In Search of the Face of Christ

Saturday Book Pick: Gripping tale pursues the true image of Jesus, in the Holy Land and around the Mediterranean.


The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus

By Paul Badde

Ignatius, 2010

378 pages, $23.95

To order:

(800) 651-1531

For century upon century, artists have been trying to depict what Jesus might have looked like. Can we get an idea from the Shroud of Turin? Does a true image of the resurrected Jesus exist elsewhere?

That last question is the subject of a page-turning book in the best of investigative religious journalism. In fact, noted German journalist Paul Badde’s book, The Face of God reads like a thriller.

While Badde explores the Treasury in St. Peter’s in Rome and even searches in Spain for clues to Jesus’ physical appearance, he focuses the book on the veil of the Volto Santo in the Sanctuary of the Holy Face, a Capuchin church in the small town of Manoppello, which is in the Abruzzis overlooking the Adriatic coast.

There he finds, in a silver frame, a 6.7-inch x 9.5-inch image on a mussel silk veil that portrays Jesus’ peaceful face. His eyes are open, looking out. Professors from Bari and Padua Universities have discovered no trace of pigmentation on the cloth.

A novelist couldn’t make up the colorful expert witnesses Badde comes to know there and in Rome. Among the people we meet is a Trappistine nun who has devoted her life to examining and proving that the Volto Santo in Manoppello is the true image of Jesus and a Jesuit professor at the Gregorian University, a leading expert on the Shroud of Turin, who believes the same of the Manoppello image. In fact, the nun in her work has superimposed the images of the shroud and the Volto Santo, trying to show they are one and the same.

Badde comes to believes as they do. He also meets people like the last byssus (mussel silk), weaver in the Mediterranean area. Mussel silk is an extremely rare, ancient, precious material; it’s not possible to paint or write on it. Does this foremost authority-weaver prove that the Volto Santo, the Holy Face, appears on this material?

The author’s meticulous research through Church history and art takes us back 2,000 years, from the Gospels themselves to well-known centuries-old sources. He doesn’t shy away from controversy or asking tough questions either. He checks out, in detailed fashion, the other images venerated as Veronica’s Veil, the Sudarium (sweat cloth), and the Mandylion in Rome.

Badde even details how, even before the original German edition of the book came out, he personally presented his evidence to his neighbor in Rome, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This was in 2004. The book then recounts one of Pope Benedict XVI’s first journeys in Italy, in 2006, to the Church of the Holy Face in Manoppello, which he raised to a basilica.

We become part of the scenes through Badde’s detailed description of the weather, the places he visits and people he runs across. These read like a classic novel.

Then, too, he has a great Chestertonian way of revealing facts or unfolding critical scenes through an extended dialogue between himself and those he meets.

After years of digging out clues and being given privileged access to religious treasuries, Badde believes this Volto Santo in Manoppello is the true image of Jesus, where “even the horrible wound on his eye, which still showed on the Shroud of Turin, was gone. This was the face that was healed. All the blood had been washed away and all the tears. If there was a relic of the Resurrection, then here it was. A greeting from the other side, from the Kingdom of redemption.”

The Face of God — a great read for Holy Week, if there ever was one.

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.