‘Don’t cry for me… Argentina!’
Sorry wrong musical.
And said to them… ‘Don’t weep for me women of Jerusalem, but for yourselves.’
No… it’s no good. I prefer… ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’. It’s got a better ring to it.
In a legendary incident that became so famous it is commemorated throughout Christendom in the 6th Station of the Cross during Easter Holy Week, one of the women compassionately gave Jesus her veil to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. It was found he had left his likeness on the cloth… much like the Turin Shroud… (Oooh… I sense a blog post coming on!).
This image is called ‘The Veronica’ – apparently a corruption of the words ‘Vera’ and ‘Icon’ meaning ‘True Image’. Legend has it that the woman’s name was actually Veronica. But to be honest if her name was Veronica, and if she got ‘The Veronica’ on her veil, then that would be more than a coincidence… it would be a bloody miracle!
Today there are around half a dozen images, which claim to be, or possibly could be, ‘The Veronica’; although not one can be verified historically to the time of Christ. Bishop Eusebius who wrote the first history of the church in the 300s does not mention the legend and it isn’t until the 1100s the story starts to become popular.
A lot of doubt and uncertainty surrounds all the holy relics attributed to Jesus. Even in Medieval times, churchmen complained there were at least 30 holy nails used in the crucifixion, and enough splinters of the true cross to build a scale model of the Roman Empire out of matchsticks; never mind Jerusalem.
There is the whipping post Jesus was tied to, and his crown of thorns; his shroud and at least five versions of the spear used to pierce his side; plus variety of Holy Grails on offer. There is even the bread knife used in the last supper, his swaddling clothes from the manger and the Holy Prepuce (Jesus’ foreskin), as well as the piece of umbilical cord that fell off his belly button.
I think my favourite has to be the skull of John the Baptist shown with great pride to a medieval traveller. When the traveller pointed out it was small enough to be a child’s head, and in fact he had already seen another skull of John the Baptist in a rival monastery, the custodian pointed out, somewhat curtly, that this holy relic was… the skull of John the Baptist aged 11!
Oooh, ooooh, ooooh (he exclaims excitedly)…. I’ve just done a word count and except for this bit, the number of words in the main article is 666. It’s a pity it wasn’t about the Book of Revelation! It makes you almost believe in….
Well… take your pick!
How about the Holy Prepuce?
That sounds like a winner!