The Fallen Angel!
The Ponte Sant' Angelo is lined with ten gloriously gyrating stone angels. The angels, which bear the Instruments of Christ's Passion, were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680); two were carved by the master himself (later replaced by copies) and the rest were farmed out to a team of sculptors.
The pedestals on which the angels stand have inscriptions in Latin. However, the inscription, RESPICE FACIEM CHRIST TVI (Look upon the face of your Christ), on the pedestal that supports the angel holding Veronica's veil has been almost obliterated by a rather large dent.
The dent was made by a stray cannonball, which was fired from the Castel Sant' Angelo during the half-hearted papal defence of Rome on September 20th, 1870. The shot knocked the statue, the work of Cosimo Fancelli (1618-88), clean into the river. Thankfully, the angel was not seriously damaged. It was fished out of the river and reunited with its pedestal.
The legend of Veronica's veil comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which relates that when Jesus was on his way to be crucified, a woman in the crowd lining the route took pity on his sufferings and wiped the sweat from his brow with her veil, or handkerchief. The cloth, it is claimed, miraculously retained an imprint of Christ's face. The woman is identified as Veronica, a name which combines the Latin word for true (vera) with the Greek word for icon (eikon).
For centuries what is believed to be the veil of Veronica has been preserved in St Peter's Basilica, its most prized relic. The veil, and other holy relics, is displayed on the fifth Sunday of Lent.
Veronica's act of charity is commemorated in the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
The feast of St Veronica, who happens to be the patron saint of laundry workers and photographers, is celebrated on July 12th.
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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