Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Holy Face in Lucca

There's a long tradition in Catholic popular piety of venerating statues, often of mysterious origin, that have come to be associated with miracles. Our Lady of Charity, said to be better known in Cuba than Jesus Himself, and the Infant of Prague both date back to the early 17th Century.

The Volto Santo -- Holy Face -- is even older, though not as old as once believed. The statue, housed in a chapel inside the Cathedral of St. Martin in Lucca, Italy, has been a popular destination of European pilgrims since the Middle Ages. The photo above shows the Cathedral, which we visited last month. Photos of the statue by ordinary visitors are, understandably, forbidden.

The Legend of the Volto Santo is long and complicated, but begins with the belief that it was carved by Nicodemus, the Pharisee-disciple of the Lord. Or at least the body was, with the dark Holy Face completed by divine intervention. Art historians today believe the hollow statue, which might have been intended to be a reliquary, was created sometime between the late 11th and early 12th centuries.

Many non-Catholic Christians, particularly in the non-liturgical denominations, tend to see veneration of statues as idolotrous or nearly so. But on the day we visited there was a long line in front of the little chapel that has housed the statue for centuries. To me it's perfectly understandable that as embodied human beings we long to have a physical representation of the divine.

After all, that's why God became one of us.

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