Spain is indeed a marvelous place to explore religious relics. An adventurous traveler does not need to be absolutely devoted to a relic to discover its resting place, however on your journey you can be enlightened by the marvelous art and architecture that surrounds it.

One such great example, is the Catholic relic of the Santa Faz (Holy Face) protected and venerated in the Santa Faz monastery, which is located in the municipal district of Alicante city called Santa Faz. This relic is the object of a yearly pilgrimage, which gathers more than 260,000 relic friendly folks.

Since visiting monasteries and relic hunting are both great ways to spend a Sunday morning, off I went to witness the historical past and marvel in some mystery for myself.

* Report by Arts Historian and Educator , Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (
* Copyright Karla Darocas 2018* (no part of this text or photos may be replicated)

Before reaching the relic, one must stop and absorb the Baroque beauty that is the church of Santa Verónica, attached to the Monastery complex.

Like all religious structures in Catholic Spain, this complex started as a Gothic monastery and church, which was gifted, on July 17, 1518, to the Franciscan order of nuns called the "barefoot mothers" of Santa Clara from Gandía, known for their observance of extreme poverty, fasting and going barefoot.

The church is a building in the Latin-cross design crowned by a blue glazed tile dome, typical of the Valencian Baroque .

The elaborate alter-style portal, constructed between 1721 and 1738, has three sections, each deceasing in size. A giant relief displaying Veronica and her veil is surrounded by ornate decorations include Solomonic corkscrew columns, curved entablatures, pedestals, scrolls, curtains, pinnacles and balls, all very familiar to the Renaissance and Baroque era. A small curved cornice with three pinnacles tops the church facade.

To the right of the church portal is the entrance door to the convent. It repeats the design of the church portal but on a smaller scale. It has only 2 levels but again it has the same ornamental exuberance. The top of the convent is decorated with a balustrade and pinnacles.

Inside the church there are 4 chapels between abutments. There is a pretty white octagonal dome with windowed lantern above the neo-Baroque main alter, which is displaying Veronica and her veil between Solomonic corkscrew columns, just like on the main entrance portal.

When you look around, windows, artwork and banners don't let worshipers forget why they have come to this special church.

This Holy Face relic can be found now behind the high alter of the church in a devoted reliquary room, special purpose built in 1611 and decorated between 1677 and 1680 by the sculptor José Vilanova, the gilder Pere Joan Valero and the painter Juan Conchillos.

The octagonal room is dark inside and very ostentatious. The hexagon dome depicts paintings of the miracles, local personalities associated with the founding of the chapel and religious themes of judgment and salvation.

On one side of the reliquary room is a niche with a small silver stand that protects the painted cloth, that has the blood and sweat of Christ. It is trapped behind glass. The frame is of a Renaissance style with a small cross on top.  The only light comes through a deeply coffered stained glass window, again with Veronica showing her veil.

Finally, in the orchard of the convent there is a defensive tower built in 1582, at a time when Alicante was often raided by Muslims. The tower is topped by a cornice of classicist molding and four scarab in each of the corners. There machicolations, for pouring hot boiling oil onto the enemy, on the north and south fronts and embrasures on the north and east sides.

For those who may not know the legend of Veronica or her veil, the story goes...

Veronica was a sympathetic woman who saw Jesus under duress lugging his heavy cross up to Golgotha, the site immediately outside Jerusalem's walls where Jesus was going to be crucified, and she offered him her veil that he might wipe away the sweat and blood that was dripping into his eyes. According to the legend, the stained cloth turned into an impression of the face of Jesus.

What happened to this cloth after this event is not certain, however in 1207, the cloth was publicly paraded and displayed by Pope Innocent III, who granted indulgences to anyone praying before it.

Jump ahead to 1453, records show that this relic was acquired by Pope Nicholas V from relatives of the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Dragases Palaiologos.

So, how did this veil get to Alicante? Well, this veil was cut up into many pieces in order to spread the power around and a chunk (70m2) was given by a Vatican cardinal to the Spanish priest, Mosen Pedro Mena, who took it to Alicante in 1489.

The first proof that the piece of veil had magical powers appeared on the transportation trip. The priest had put the cloth on the bottom of his traveling truck for security reasons, but the relic would not stay put and would always find its way to the top of the truck on each inspection.

The second occurrence, again in 1489, was on a record hot day and a sever drought was afoot in Alicante and as legend has it, this relic proved its powers by making it rain. The relic was carried in a procession on 17 March by the infamous Alicante priest, Father Villafranca, and mysteriously, a tear sprang from the eye of the face of Christ, which had been painted onto the piece of veil. Upon noticing this tear, it suddenly started to rain.

I would say that the third miracle of this holy relic is the fact that it was not destroyed in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. According to local records, a couple of devotees risked their lives to secret the veil away, Vicente Rocamora Onteniente accompanied by the parish mayor Antonio Ramos Alberola. They both entered the reliquary and after breaking the glass that protects the relic, they took it. Later, the relic was transferred to the Provincial Council where it was stored in the safe.

Sadly, the rest of the church was looted and destroyed by communist and anarchist militiamen. The Monastery was used as an aircraft factory.

After the war, the church was rebuilt and locals say that it is even more spectacular than the old one and luckily the reliquary room of the Santa Faz remained untouched.