Deep beneath the Vatican is an immaculate painting of our Lord, Jesus the Christ, crucified upon the cross. Painted entirely in browns and dark flesh tones, this painting is the most realistic representation of Christ’s death ever to exist. And it is locked away in the deepest recesses of the Vatican in lone room long forgotten. Where it came from, nobody knows, but the dark secret it keeps is one that strikes the very soul.
Legend has it that it was discovered in the rubble of a long fallen down home in early 17th century Germany by a young Lutheran minister. As the tale goes, he would go through the cemetery into the forest behind his church. There was an old footpath that had been overgrown with tree roots and various foliage that led to the house of an old Catholic Priest that had died a few centuries before the reformation. Stories surrounding the old Priest’s home and his acquirements caused rumors to rise up and the church was soon abandoned. After the Protestant Reformation, a group of Lutherans restored the old church and used it for worship.
The second pastor to minister to this Lutheran congregation found tranquility in nature and would often go out to the woods when he wasn’t needed and just walk. One day, he came upon the Priest’s old house. He did nothing that first time but shrug it off and return back to the church. In the church archives left over from its Roman Catholic history, however, he found records of all the previous Priests and learned that the house belonged to one of the later ones. With this information, he grew excited to see what documents and artifacts he might be able to find in the old house and so he would make daily treks to the old church.
The Lutheran pastor would paw through the rubble, but for the most part he would find nothing of value. That is, until one day, he looked through the window of an old fallen down wall and saw what appeared to be a framed portrait. He couldn’t make out what it was of, but it looked as though it was intact. It took many days to carefully break away the wall and rubble that surrounded without damaging the item, but he eventually got it, a portrait of great size.
He picked up the large portrait and held it out. It was very large at three feet in height. It was also very filthy and he could barely make out what it was. Deciding that it must be cleaned up, he placed it under his arm as best he could and steadied it with his other hand as he began to walk back.
However, as he walked back, he found himself becoming increasingly depressed for no explainable reason. The portrait grew heavy in its frame and the normally reasonable walk seemed to drag on for much longer. When he approached the church cemetery, the sun had gone down and tears of mental anguish slowly rolled down his cheeks. He couldn’t carry it much further, it was simply too much for him to handle. So the pastor entered the church and left it in the narthex and then went home.
That night was very restless for him and his wife and child could see it in his face when he arose in the morning, still full of sorrow. After breakfast, he went to the church to clean up the portrait which took the better part of the day. As it became more and more clean, he became more and more distressed, cursing himself and all that he was. And when he finished, the eyes of a crucified Jesus stared down upon him. Judging him. Condemning him. And he broke down in tears as he all at once knew all of his sins. He pleaded for forgiveness, but he found none.
It was almost midnight before he returned home. He collapsed in a heap as he fell through the door, exhausted from repentance and tears. His wife found him the next morning lying in the doorway sleeping soundly as could be as peasants outside looked at him in awe. With the help of a neighbor, she got him inside and into bed. When he finally woke up, he just began apologizing for his sins. Every sin. Sins that he never even knew he had committed but now remembered in every detail.
He stayed at home for a few weeks and over time he recovered. The lord Jesus Christ had forgiven him of his every sin and he knew it. God’s mercy through Christ’s blood shed on the cross had covered all his sins and he was glad.
The following Sunday, church services resumed as normal. Parishioners were fed the flesh and blood of Christ. Sins were forgiven. Spirits were high. And there was much rejoicing.
Sometime after the service after he thought all had left, he heard a terrible weeping coming from the Narthex. Under a table, he found a small child crying uncontrollably. It was a boy and he was babbling over and over about how sorry he was, and that’s when the pastor saw it. The painting he’d found had been shoved behind the table, and there was Jesus looking back at him, dying on the cross. The pastor removed the boy and took him home to his mother before returning and examining the painting.
Just as before, he felt the complete guilt of all his sins at once. He prayed for forgiveness and repentance in the Lord but received none. He exhausted himself in sorrow and passed out on the floor. When he eventually awoke, the anguish was still there as strong as ever.
The story goes that he was eventually dragged out of the church and taken to a hospital where doctors and preachers tried to nurse his mind back to health, but to no avail. Nothing could convince him that he was forgiven. They say he eventually killed himself by bashing his head against the stone walls of the hospital when he was left alone one day, a sin in the eyes of the church, but probably for the better.
As for the old church, rumors of demon possessions and evil sprang up and caught like wildfire. The church was soon abandoned and slowly over time fell into disarray.
The painting would not turn up again until the late 19th century when some children playing in the woods came upon the old church, now over grown with plants. They found the painting covered with dust rubble, but still intact. Knowing their father was a man of the arts, they brought it home to show him what they’d found, although they were significantly depressed by the time they returned.
He sent them to bed with good tidings. When his wife went to bed, he began to clean the painting. And he felt the weight of all his sins. And no forgiveness.
When his wife awoke in the morning, she found him dead, his wrists slit and straight razor lying limp in his hand. Against the fireplace was the portrait of crucified Jesus, immaculately cleaned. And he judged her. And she felt the weight of her sins. And she found no forgiveness.
It was days before she was found. She was next to her husband. Dead with their two children. She died of slit wrists and the children of impalement.
The painting moved around pretty quickly at this point, racking up quite a few deaths in mere weeks. The Vatican heard about it and it was sent for it to be investigated, but only on holy ground. It was covered, boxed up, and sent to Rome where it was to be examined on the holiest ground.
The group examining suffered from extreme guilt and it took weeks of being away from the portrait with constant supervision and consultation before they could feel the forgiveness and go back to their work. It was decided that the painting must be destroyed, but when the time came, the guilt overcame them and they could not bring themselves to destroy such an image of their lord.
They covered it with a sheet and left it locked alone in a room for weeks on end until they could once again feel Christ’s mercy. They called in a Priest who had no former contact with it to take it to the most recessed, dark, and unused areas of the Vatican and lock it in. And it has been there since and still is to this day. Nary an individual has seen it for over a hundred years. Yet on occasion, someone will go down to the dark room to leave a strange trinket with specific instructions no to touch anything. Those who go down say they feel an uneasiness about the whatever is under the sheet and express that, for no apparent reason, they begin to feel shame and sorrow. When they ask about it, those who know of the portraits existence grow cold and simply tell them that, “The Devil works in mysterious ways.”