“Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth,” observed Pope Francis when launching this Holy Year of Mercy, so it seems fitting that more than 100 images of Jesus will feature in a jubilee exhibition at Our Lady Help of Christians parish on the Navan Road.
“The exhibition traces the many testimonies relating to the face of Christ handed down from the early Church,” parish priest Fr John O’Brien says, explaining how the exhibition looks at images at Christ over the centuries, continuing right up to the early 20th Century.
“Obviously, we don’t know exactly what Christ looked like, but these images come from people’s spiritual relationship with God,” he adds, continuing, “there’s a lot of talk about whether they’re genuine or fake, as with the Shroud of Turin, but what I think is more important is the relationship the artist had with Jesus, and this expression – this image – that has come out of that relationship.”
Different versions of the exhibition, which will feature banner displays of key images and a 60-minute presentation featuring the full collection, has already been shown in Rimini and in New York, he says, noting that Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s preface to the American exhibition’s guidebook will be available for visitors along with a prayer card showing St Therese of Liseux holding a ‘Veronica’ image of the Holy Face.
The exhibition ‘The Rediscovered Face of Christ’ had its genesis with a local member of the Communion and Liberation movement, Aileen Altmann, he says. “One of the group who lives in the parish approached me some time back and asked whether I would be interested in having the exhibition on the Navan Road, and I thought it sounded like a great idea.”
Aileen herself first heard of the exhibition through friends in Italy and New York.
“A few of my friends had seen it,” she says, continuing, “We wanted to propose something in this year of mercy, and we saw the exhibition and thought this is it.”
Stressing that it is not a history exhibition, she says, “The aim of the exhibition is to help us become familiar with the Face of Christ, because it is a tradition in the Church and we want everyone to start looking at the face of Christ and to understand how this desire to see the face of Christ is within us.”
Pointing out that the Old Testament testifies to our desire to see the face of God, with Moses being told nobody could do that and live, Aileen explains how over the course of early Christianity, Christians sought to represent Christ in portraits and symbols until in the 5th Century images appeared in both the Christian east and west.
These images have recurred through the centuries, she says, highlighting four archeiropoieta – images believed to have been of supernatural origin – known as the Camouliana, the Mandylion received by King Abgar of Edessa, the Veronica, and the Manoppello image, which Pope Benedict venerated in 2006.
Speaking of her favourite image, one by Giotto, Aileen – who with about a dozen others will act as guides for the exhibition – says “It’s a gaze of utter mercy – we need to have this gaze of mercy on us, and we need to know in our daily lives, facing our daily problems, that we are not alone.”