Monday, August 16, 2010

The Holy Mandylion (Napkin) of Christ (Not-made-by-hands)

The Holy Mandylion of Christ - Commemorated on August 16 (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
"The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ Not-Made-by-Hands occurred in the year 944. Eusebius, in his HISTORY OF THE CHURCH (I:13), relates that when the Savior was preaching, Abgar ruled in Edessa. He was stricken all over his body with leprosy. Reports of the great miracles worked by the Lord spread throughout Syria (Mt.4:24) and reached even Abgar. Without having seen the Savior, Abgar believed in Him as the Son of God. He wrote a letter requesting Him to come and heal him. He sent with this letter to Palestine his own portrait-painter Ananias, and commissioned him to paint a likeness of the Divine Teacher.
[Eusebius does not mention the Mandylion directly, but he does include the letters exchanged between Christ and Abgar, which have come down from us through tradition (the following is the translation from the Menaia (translation by Fr. Ephraim Lash); for the Eusebius' quote on Abgar and Christ, see previous post on St. Thaddeus (link below):
Agbar, Ruler of the city of Edessa, to Jesus Saviour, the good physician, who has appeared in Jerusalem, greeting!
I have heard about you and about your cures, which are done by you without drugs; for example you make the blind see again; you make the lame walk; you cleanse lepers; you drive out unclean spirits; you heal those who have been tormented by disease over long periods. Having heard all this of you I had one of two ideas: either that you are Son of God, who do these things, or that you are God. So then I write to you and ask you to and to come to me to cure the suffering I have, and then to be with me; for I have also heard that the Jews murmur against you and wish to do you ill. My city is very small but distinguished and adequate for both of us to live here in peace. (]
Ananias arrived in Jerusalem and saw the Lord surrounded by people. He was not able to get close to Him because of the large throng of people listening to the preaching of the Savior. Then he stood on a high rock and attempted to paint the portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ from afar, but this effort was not successful. The Savior saw him, called to him by name and gave him a short letter for Abgar in which He praised the faith of this ruler. He also promised to send His disciple to heal him of his leprosy and guide him to salvation.
Letter of Christ to Abgar
[Blessed are you, Agbar, who have believed in me, though you have not seen me. For it is written of me that those who have seen me do not believe in me so that those who have not seen me may believe and live. As to what you wrote about my coming to you, it is necessary that I accomplish all that I was sent out to do and, after I have accomplished it, to be taken up to the Father who sent me. And when I have been taken up I will send you one of my Disciples, named Thaddaios, he will heal your disease and grant you and those with you eternal life and peace, and he will make your city such that no enemy can prevail against it.

Icon depicting Christ washing His face with the Mandylion (

Then the Lord asked that water and a cloth be brought to Him. He washed His Face, drying it with the cloth, and His Divine Countenance was imprinted upon it. Ananias took the cloth and the letter of the Savior to Edessa. Reverently, Abgar pressed the holy object to his face and he received partial healing. Only a small trace of the terrible affliction remained until the arrival of the disciple promised by the Lord. He was St Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy (August 21) (see:, who preached the Gospel and baptized Abgar and all the people of Edessa.
[At the end he fixed seven seals in Hebrew letters, which when translated mean, Vision of God Divine wonder. [In Greek a play on words: "Θεού θέα θείον θαυμα" (Theou thea theion thavma) (]
Abgar put the Holy Napkin in a gold frame adorned with pearls, and placed it in a niche over the city gates. On the gateway above the icon he inscribed the words, "Χριστὲ ὁ θεός, ὁ εἰς σὲ ἐλπίζων οὐκ ἀποτυγχάνει." ("O Christ God, let no one who hopes on Thee be put to shame.")

Fresco depicting the Holy Mandylion of Christ, Visoki Dečani monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (ca. 1335).  (
For many years the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, when they went forth from the gates. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lampada before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.
Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chozroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Bishop Eulabius and ordered him to remove the icon from the sealed niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands: in front of it was burning the lampada, and upon the board closing in the niche, a copy of the icon was reproduced.
[The Persians had built a huge fire outside the city wall; when the Bishop approached with the Holy Napkin, a violent wind fell upon the fire, turning it back upon the Persians, who fled in defeat. (]
Fresco depicting the Holy Keramion (Ceramic Tile) which the image of Christ was transferred, Visoki Dečani monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (ca. 1335). (
In the year 630 Arabs seized Edessa, but they did not hinder the veneration of the Holy Napkin, the fame of which had spread throughout all the East. In the year 944, the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959) wanted to transfer the icon to the Constantinople, and he paid a ransom for it to the emir of the city. With great reverence the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands and the letter which He had written to Abgar, were brought to Constantinople by clergy.
On August 16, the icon of the Savior was placed in the [Pharos] church of the Most Holy Theotokos. There are several traditions concerning what happened later to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. According to one, crusaders ran off with it duringtheir rule at Constantinople (1204-1261), but the ship on which the sacred object was taken, perished in the waters of the Sea of Marmora.
According to another tradition, the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was transported around 1362 to Genoa, where it is preserved in a monastery in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. It is known that the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands repeatedly gave from itself exact imprints. One of these, named "On Ceramic," was imprinted when Ananias hid the icon in a wall on his way to Edessa; another, imprinted on a cloak, wound up in Georgia. Possibly, the variance of traditions about the original Icon Not-Made-by-Hands derives from the existence of several exact imprints. [See below for a hypothesis involving the Shroud of Turin***]
During the time of the Iconoclast heresy, those who defended the veneration of icons, having their blood spilt for holy icons, sang the Troparion to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. In proof of the validity of Icon-Veneration, Pope Gregory II (715-731) sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor, in which he pointed out the healing of King Abgar and the sojourn of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands at Edessa as a commonly known fact. The Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was put on the standards of the Russian army, defending them from the enemy. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a pious custom for a believer, before entering the temple, to read the Troparion of the Not-Made-by-Hand icon of the Savior, together with other prayers...

The Feast of the Transfer of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, made together with the Afterfeast of the Dormition, they call the third-above Savior Icon, the "Savior on Linen Cloth." The particular reverence of this Feast in the Russian Orthodox Church is also expressed in iconography, and the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was one of the most widely distributed."
For the original Greek text by Emperor Constantinos Porphyrogenitos on the Holy Mandylion (Narratio de imagine Edessena), see here. 
The Holy Mandylion of Christ, depiction from Cyprus from the 12th Century from Lavkara (source)
A full English translation of this account by Emperor Constantinos Porphyrogenitos (944AD) is available in the dissertation by Mark Guscin
Of note, as alluded to, the Emperor discusses the commonly-held story about the origin of the Holy Mandylion, but also discusses an alternative having to do with the Passion of Christ:

"This is the story according to most sources, regarding the image of our Saviour on the cloth not painted by hand. However, there is another version, which is not improbable and does not lack reliable witnesses. For this reason I shall present this second version so that nobody assumes I gave preference to the first one out of ignorance of the second. It would not be at all strange if confusion has arisen in the story over such a long time. All the sources agree on the main fact, that the form on the cloth was miraculously transferred from the Lord’s face. They disagree on some of the details, such as when this took place. Whether it happened earlier or later does not alter the truth of the matter. The other version is as follows. It is said that when Christ was about to willingly undergo suffering, he displayed human weakness and prayed in anguish. The gospel tells us that his sweat fell like drops of blood and then it is said that he took this piece of cloth, which can still be seen, from one of his disciples, and wiped off the streams of sweat on it. The figure of his divine face, which is still visible, was immediately transferred onto it. He gave it to Thomas and told him to send it to Abgar with Thaddaeus after his ascension into heaven, thus fulfilling what he had promised in the letter."
And and additional translation of other original source documents.
12th Century icon of the Holy Mandylion of Christ (
The Holy Mandylion and the Shroud of Turin***
Orthodox tradition has long seen the Mandylion (the cloth that Christ imprinted His image on in life) as distinct from the burial cloths of Christ. A few modern researchers (heterodox and some Orthodox) however have proposed that the Mandylion of Orthodox tradition is in fact the burial shroud of Christ (i.e. the Shroud of Turin) upon which His image was imprinted.
One of many very similar early depictions of the Holy Mandylion, with a central image of the head of Christ surrounded by a lattice (this one from the 12th Century, currently kept in Laon France) (source)
(Of course this isn't the juncture to fully discuss the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin from a scientific perspective. See the link below the quote for a full article about it, or pictures here from an Orthodox service before the Shroud this past year:
One of many very similar depictions early depictions of the Holy Mandylion, with a central image of the head of Christ, on a large rectangular reliquary surrounded by a lattice (this version from Transfiguration Cathedral, Mirozh Monastery, Pskov, Russia (ca. 1140).
The following is an excerpt from an article by an Orthodox source on the Shroud of Turin:
"A 6th century text refers to the Mandylion as a "tetradiplon'--"doubled in four." A most curious choice of word, according to Cambridge University's Professor Lampe, editor of the 'Lexicon of Patristic Greek'; in all literature it occurs only in association with the image of Edessa, being scarcely, therefore, an idle turn of phrase." [50] As Wilson convincingly suggests, if the Shroud of Turin were folded in this manner, i.e., doubled four times, the viewer would see nothing but the head. And if this folded cloth were attached to a board (as the Mandylion is said to have been), those who venerated the holy image could well have been ignorant of the fact that they were looking at but a portion of what was actually a full-length image, particularly if this image had been sealed up for so many years.
Another early and very similar depiction of the Holy Mandylion (this from 12th century fresco from the Church of the Annunciation, Gradac, Serbia) (source)
This theory is strengthened by the distinct crease marks photographically discerned on the Shroud in the very locations suggested by the "doubled in four." And although the evidence of pollen is by no means conclusive (it can be blown hundreds of miles), Dr. Frei identified on the Shroud pollen not only from the Constantinople and Jerusalem areas, but also from the Anatolian steppes where Edessa is located...
Originally proposed by Ian Wilson, this is a modern visual experiment of how "tetradiplon", or "folding four times" the Shroud of Turin would look, and when put in a reliquary with a lattice, it seems potentially very similar to early depictions of the Holy Mandylion (source)
But none of this, as fascinating as it is, has been conclusively proven. We can only say that the historical evidence thus far uncovered, and the scientific evidence of the Shroud of Turin itself, does indeed suggest this explanation, But the point is that if the Shroud is also the Mandylion, not only does it have an Orthodox history, but it also explains why it seems to have no separate feast or service."
Another excerpt to summarize some of the historical documents from Constantinople:
"To sum up the points made in this paper: a linen cloth or cloths described as the burial wrappings of Jesus are attested in many Constantinople documents from 944 to 1203, twice with his image if one counts Mesarites (Doc. XI), and several times described as bloodied. No record exists of the arrival of Jesus’ burial cloth in the capital, and no celebration such as accompanied the Edessa cloth in 944. [Note: This is a very important point from the Byzantine perspective, as the Church of Constantinople preserves feasts for the finding and translation of almost all the Holy Relics treasured in the City, such as the Finding of the Precious Cross and Holy Nails on March 6th, the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th, the translation of the Robes of the Theotokos on July 2nd and August 31st, etc. It seems unlikely that the Burial Shroud of Christ (arguably one of the most precious spiritual treasures, similar to the Holy Cross) could have made it to Constantinople without having been noticed, and without a feast or record. However, the Holy Mandylion is widely documented to have come to the City in 944 to great fanfare, and continues to be festally celebrated on August 16th annually.] Yet it was there. Judging from copious documents and artistic representations made in Constantinople and elsewhere from 944 to 1150, the Edessa towel always with the image of Jesus’ face may be identical with Jesus’ Shroud in folded form, enclosed in a case with face exposed. Before that, from at latest 544 to 944, this cloth was certainly in Edessa. If the Edessa cloth and Jesus’ purported shroud are indeed one and the same object, that assumed burial cloth may have a pedigree back at least to 544, and if the Abgar legend has any historical worth, to the 4th c. and even, accepting the descriptive evidence, to the very time of Christ. If the pieces of this elaborate puzzle truly fit as they seem to, the blood-stained burial cloth with faint unpainted image would have a documented history back to palaeochristianity and may in fact be the actual tomb wrapping of Jesus."(source)
For more information, here is another presentation by an Orthodox physician on the subject.
And another article from Orthodox sources, that reviews many of the scientific analyses and also the historical record from an Orthodox perspective.
Another early and very similar depiction of the Holy Mandylion (this from Boyana Church, Sofia, Bulgaria (1259) (source)

And an excerpt from Metropolitan Hilarion's homily at Divine Liturgy before the Shroud of Turin during one of the Expositions:
"There are many proofs of this shrine’s authenticity. But what is the most important thing for us is the church Tradition which testifies that this relic has been preserved from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The Shroud, in which the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped during the burial, is mentioned in all the four Gospels. Certainly, the Evangelists would not have mentioned this cover if it had not been kept by the faithful as a great shrine from the earliest Christian times. Later we heard a story of our Saviour’s image not made with hands. It used to hang over the church gates in Edessus and later was brought to Constantinople. It disappeared subsequently without trace in the era of crusades. And some time later, already in the West, this Shroud reappeared.
"We will never know whether the Shroud of Turin is that Not-Made-With-Hands Image Christ. It is known however that for centuries the Shroud was kept folded in such a way that people could see only the face of our Saviour, not his whole body impressed on the Shroud. So quite probably the Not-Made-With-Hands Image from Edessus is that same Shroud at which we are praying today. Even if it is a different image, we know from the Gospel According to St. John, which you have heard just now, that along with the Shroud there was also a Veil, which was put on Jesus’ face during the burial.
"Standing before this shrine, we remember first of all the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have come here today from different countries – Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, from all over Italy, from France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal. One can innumerate many countries from which Orthodox pilgrims have flocked over here. What moved us when we were coming here, taking upon ourselves the burdens of journey? – The love of Christ. We have come here to worship our divine Saviour and to pray at this great shrine for ourselves and for our loved ones, to ask blessing from our Lord Jesus Christ who ascended the Cross for the sake of each of us, suffered, died and rose from the dead.
"Today we have heard the Gospel telling us about the death and resurrection of our Saviour. We have heard the words from the divine service of the Great Saturday when the Church praises our Saviour who died for us and descended into hell for our sake. Every human word becomes silent at this great shrine; here every human vanity stops. All our problems, concerns and passions go to the background because here we stand before our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who was crucified and who died for people. We feel his presence among us and ask him not to deprive us of his grace."
We can benefit spiritually from both the Shroud and the Mandylion, regardless of whether not they are one and the same. They are both tangible signs that Christ our God, the eternal Word of the Father, really took on flesh for our salvation. By approaching them (or any icons of Christ for that matter) and showing them veneration, we show Christ love and worship, and we can receive grace and healing from Him as did the woman with an issue of blood, who was healed by grasping the fringe of Christ's garment. (Luke 8:43-48) Gazing on Christ's sacred image, we can remember His words from the Gospel of Luke (used on the feast of the Holy Mandylion): "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." (Luke 10:23-24)
The Holy Mandylion of Christ (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Apolytikion of the Holy Icon. Tone 2.
We venerate your most pure icon, loving Lord, as we ask pardon of our offences, Christ God. For by your own choice you were well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from the slavery of the enemy those whom you had fashioned; therefore with thanksgiving we cry to you: You have filled all things with joy, our Saviour, by coming to save the world.
Stichera Prosomia of the Holy Icon. Tone 2. With that garlands of praise.
With what eyes shall we who are born of earth look upon your image, which the armies of the Angels cannot look at without fear as it blazes with divine light? For it departs to-day from the land of unbelievers and by divine decree comes to dwell in the Queen of cities and among a people of true religion. At its entry Kings rejoice, O Christ, falling down before it with fear and faith.
With what hands shall we creatures of dust touch your Image, O Word? We who are stained by faults touch you, our sinless God? We who live in filth touch you the unapproachable? The Cherubim tremble and hide their gaze; the Seraphim cannot bear to see your glory; creation serves you with fear. Do not then condemn us, O Christ, who unworthily greet from faith your dread appearance.
Once again the godlike day of the Master’s festival is here; for he who is seated in the highest has now clearly visited us through his honoured Image; he who is unseen by the Cherubim above appears through painting to those to whom he has become like, formed ineffably by the immaculate finger of the Father according to his likeness. As we worship it with faith and love we are sanctified.
The Holy Mandylion (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
The Canon of the Holy Icon, of which the Acrostic is:
I honour the imprint of your face, O Saviour.
By Patriarch Germanos.
Ode 1. Tone 6.
The One who before was without a body, by the Father’s good pleasure did not refuse to be formed with a body like ours, and has granted us the grace of a divine representation.
The unchanging nature, the most precise definition of the Father, having entered mortal flesh, left behind for us on earth his characteristics when he went back to heaven.
By your revered sufferings, O Christ, you justified your inheritance, which had been shaken by the deception of the Enemy, making it stable by the representation of your form.
Taking flesh from your pure loins in a manner above nature, O all-blameless, the One who gives being to all mortals became visible, yet not abandoning what he was before.
On the same day [August 16] memorial of the entry of the Image Not Made By Hand of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, brought from the city of the Edessenes to this god-protected Queen of cities.
Alive you wiped your face upon a cloth,
A final burial cloth you wore when dead.
For the Tile
Maker of all, my Christ, a tile once made
By hand now bears your form not made by hand.

Icon of the Holy Mandylion of Christ (1st half of 13th century) (
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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