What is the Image of Edessa?

G. Melanson

Known as the "Holy Mandylion" to Orthodox Christians, the Image of Edessa is a piece of cloth that is said to have been miraculously imprinted with the face of Jesus Christ. According to legend, the Image of Edessa was given to King Abgar of the ancient city of Edessa, and cured him of illness. In the early fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea transcribed correspondence in which the King requests a visit from Christ, who promises to instead send an apostle to visit him. Apostle Thaddaeus later visited the King which reportedly resulted in his miraculous healing.

The Image of Edessa is a piece of cloth that is said to be imprinted with the face of Christ.
The Image of Edessa is a piece of cloth that is said to be imprinted with the face of Christ.

Although legend indicates that King Abgar received the Image of Edessa as a gift from Christ, the correspondence translated by Eusebius of Caesarea in History of the Church does not mention the image. In further documentation, the Doctrine of Addai (Thaddeus) it is mentioned that the King sent a court artist to Christ to paint his image. A resulting legend embraced as fact by the Christian Orthodox church, considers the Image of Edessa a work of God and not humans; what the Greek described as “Akheiropoietos” or “Icon Not Made by Hands.”

In the tenth century, the Image of Edessa was sent from Edessa (now the city of Urfa) to Constantinople, where it disappeared in the 1204 sacking of the city during the Fourth Crusade. The Image of Edessa later resurfaced in Paris, as part of King Louis IX of France's Sainte Chapelle, only to be lost again during the French Revolution. In the 19th century, reproductions of the Image of Edessa were carried by the Russian armies as “Khorugvs” or religious banners, and proliferated several Byzantine churches.

As one of many religious relics reportedly bearing a miraculous image of Christ, such as the Veil of Veronica; the Image of Edessa is often confused with the Shroud of Turin –- a large cloth said to be the full-body imprint of Christ. Journalist, Ian Wilson, has theorized that the object touted as the Image of Edessa between the sixth to thirteenth century was, in fact, the Shroud of Turin, folded and framed so that the face was visible. The Vatican Library’s Codex Vossianus Latinus seems to support this theory through its eighth-century account that “King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body”.

Today, there are two remaining relics attributed to the legend of the Image of Edessa. The Holy Face of Genoa, kept in the Church of St. Bartholomew of The Armenians; and the Holy Face of San Silvestro, kept in the Vatican’s Matilda chapel.

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For further information of the Mandylion of Edessa, please read "Jesus, King of Edessa".

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