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The Holy Face And Sacred Head Of Jesus

By: Rosanna M.

Date: March 12, 2024

In Lent, we focus our devotions on Christ’s Passion, on what He suffered to save us. During this Lent, it was on my heart to learn about what Jesus suffered in particular to His Sacred Head crowned with thorns and His Holy Face. I have a framed image of Jesus’ face, a photographic copy of what is seen on the Shroud of Turin, held in northern Italy. 

The Shroud is a long linen cloth that has the frontal and dorsal images of a scourged and crucified man. It is believed by many researchers that the Shroud’s history goes back to the first century in Jerusalem, to the time when Jesus of Nazareth suffered His Passion and Crucifixion. It is believed to be His burial cloth. There is considerable historical and scientific evidence to support this claim. I will not have the space here to argue for the authenticity of the Shroud, that will have to wait for another time, but I do want to give attention to what the Man of the Shroud, strongly believed to be Jesus of Nazareth, suffered to His face and His head. 

The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was the last team to conduct extensive scientific and medical forensic studies on the Shroud in 1978 (1). Much of the evidence collected then is still being analyzed to this day. Some of what the STURP team discovered on the Shroud related to the Man’s face and head follows. 

The head of the Man of the Shroud shows that He suffered “multiple puncture wounds encircling the entire skull area . . . consistent with the ‘Crown of Thorns’ traditionally associated with Jesus’ passion” (2). There is blood confirmed to be human blood visible on the forehead and and scalp, with a distinct reverse-epsilon or “3” shaped blood mark on the centre-left of the forehead. The Man had long hair, pulled back into a ponytail, and there are blood marks visible all over the back of the head (3). The Crown of Thorns that the Man wore was a helmet-shaped cap, woven from possibly four different thorny plants, which grow in the region of Jerusalem (4). It is reminiscent of the head wear worn by the High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem (5). Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King. 

The face of the Man of the Shroud shows that He had swelling on both cheeks, with a triangular wound on the right cheek, and that His nose was swollen and deviated. There are two possible theories of how He suffered these injuries, and both are most likely true. When He was carrying His patibulum (the horizontal piece of the cross), with His hands firmly tied to the wood, He would not have been able protect His face when falling to the ground, as tradition tells us He did. The injuries are also consistent with blunt force trauma as Jesus was beaten on the face and spat upon (Matthew 27:30) (6). Scripture reveals that the bones of Jesus were not broken (John 19:36), but this does not exclude the possibility of a deviated septum (cartilage of the nose). 

In Isaiah 52:14, we read: “Even as many were amazed at him—so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals, his appearance, beyond that of human beings” (7). Jesus’ face was disfigured. Yet, the STURP team members noticed something they did not expect: that, despite the gruesome tortures that the Man of the Shroud experienced, His face appeared serene, as though He were at peace with what happened to Him. (8).   

The wounds on the Shroud of Turin correspond to those seen on another cloth with a very different history: the Sudarium of Oviedo in northern Spain. The Sudarium does not show a face image but did cover the head of the victim and has blood marks of type AB blood which correspond with a high degree of accuracy to those seen on the Shroud (9). This is quite remarkable as the two cloths despite having matching blood marks did not have the same history. While the Shroud is believed to have travelled from its origin in Jerusalem to Edessa and Constantinople (Turkey), then to Lirey and Chambery (France), and finally to Turin (10), the Sudarium’s history shows movement from Jerusalem, to Alexandria (Greece), and then across the Mediterranean to several locations in Spain (11). In John 20:6-7, two cloths were noted by the Evangelist that were seen when the Apostles, Peter and John entered the sepulchre of the Lord on Easter Sunday. 

As tradition tells us in the sixth Station of the Cross, Veronica wiped the face of Jesus to provide some relief to Him as He was making His agonizing way to Calvary (12). His Holy Face then was imprinted on the cloth. This is yet another cloth with the image of Jesus’ face and it is preserved in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (13). It is believed that Jesus left us at least three cloths related to His Passion. These are relics treasured by the Church and venerated by the faithful. 

Devotions in the Catholic Church often have more than one influence in their history, and such was with the Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. The most notable revelation was given to Sr. Mary of St. Peter, a Carmelite in Tours, France, in the 1840s. Our Lord wished to reveal to her a powerful devotion to be established worldwide “as a reparation against the chastisements to come due to ‘revolutionary men (Communists)’” (14). Devotion to His Holy Face is a form of spiritual currency that allows the believer to make reparation to Him for His sufferings and also for our sanctification and salvation.  

Our Lord said to Sr. Mary of St. Peter: 

Just as in the earthly kingdom money which is stamped with the picture of the sovereign or ruling executive of the country procures whatever one desires to purchase, so likewise in the kingdom of Heaven, you shall obtain all that you desire by offering the coin of My precious Humanity which is My adorable Face (15). 

He also gave to her the Golden Arrow prayer, which is commonly said on the 33 beads of the Holy Face Chaplet (but could also be said on a rosary):

May the most Holy, most Sacred, most Adorable, Most Incomprehensible and Unutterable name of God be always praised, blessed, loved, adored, and glorified in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, by all the creatures of God, and by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar. Amen. (16). 

The Confraternity of the Holy Face was founded in Tours in 1884, and re-established as an Arch-confraternity in 1885. Members included St. Therese of Lisieux, also called St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (17). It was established to make reparation for sins against Jesus, especially against the first, second, and third Commandments: blasphemies against God and not observing the holiness of the Sabbath day (18). 

Interestingly, as I was debating within myself whether to write this blog post — trying to discern IF I should be the one to write it as I myself don’t yet practice this devotion, other than saying the Golden Arrow prayer at times — something amazing happened. I was going down the Youtube rabbit-hole for another project I was working on when I serendipitously found the video listed below by the Carmelites of the Holy Face of Jesus. It was as though Jesus was guiding me and telling me that at this moment He wanted me to stop being distracted by this other work and focus my efforts to learn more about what He wanted to teach me about the Holy Face devotion. 

Jesus’ Holy Face, beaten and bruised, and His Head crowned with thorns allow us to see the enduring suffering of our Saviour. He is our true King, and yet he emptied Himself as a slave. Jesus was beaten, scourged, adorned with a purple robe, and crowned with thorns by those who mocked His Kingship (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:2-5). The Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah 53 “. . . did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) (19). 

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:33,37) (20).

The feast of the Holy Face is a moveable feast celebrated on Shrove Tuesday each year, the day before Ash Wednesday. During Lent, the traditional hymn “O Sacred Head Surrounded” is often sung. It was attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux of the 12th century, and was translated into English from German, and previously Latin (21). It pays homage to Our Lord in this particular element of His Passion. The last verse is below:

“Christ Jesus, we adore you,

Our thorn-crowned Lord and King.

We bow our heads before you,

And to your cross we cling.

Lord, give us strength to bear it

With patience and with love,

That we may truly merit

A glorious crown above” (22).  

A most blessed Lent to all. 


  1. “STURP”.

       Accessed: 4 March 2024.

2. JACKSON, J., The Shroud of Turin: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data, and Hypotheses. 2017. Colorado Springs: The Turin Shroud Center of Colorado (TSC). 48. 

3.JACKSON, 46-53. 

4. GORNY, G., and ROSIKON, J., Witness of Mystery: Investigations into Christ’s Relics. 2013. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 275-276. 

5.“Priestly Turban”.

     Accessed: 4 March 2024.

6. JACKSON, 48-50

7. ISAIAH 52:14: “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, New American Bible.” 

Accessed: 5 March 2024. 

8. Personal communication with Dr. John Jackson, Director, Turin Shroud Center (TSC, Colorado Springs, CO) and former President, Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) team, November 2017.

9. GORNY and ROSIKON, 161. 

10. GORNY and ROSIKON, 16.

11. GORNY and ROSIKON, 145. 

12. “Stations of the Cross”.

Accessed: 1 March 2024.

13. PAX CHRISTI. “Holy Face Devotion for Our Time - Carmelites of the Holy Face”. 

Accessed: 29 February 2024. 

14. SR. MARY of ST PETER, The Golden Arrow: The Autobiography and Revelations of Sister Mary of St.      Peter (1816-1848) On Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. Edited by Dorothy Scanlan, translated by Fr. Emeric B. Scanlan, S.T.B. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books. 2012. Back cover. 

15. SR. MARY of ST PETER, xi preface. 

16. SR. MARY of ST PETER, 225-226.


18. HAINS, M. “The Ten Commandments” 

Accessed: 29 February 2024.

21. “O Sacred Head Surrounded”

Accessed: 29 February 2024. 

22. “O Sacred Head Surrounded” 

Accessed: 29 February 2024.


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