Biblical Archaeology Review 37:4, July/August 2011

Strata: Is This the Face of Jesus?

Legend has it that this darkened cloth encased in a centuries-old silver frame may preserve an authentic and miraculous depiction of Jesus’ face. To the more skeptical, it’s probably a Byzantine icon that was painted with the face of Jesus in accordance with an age-old legend.

In either case, the cloth, known as the Mandylion of Edessa, has an interesting story to tell.a As the story goes, the fabled first-century king Abgar of Edessa (modern Urfa in southeastern Turkey) sent a message to Jesus requesting that he come to Edessa to cure the king of a deadly illness. In his stead, Jesus sent the ailing king an impression of his face left miraculously on a cloth (Greek, mandulion) that he had used to dry his wet face. The image not only cured the king’s illness but, centuries later, was credited with stopping a Persian attack on the city. (The image below is a tenth-century painting of Abgar holding the Mandylion. The painting is now on display in St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt.)

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