AN ANONYMOUS WOMAN, THE PANEAS IMAGE, AND VERONICA

I have often said that when one follows any thread in the study of icons, it leads to countless others in an endless tapestry of related information.

This is particularly obvious in the transformation of a brief biblical story into a long string of varying legends.  That story is of the “woman with the issue of blood” found in Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, and Luke 8:43–48.  Here is the Lukan version:

 “And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living on physicians, neither could be healed of any,came behind him [Jesus], and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood staunched.  And Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’   When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng you and press you, and do you say, ‘Who touched me?’  And Jesus said, Somebody has touched me: for I perceive that power is gone out of me.  And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared to him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.  And he said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort: your faith has made you whole; go in peace.‘”

This woman is not given a name.  Here is a Russian icon depicting the story:

(Courtesy of The Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton MA)In

Eusebius (circa 260/265 – 339/340), in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 7, chapter 18) tells about a statue in the town of Caesarea Philippi, also called Paneas (now Banias):

“Since I have mentioned this city, I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Savior deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Savior to her remain there.

 For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if supplicating. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases.

They say that this statue  is an image of Jesus. (τοῦτον τὸν ἀνδριάντα εἰκόνα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ φέρειν ἔλεγον ) It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city.

Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Savior, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers.”

The essence of this story is that there is a statue of a man dressed in classical style, reaching out his hand toward a woman kneeling before him, hands out as though in supplication.

Now as  John Francis Wilson points out in his book Caesarea Philippi: Banias, the Lost City of Pan, such an image of a kneeling, supplicating woman and a man in classical garb standing, with hand out to her, is a very good description of the image found on those coins of the Roman Emperor Hadrian called Restitutor (“Restorer”) coins.  These show the Emperor helping the province (represented as a kneeling figure) raise itself again.  So what Eusebius saw, in spite of the fanciful story associating it with Jesus, is more likely to have been a statue depicting such a symbolic scene of kneeling province and standing Emperor.  Keep in mind that Eusebius says the statue was made, as was the habit of the “ancients” as “gentiles,” to  erect statues in honor of those regarded as deliverers.  That again would well describe a Restitutor image.  You will find a good depiction of such “Restorer” coins on the right side of this page:  http://www.fredericweber.com/articl_dieux/provinces_english.htm

In the Church History of Sozomen (circa 400-450) book 5, chapter 21, the statue is no longer presented as “said to be” Jesus, but as Jesus.  He uses it to take a dig at the Emperor Julian, who abandoned Christianity for “paganism,” and so became abhorred by Christians:

Having heard that at Cæsarea Philippi, otherwise called Paneas, a city of Phœnicia, there was a celebrated statue of Christ which had been erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood, Julian commanded it to be taken down and a statue of himself erected in its place; but a violent fire from heaven fell upon it and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downwards at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning. The statue of Christ was dragged around the city and mutilated by the pagans; but the Christians recovered the fragments, and deposited the statue in the church in which it is still preserved.

In the apocryphal 4th century Acts of Pilate (5:26), the “woman with the issue of blood” testifies before Pilate at the trial of Jesus, and is given a name:

And a certain woman named Veronica, said, I was afflicted with an issue of blood twelve years, and I touched the hem of his garment, and presently the issue of blood stopped.  The Jews then said, We have a law, that a woman shall not be allowed as an evidence.

So this originally anonymous woman came to be known as Veronica, and she is so identified in Eastern Orthodoxy.  Russian depictions of her healing by Jesus are generally known as Исцеление кровоточивой жены — Istselenie krovotochivoy zhenui — “The Healing of the Blood-flowing Woman,” or some slight variation of that.

In this 14th century Serbian fresco, the title is “Christ Heals [the] Blood-flowing [Woman]”:

In Greek iconography, she is called Ἡ αἱμοῤῥοοῦσα γυνή — He haimoroousa gyne — “The Blood-flowing Woman,” or simply He Haimorroousa.

Now oddly enough, this tale of Veronica eventually became tangled, in garbled fashion, with the tale of the “Abgar Image” of Jesus — the “Image Not Made by Hands” — which as we saw in an earlier posting, evolved over much time.

You may recall that in western Catholic tradition, Veronica was said to have wiped the face of Jesus with a cloth on his way to  be crucified, and the image was imprinted on the cloth.  This again is a variation on the later version of the “Abgar” tale, in which Jesus pressed a cloth to his wet face, and his image miraculously was imprinted upon it — becoming, supposedly, the first Christian icon.

All of this again reminds us how completely unreliable these old religious traditions generally are.  They are more legends and pious fables than actual history.  But to those who made and used icons, they were considered to be fact.

There is far more to the history of these various “Veronica” tales than I have space for today, but for those who want to investigate further, I suggest, as a good introduction, the book Veronica and Her Cloth; history, symbolism and structure of a “true” image, by Ewa Kuryluk.