Image of St Veronica in San Miguel’s Parroquia Was Erased Due to Controversy
By Cheryl Young
In the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, there is an oil on wood painting by the German Hans Memling, one of the leading portrait artists of the Renaissance period. In this work, set against a scene of rolling Tuscan hills with a medieval castle in the distance, a richly attired young blonde woman, sweet-faced and demure, casts her eyes downward at the bright white piece of cloth she holds between her delicate fingers. She is St Veronica, and she holds the veil that she offered to the convicted Jewish prophet to wipe the blood and dirt from his face in an act of compassion as he struggled up the skull-shaped hill called Calvary in Jerusalem. After he returned the soiled cloth, an image of his face, staring straight ahead without emotion, was clearly imprinted on it.
St Veronica, whose name in Latin means “true image,” is not mentioned in the Gospels, and no contemporary accounts of her life exist. However, her miraculous story was hugely popular during the Middle Ages, and she appears as number six in the 14 Stations of the Cross, a Lenten tradition which began with the revered St Francis of Assisi (1182–1226).
Churches recreated the Stations of the Cross so that their parishioners, who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem themselves, could experience the final journey of Christ. The ancient relic itself still resides in the Vatican, where it is briefly put on public display on Passion Sunday every year.
Many versions of the St Veronica scene have been created over the centuries and San Miguel de Allende had its own version of it—a huge, powerful mural painted in the 1940s on a wall of the Parroquia. But this mid-twentieth-century image of St Veronica by the brilliant Mexican painter Frederico Cantú (1907–1989) was very controversial in its time and ultimately was whitewashed over by parish priest, Father Jose Mercadillo, on the orders of his bishop. Apparently, the bishop objected to the use of indigenous people as the models for both Jesus and St Veronica. There is also a suggestion that the wealthy women of San Miguel recognized their maids in the face of Veronica and were not pleased.
In centuries of images of St Veronica’s veil, Jesus is consistently portrayed as a light- skinned man staring calmly ahead; Cantú’s interpretation shows a dark-skinned man looking away from the viewer with an expression of anguish and pain.
Learn more about the fascinating church paintings, statuary, and artifacts in San Miguel by taking the next Four Churches Walk on November 28, 2019. All donations go to support the important work of Patronato Pro Niños (PPN). Since 1970, this Mexican nonprofit organization has provided medical and dental services to children in San Miguel whose families cannot afford to provide it for them. In 2018, it served 7,636 children—more than 600 per month!
All Walks are conducted in English. Private tours can be arranged by contacting Christina at 415 152 7796 or at email@example.com.
The Four Churches Walk from Patronato Pro Niños
Thu, Nov 28, 9:45am
Gather in the Jardín, across from the Parroquia
350 pesos donation
No reservations needed