Orthodox Icon of Christ The Holy Face

Orthodox Icon of Christ “The Holy Face”

Orthodox icon of Christ “The Holy Face” (“Not Made by Hands”) has its roots in the early Christian era when in the 4th century, the legend about the creation of the miraculous image of the Savior became widespread. The Holy Face is a special iconographic type that represents Christ’s face on a tile (Keramidion) or a cloth (Mandylion).

History of the image

According to tradition, King Abgar of Edessa, who was affected by leprosy, sent his archivist and court painter Ananias to Christ with the request to come and cure him. Christ couldn`t visit the king in person, so He sprinkled His face with water and wipe it with a cloth on which His facial features were imprinted (according to another version, Christ left the imprint of His face after unsuccessful attempts of the painter to draw Him). This cloth was delivered by Ananias to King Abgar, and the image of Christ’s face on it formed the basis of Mandylion iconography.

After his miraculous recovery, the king of Edessa ordered to hang the image above the city gates. Later, bishops hid the holy cloth in the wall to protect it from pagans. During its stay between the brick walls, the image adopted the pattern of bricks, which gave rise to the iconography of Keramidion.

Orthodox icon of Christ “The Holy Face.” Iconography

Orthodox icon of Christ “The Holy Face” is an image of Christ’s head with a cruciform halo on a cloth or tile as mentioned earlier. The Holy Face can also be depicted on a clear background. Depending on the period, a cloth with the image can be fully unfolded or draped. Starting from the 15th century, the image can also feature angels holding the upper ends of the cloth.

Some icon painters were so inspired by the story of Christ washing His face that they started to depict Him with a wet beard with pointed ends. This iconography would later become known as Wet Beard Savior.

In Catholic tradition, the Holy Face image is known as the Veil of Veronica and relates to the legend about the Jewish woman Veronica who gave a towel to Christ to wipe His face off sweat and blood during the Roar to Golgotha. Orthodox icon of Christ “The Holy Face” differs from the Catholic image in the absence of a crown of thorns.

Orthodox icon of Christ “The Holy Face” is an iconographic type of Christ image, which stands out among all others with the idea of a miraculous phenomenon and its visual interpretation.