Blandina, a life studying the Veil of Manoppello
The Santa Maria hermitage is in Abruzzo, on top of a hill overlooking the town of Manoppello at the foot of the Majella mountain, the basilica of the Volto Santo [Holy Face of Jesus] and the valley. To get there, one climbs up a difficult path and there, in front of the wrought iron gate at number 1 Via Padre Domenico da Cese, a small car -just like the ones driven by teenagers without a full license- is parked ready for the descent.
This is the car of 78-year-old hermit Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, a nun who belonged to the Order of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and then passed to the Trappist Order. This was until the day she asked permission to leave community life to continue her studies on the Veil of Manoppello, the light veil with the image of a male face with long hair and a beard divided into braids, which she believes corresponds to the face of Christ.
The Mother Superior understood, but made one condition, that she become economically self-sufficient. Sister Blandina immediately answered yes, because survival would not have been a problem for her. And so it was: she decided to close herself in a hermitage in Manoppello to demonstrate to the faithful and to the whole world that the image impressed on the thin veil, supposedly made of byssus, of the Holy Face and that of the Holy Shroud are perfectly superimposable. In both cases - Sister Blandina believes - it is the face of Jesus.
Sister Blandina is a modern hermit, she has a car because she has to do the shopping, but has never been able to get a driver’s license. She also has Whatsapp, Twitter and Signal, because she knows the importance of social networks and communication and she is convinced that her studies and her feverish research must be spread and shared by word of mouth too.
Her house is a two-story yellow building, at the entrance there are bowls placed for the three cats she takes care of. On the ground floor there is a study, with icons, the computers, the library, and gifts from pilgrims. Sister Blandina arrived here in 2003, and that incredible attraction for the face of Jesus has constantly accompanied her, ever since she was a little girl.
Sister Blandina wants to talk, to tell stories:
“Before that there was only the Shroud [Sindone] for me, whose existence I had discovered in 1965. When I was young, I was always and constantly attracted by the externality of beauty and it took me some time before I realized that true beauty is not found in external things. I came across the Holy Face by chance when I read about it in an Italian weekly magazine in an article by Renzo Allegri, Padre Pio’s biographer”.
The article, written by the journalist in 1978 while he was on vacation at the seaside in Abruzzo, was picked up by a Swiss Catholic newspaper in German which happened to be in the monastery of the Trappist nuns in Germany and therefore found its way into the hands of the young Sister Blandina. “I read and reread it and made a reflection, which is if the relic of Manoppello really represents the face of Jesus, it must be the same as that of the Shroud. I glued the newspaper photo to the wall of my cell. That image frightened me every time I looked at it. Next to the Holy Countenance I put the image of the Shroud and I stayed thinking about it for days. Then I wrote to the Sanctuary of Manoppello asking for a color photograph of the ‘Holy Face’ that was larger than the one in the newspaper clipping. At that point the similarities appeared more visible to me”. With one difference being on the Shroud, Jesus is depicted dead, while on the Holy Face he is alive, albeit marked by martyrdom, and his eyes are open. Risen.
Sister Blandina argues that if the Shroud is the cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus in the tomb, the veil of Manoppello is the one placed over the Shroud. She explains that in the two relics the measurements are identical, that the bruises, the edemas, the wounds on the forehead, the nose, the clots of coagulated blood are in the same positions.
“I continued to study, I needed evidence, more feedback. Everyone was wary of what I was saying, they thought I was crazy. I had the two images transferred onto glossy film and when I superimposed them I was certain that it was the same face because every point matched perfectly”.
Sr. Blandina becomes very excited when she retraces the path that led her here, where everyone loves and esteems her, especially since the arrival of Benedict XVI in Manoppello on September 1, 2006, the first pontiff to visit the sanctuary. The Pope stopped in meditation in front of the Holy Face. The faithful read in that gesture and in the elevation of the Sanctuary to a minor basilica, which took place shortly thereafter, the sign of an implicit recognition.
“I always insisted, I was tenacious, almost obsessive. I met Jesuit Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, a professor of the history of Christian Art at the Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. He came to Manoppello and studied the relic. It was he who told me that the Face could be the original of the Roman Veronica that was shown to pilgrims in Rome and that was believed to have been lost”. And then, according to a reconstruction whose details are still uncertain, it was donated to the Capuchin friars of Manoppello, who have been guarding it for over 500 years.
Another scholar, Father Andreas Resch, a Redemptorist religious, analyzed Sister Blandina’s data by computer and concluded that the similarities between the Shroud and the Holy Countenance are not a coincidence. The two faces belong to the same person and that both are acheropite images, that is, not created by human hand, although some claim that the Holy Countenance is actually a 16th century painting by Albert Durer.
“Whoever does not want to obey God and his laws - says Sister Blandina - will never see anything”.
She shows me the two images, the Shroud and the Holy Face, depicted on the transparencies, superimposes them, indicates the points where they coincide perfectly. And every time she looks at them, she has a tremor, she says, another sign.
“I am almost 80 years old. Important books have been written, scientific articles, a very strong interest in the Holy Face has been produced, but my research at the end of the day still doesn’t get much attention”, she regrets.
“But it doesn’t matter, I am interested in demonstrating to the faithful that this is the face of Jesus, the same as the Shroud”.
Thousands of pilgrims every year (at least until 2019, before the pandemic) come to Manoppello. They arrive to visit the Basilica of the Holy Face and then they climb the path that leads to the hermitage of Santa Maria. To Sister Blandina.
by Lilli Mandara