Spain is indeed a wonderful place to explore religious relics. An adventurous traveller does not necessarily have to be dedicated to a relic to discover its resting place, but on your journey you can be enlightened by the wonderful art and architecture that surrounds it.

One such great example is the Catholic relic of Santa Faz (Holy Face), protected and venerated in the monastery of Santa Faz in the municipality of Santa Faz in Alicante. This relic is the destination of an annual pilgrimage attended by more than 260,000 relic lovers.

Since visiting monasteries and searching for relics are both great ways to spend a Sunday morning, I set out to witness the historical past and admire a few mysteries myself.

* Report by Karla Ingleton Darocas, Hons. B.A. (c) no part of this text or photos may be replicated

Before reaching the relic, stop to admire the baroque beauty of the Church of Santa Verónica, part of the monastery complex.

Like all religious buildings in Catholic Spain, this complex was originally a Gothic convent and church given on 17 July 1518 to the Franciscan order of the "barefoot mothers" of Santa Clara from Gandía, who were known for their extreme poverty, fasting and walking barefoot .

The church is a Latin cross-style building crowned by a dome of blue glazed tiles, typical of Valencian Baroque.

The ornate altar-style portal, built between 1721 and 1738, consists of three sections, each decreasing in size. A huge relief depicting Veronica and her veil is surrounded by ornate decorations that include Solomonic corkscrew columns, curved cornices, plinths, scrolls, curtains, pinnacles and globes, all familiar from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. A small curved cornice with three pinnacles crowns the façade of the church.

To the right of the church portal is the entrance door to the monastery. It repeats the design of the church portal, but on a smaller scale. It has only 2 levels, but there is the same ornamental abundance. The upper part of the monastery is decorated with a balustrade and pinnacles.

Inside the church there are 4 chapels between the pillars. Above the neo-baroque main altar there is a pretty white octagonal dome with a window lantern depicting Veronica and her veil between Solomonic corkscrew columns, just like at the main entrance portal.

Looking around, windows, artwork and banners do not let the faithful forget why they have come to this particular church.

This relic of the Holy Face is today located behind the main altar of the church in a specially designed reliquary room, 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 ornate. The hexagonal dome shows paintings of miracles, local personalities connected with the founding of the chapel, and religious themes such as judgement and redemption.

On one side of the reliquary is a niche with a small silver stand protecting the painted cloth containing the blood and sweat of Christ. It is enclosed behind glass. The frame is Renaissance in style and has a small cross on top. The only light comes through a deep, coffered stained glass window in which Veronica shows her veil.

Finally, in the monastery's orchard is a defensive tower built in 1582, at a time when Alicante was frequently raided by North Africans. The tower is crowned by a cornice of neoclassical stucco and four scarabs in each corner. There are loopholes on the north and south fronts for pouring hot oil on the enemy, and loopholes on the north and east sides.

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

Veronica was a compassionate woman who saw Jesus dragging his heavy cross under duress to Golgotha, the place outside the walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was to be crucified, and she offered him her veil to wipe away the sweat and blood that dripped into his eyes. According to legend, the stained cloth turned into an imprint of Jesus' face.

What happened to the cloth after this event is not certain, but in 1207 the cloth was publicly paraded and displayed by Pope Innocent III who granted an indulgence to anyone who prayed before the cloth.

A jump to 1453 shows 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, the veil was cut into many pieces to distribute the power. One piece (70 m2) was given by a Vatican cardinal to the Spanish priest Mosen Pedro Mena, who brought it to Alicante in 1489.

The first proof that the piece of veil had magical powers appeared on the transport journey. The priest had placed the cloth on the bottom of his suitcase for safety reasons, but the relic did not stay put and found its way up into the trunk every time it was inspected.

The second incident, also in 1489, occurred on a record-breaking hot day when there was a severe drought in Alicante, and according to legend, the relic proved its power by bringing rain. The relic was carried in procession on 17 March by the infamous priest of Alicante, Father Villafranca, and mysteriously a tear emerged from the eye of Christ's face that had been painted on the piece of veil. When he noticed this tear, it suddenly began to rain.

I would say the third miracle of this holy relic is the fact that it was not destroyed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. According to local records, two faithful risked their lives to recover the veil: Vicente Rocamora Onteniente accompanied by the parish mayor Antonio Ramos Alberola. The two entered the reliquary and took the relic after breaking the glass that protected it. Later, the relic was handed over to the provincial council, where it was kept in a safe.

Unfortunately, the rest of the church was looted and destroyed by 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 that the relic room of Santa Faz remained untouched.

Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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