In search of the First Millennium of the Holy Shroud
by Maurus Green OSB
Ampleforth Journal 74:3 (1969) 321-345
"Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem"

The Problem

Is it possible to pierce the silence of a thousand years? The mere question makes the attempt look forlorn. Besides, have not historians long since dismissed the Shroud of Turin as a forgery? And are not some leading Scripture scholars convinced that Christ was never buried in a shroud?

Despite all that has been written against it, the stubborn enigma of the Turin cloth remains. There it is, rolled up in its casket, demanding an explanation. "So be it," it seems to say; "Then by what strange miracle am I a forgery?" History is incapable of giving an answer, so the linen itself turns to science for a solution. But science is baffled: half a century of research by eminent scientists of different persuasions and nationality has unearthed a score of unsolved problems that leave the Shroud a greater mystery than ever. Puzzled as they are, these men have been driven by the evidence to ask of its portrait, "if it is not Christ, who is it?"

So the onlooker is caught between the opposing conclusions of history and science. They cannot both be right Perhaps he feels that the conviction of the scientists does less violence to his intelligence than that of the historians. After all, a mystery that hints at a rational explanation is preferable to a forgery that would involve a sheer impossibility. So he begins to wonder, "Were the historians correct? Could there have been some mistake?"

Scope of the enquiry

There is no easy answer and this essay can do no more than invite the historians to reconsider their verdict in the light of evidence that was not examined when that verdict was given with all too much finality.

The enquiry must begin with the Shroud itself. What clues does it offer? Like all archaeological documents, its internal evidence will determine the value of an historical investigation. Unique among ancient objects that present themselves for scrutiny, this linen demands examination along many lines at once: theology, scripture, liturgy, science, medicine, photography, textiles and art—all are interested. Each adds its quota to building up the historical identification.

Space forbids entry into most of these realms and even a good deal of historical evidence, essential to a complete study, cannot be called. The enquiry is therefore severely limited to a search for anything like the Turin Shroud in the first twelve centuries of our era. Thereafter the historical strands become too complicated for treatment here, its existence being certainly established at Chambery from the mid-fifteenth century. Before the search proper begins, the two classical objections to authenticity mentioned above must be briefly examined.

A: What does the document itself reveal?

In the Spring Journal, Dr Willis [2] gave an admirable exposition of the scientific and medical credentials of the Shroud, showing how it offers conclusive evidence that it once contained a corpse. This is powerful enough to convince a court of law that the Man of the Shroud suffered death similar to crucifixion, preceded by an unusual type of flogging and wounding of the scalp by sharp instruments. If the court proceeded to identify the body, its expert witnesses would find their field limit ed to victims of this triple torture whose shrouds had been preserved.

[2] Dr David Willis, "Did He die on the Cross?", Ampleforth Journal 74:1 (1969)

Though there is only one case known to history, the court might insist on a search, since identification here has enormous consequences.

The Shroud has been in possession of the Savoy family since the fifteenth century. Its victim's scourge marks indicate use of the Roman flagrum to inflict them: so the search would naturally turn to records of Roman crucifixion, abolished by Constantine. This brings us to pre-Constantinian Egypt, archaeology's most prolific source of preserved burial linens. Its countless embalmed mummies can be excluded. Their tightly packed linens and bandages bear no images or wound marks.

However, Egypt does provide examples of shroud burial among the early Christian interments at Antinoe, a town built on the Nile by Hadrian in 132 A.D. The bodies were buried between then and the sixth century. From 1897 to 1902 Albert Gayet unearthed some 10,000 pagan and Christian bodies in an intact state. The Christians were buried in a variety of ways, some clad in clothes, others wrapped in shrouds with and without face veils, their ankles and wrists bound by ribbons,. People were interred in anything up to twenty shrouds, embroidered with the early Christian symbols of the Alexandrian catacombs. Single shroud burials were like the Jewish burials of the poor in Palestine before and after Our Lord's time, such as are described in pre-Christian apocrypha and recorded of Rabbi Gamaliel and his grandson.[3]

[3] Wuenschel (1) 67f. Daube, 312. Before Gamaliel's reform "a plain cloth chosen without care would be used only for a criminal or at best a person despised by everyone. It would be a sign of shame". Joseph, by buying a "clean shroud" and burying Jesus in a new tomb, ensured that he did not suffer the ritual disgrace of criminal burial.

Gayet mentions one case of a face veil, folded in four, that bears the apparently undistorted imprint of the dead person's face, similar to the Shroud's death mask. The experts think that this fourfold impression was made by some chemical process involving spices.

Despite the absence of "figured shrouds" proper, the Antinoe burials are important for two reasons. Firstly, they show how the early Christians followed the Jewish custom, perhaps consciously imitating the manner in which they thought Christ was buried. This was a widespread fashion, since similar shroud burials were found in the Catacomb of St Sebastian, Rome. Secondly, the many portraits of the dead, like the better known ones at Fayum, show how the early Christians took over the funeral portraits of ancient Egypt. The latter assured the preservation of the ka or immaterial incarnation of the dead, warding off their second death and the hell that awaited those who had not been buried with the customary rites. When the Christian custom developed into portraits of the martyrs, we shall see how the pagan idea of incarnation led to the notion of the presence of the saint in his portrait – a conception deeply affecting the historical fate of the Shroud.

Search for any victim like the Man of the Shroud having drawn a blank in Egypt, then Palestine, site of the best known Roman crucifixions, is all that remains. This brings us to the Gospels, the only historical source of the details of a Roman crucifixion combined with shroud burial. These describe the scourging, crowning with thorns and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a unique combination of punishments that tallies so remarkably with the treatment of the Man of the Shroud that forensic and other scientists who have studied this evidence with objective care, to a man agree with Professor Yves Delage of the Sorbonne.[4]

[4] Yves Delage (1854-1920), Doctor of Medicine and Science. From 1886 held the chairs of Zoology, Anatomy and Comparative Physiology at the Faculty of Sciences, Paris. 1901, Director of the Roscoff Laboratory and Member of the Academy of Sciences. Outstanding scientist and author of the 8-volume Traité de Zoologie Concrète and works in several fields. The 1898 photograph of the Turin Shroud presented him with a serious challenge. Fearing clerical use of it in favour of miracle, he encouraged his assistants to search for a scientific explanation. In an open letter to M. Richet, editor of the Revue Scientifique, he expressed his state of mind. "Do you remember the deep joy we felt ... ? For weeks and months our minds were obsessed with this disconcerting contradiction between a material fact which had to be accepted and the apparent impossibility of finding a natural explanation for it, thus playing into the hands of those who accept miracles which my philosophical opinions do not admit at any price. And then suddenly there arose the natural explanation, luminous in its simplicity, ousting miracle."

On 21 April 1902, he gave a detailed report of his team's researches to the French Academy of Sciences. Though an agnostic and life-long friend of Renan, he was compelled by loyalty to the scientific method to conclude: "On the one hand we have the shroud, probably impregnated with aloes – which brings us to the East outside Egypt – and a crucified man who had been scourged, pierced on the right side and crowned with thorns. On the other we have an account – pertaining to history, legend, and tradition – showing us Christ as having undergone in Judea the same treatment as we decipher on the body whose image is on the shroud . . . Let us add that, in order that the image should be produced and not later destroyed, it is necessary that the body should remain in the presence of the shroud at least twenty-four hours, the time necessary for the formation of the image, and at most a few days, after which there supervenes putrefaction which destroys the image and finally the shroud.[5] Now this is precisely what tradition . . . asserts to have happened to Christ who died on Friday and disappeared on Sunday."

[5] Delage accepted Paul Vignon's vaporographic theory, according to which vapours released by the chemical reaction of the urea of the body sweat and the spices, stained the cloth to form the image. This process would need at least 24 hours as Vignon's experiments, details of which Delage presented to the Academy, proved Though the theory is now treated with considerable reserve, Delage's observation of the need for rapid removal of the body before the onset of corruption is as valid as ever.

"And [he continued] if it is not Christ, it must be some criminal under the common law. But how is this to be reconciled with the admirably noble expression which you read on this figure? I now add that there is here a collection of five circumstances, to mention only the principal, which are rather exceptional: the East outside Egypt, the wound on the right side, the crown of thorns, the duration of the burial, the character of the physiognomy. Suppose that for each there should be one chance in a hundred that it should occur in the case of another person. There would then be only one chance in ten thousand million that they should be found together. Of course, I do not give these numbers as having any claim to exactness, but only to show the improbability of all these conditions occurring together in the case of another person."

But the Turin Shroud has no passport. Despite all the evidence of a medico-scientific nature – evidence far stronger than is required to convict many a murderer or identify ancient objects like the statues of Easter Island – scholars in general have tended to miss the Shroud as an object of serious study.[6]

[6] One notable exception is Hugh Schonfield, author of The Passover Plot". In 1932 he edited K. de Proszynski's The Authentic Photograph of Christ (London 1932), contributing a Foreword and an historical Supplement. He calls the Shroud "one of the most amazing phenomena of our time" and wonders "whether at last there has been restored to us through the agency of science that most wished for object of Christian faith – to see the face of Jesus". He continues, "It cannot be too strongly stressed that the Holy Shroud is in quite a different category from other objects of devotion. The discovery was made possible by the advance of science, which so often in seeming contradiction to religious belief, has as often confirmed it by what it has brought to light." (p.7)

This is partly due to the general, and in many cases justifiable, discredit of relics. But echoes of the three-pronged attack on the Shroud's authenticity are also responsible. The first prong excludes authenticity because distinguished exegetes like Fr Joseph Blinzler and Pere Braun OP maintain that the Gospel accounts are against shroud burial. The second accepts the word of Bishop D'Arcis of Troyes in 1389, who condemned the Shroud as a forgery. The third, the object of this study, rejects it on the grounds that it has no history before the fourteenth century. Archaeologists may well raise an eyebrow and ask how many objects of the ancient world with far less historical backing are accepted as genuine, many depending solely on their internal evidence. The first two prongs must now be examined.

B: The Gospel evidence

Was our Lord buried in a shroud or swathed in bands like a mummy? According to the Jerusalem Bible the three-fold account of Matthew, Mark and Luke is emphatically in favour of shroud burial. Mark writes that Pilate "granted the corpse to Joseph who bought a shroud (sindon), took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb . . ." (Mark 15, 46).

But "shroud" is not the exclusive meaning of sindon. It can also mean ""fine linen", "tunic" or "sheet". John's rather different account suggests that we could translate sindon as "linen cloth" rather than "shroud". He writes that Joseph and Nicodemus "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with spices in linen cloths (othonia) following the Jewish burial custom" (John 19, 39-40). Until recently John's word, othonia, was translated into all languages as "linen cloths" and no one saw any contradiction between the Synoptists' "shroud" (sindon) and John's "linen cloths" (othonia); but in 1879, John's word was first translated as "bandages". This now common translation has made some scholars think that Joseph and Nicodemus, having bought "fine linen" or a "shroud", proceeded to tear it into bandages and swathe our Lord in them like a mummy. Since they regard this as quite certain, they cannot allow the possibility that the Shroud of Turin may have been used for his burial despite its strong internal evidence.

Against this view Pere Benoit O.P., maintains that this is forcing the Gospel text to say more that it does. Besides, he points out that mummy burial was an Egyptian, not a Jewish, custom, and in any case it would have been much easier for Joseph to have bought readily available bandages, especially as he was very pressed for time. The body had to be buried without the usual washing and anointing (which the women intended to supply on the Sunday morning) before the start of the Sabbath at sundown. Mgr Vaccari SJ also produces strong evidence to prove that John's word othonia did not mean "bandages" because, in fact, it was a generic term for linen cloths of any size. Indeed, one text he refers to shows it used explicitly as a heading of a list of funeral cloths which include "shroud", "bandages", and "sweat cloth" – the three Gospel words for our Lord's grave-clothes.

The last word, "sweat cloth" (soudarion), is the one used by John to describe the cloth "rolled up" by itself, that he and Peter saw on Easter morning. It was this and the undisturbed state of the other linens which helped him to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20, 7-9). No one knows exactly what that cloth was. John's description, "the sweat cloth that was over his head", may indicate a small cloth covering the head and face. Since some authors translate it as "napkin", it may have been a chin band used to keep the jaw shut; and the Shroud image suggests this (Plate 13)**. However, its "rolled up" state hints at something larger, perhaps the shroud itself, the sindon of the Synoptists. Père Benoit is justly sceptical of efforts to square the four accounts in order to ensure shroud burial.

** The images are not currently available on the website.

As Dom Bernard Orchard points out, it is quite impossible to tell from the Gospel texts alone just how our Lord was buried. They permit the tearing of the sindon in strips for mummy burial, but what little we know of the Jewish custom, and evidence of early Christian usage, seem to rule this out. Bands may have kept the feet and hands in position, the body being loosely wrapped in a shroud. Or, again, our Lord's face may have been covered with a small cloth over or under the shroud, the bandages keeping it, the shroud, and the spices in position. To conclude, we may agree with Vaccari and Wuenschel and the texts certainly allow their version: "The eyes and mouth were closed, the body was enwrapped in a shroud. The other operations—washing, anointing, etc.—were postponed until Sunday morning. Pulverised aloes and myrrh were sprinkled to retard corruption during the intervening forty hours".[7]

[7]   ‘La Santa Sindone nelle ricerche moderne', Studies presented to the National Convention, Turin 1939

Straightforward reading of the text has always supported some such version, which is favoured by all the Fathers of both East and West. Early Christian burial customs take it for granted, as do apocryphal and other writings which speculate about the fate of our Lord's burial linens.

C: The forgery theory

This was popularised with such energy by Canon Ulysse Chevalier in France and the Jesuit Fr Thurston in England at the beginning of this century that it is still taken for granted by many who have not really examined the question. It was, of course, faced squarely by Professor Delage in his address to the Academy of Sciences in 1902, but such was the authority of Chevalier and Thurston that he was virtually shouted down, as were the correspondents of the Times and the Lancet who gave favourable coverage to his communication.

In the light of subsequent discoveries, it is interesting to look again at Delage's refutation of the forgery charge. "As the shroud is authenticated since the fourteenth century, if the image is a faked painting, there must at this epoch, have existed an artist—who has remained unknown—capable of executing a work hardly within the power of the greatest Renaissance painters. While this is already very difficult to admit for an image painted as a positive, it becomes quite incredible in the case of a negative image, which lacks all aesthetic character in this form and assumes its value only when the lights and shades are reversed, while strictly respecting their contours and values. Such an operation would be almost impossible except by photography, an art unknown in the fourteenth century. The forger, while painting a negative, would have to know how to distribute light and shade so that after reversal they would give the figure which he attributed to Christ, and that with perfect precision. [..] I add this argument whose force will be felt on reflection: Why should this forger have taken the trouble to realise a beauty not visible in his work and discernible only after reversal which was only later made possible", ie five centuries later! "He would be working for his contemporaries and not for the twentieth century and the Academy of Sciences."

Delage points out that in various ways the forger has deliberately flouted the susceptibilities of his contemporaries. "The hands are pierced through the wrist and not through the palm, in conformity with the anatomical requirements and against tradition." Of the nakedness of the image, he writes, "The shroud destined to inflame the zeal of the faithful should not at the same time shock their feelings or scandalise them. This is so true that the loincloth has been added to certain copies."

Basically, the acceptance of this impossible genius of a forger (who used no pigment of any kind) is founded on an assumption, taken for granted by both defenders and opponents of the Turin Shroud, that the shroud of Lirey, condemned by Bishop D'Arcis in 1389 as a forgery, was identical with the cloth of Turin. In fact, however strong the assumption, it remains a debatable assumption, since much of the evidence suggests the opposite. Space forbids its presentation here, but in any case Delage makes the old debate seem irrelevant and our subsequent enquiry allows us to ignore it.

D   Early legends and traditions

The fact that our Lord's burial cloths and their arrangement were the first material evidence of the Resurrection would point to their preservation despite their defiling nature – anything to do with a corpse being impure to the Jews. So it is not altogether surprising to discover early and growing interest in their fate. St Jerome is the first we know to record this. He quotes the lost Gospel of the Hebrews to the effect that the Lord confided the shroud (sindon) "to the servant of the priest".[8]

Schonfield's comment may be important. He writes, "Outside the Bible the oldest reference (to the Shroud) is contained in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which dates at the latest from the beginning of the second century, and by many of the Church Fathers was held to be the original Hebrew of St Matthew's Gospel. St Jerome, in a quotation from it which is tantalisingly short, introduces the following: "Now the Lord, when he had given the shroud to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him. ...] [8] We are naturally anxious to know what preceded this passage and the circumstances under which the gift of the Shroud was made. The expression 'servant of the priest' is remarkable. Dodd, in the Commonwealth (October 1931), conjectures that the original reading was 'Simon' (Peter) instead of 'servant', and he points to the shorter ending of Mark in the Codex Bobbiensis where there is a Latin reading puero (servant) in mistake for Petro (Peter). "A subsequent copyist", says Dodd, "in a laudable endeavour to make sense of the passage (in Hebrews), decided that 'servant' was the priest's servant mentioned in Mark 14:47. It is more likely that the original did state that Jesus gave the Shroud to Peter, because Paul among the appearances of the risen Christ mentions the appearance to James but states that 'he was first seen of Cephas' (1 Cor. 15:5)." It was Peter who found the grave-clothes.

Schonfield then refers to St Nino's belief and adds, "Taking the above references together, it is evident that, hazy as the tradition is, a case can be made out for the possession of the Shroud by Peter, the chief of the Apostles." "What became of the Shroud after his death? It was still missing early in the fourth century, but the Roman wars in Palestine which devastated the country and persecution of the Christians would no doubt lead to the secreting of the relic and to the loss soon afterwards of all knowledge of its hiding place. No doubt, at first, the figure of Christ would not be visible as such, but the lapse of time and probably the conditions under which it was buried would deepen the markings." (Op. cit p. 54f)

[8] De Vir. Illust. 2

In the fourth century, the Acts of Pilate show him with Joseph of Arimathea, saying, "I am Jesus . . . you wrapped me in a clean shroud (sindone munda) and you put a cloth (sudarium) on my face . . .", before showing him where they lay. It is interesting and perhaps significant that St Ephrem of Edessa, writing about the same date, thinks that the shroud and "the cloth that was over his head" were the same thing. [9]


[9] St Ephrem is the first writer we know of to identify sindon and soudarion. From the seventh century the Latin equivalent sudarium (and equivalents in all Romance languages, Georgian and Armenian) is used to translate both shroud and smaller face cloths, including Veronicas. In Syriac, Arabic and Aramaic, the vernacular of Palestine, equivalents of sudarium designated a square cloth used as a skirt, wide mantle, or ample veil over the head and enveloping the wearer. (Wuenschel cites Abbe Levesque's 'Le Suaire de Turin et L'Evangile', Nouvelle Revue Apologetique 1 (1939) 228.) The Abbé thinks that John's soudarion used in the burials of Lazarus and Christ should be interpreted in this Semitic sense, since the fourth Gospel abounds in Aramaisms. In support he refers to the current practice of the Druzes, ancient inhabitants of the Lebanon, who fold a shroud over the head down to the feet and tie it with bands at neck, feet and hand levels. He equates the bands with the keiriai of John 11:44, which kept Lazarus bound. He suggests that the othonia in the case of Christ would include the keiriai and the soudarion which, if used in the Semitic sense, would be the equivalent of the Synoptists' sindon. (Wuenschel (1) 50, 61, 82)

In Egypt, second and fifth century apocrypha [10] associate the grave clothes with Pilate and his wife, whereas for St Nino, the fourth century apostle of Georgia, the linen cloths passed via Pilate's wife to St Luke. The shroud, however, "is said to have been found by Peter, who took it and kept it, but we know not if it was ever discovered.[11]

[10] 'The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles' and 'Gamaliel', to be found in Savio, 62f and 161f, and Van den Oudenrijn, 55f, respectively.

[11]Wardrop and Conybeare. St Nino's conjectures seem to belong to the least suspect part of her legendary life which has been muddled with other legends. The translators believe that the earliest section of the thirteenth century Armenian version represents a text written before the sixth century, so that it may be a fourth or fifth century witness to the Petrine tradition.

This Petrine tradition must have been a persistent one because about 850 the Syrian, Ishodad of Merv, firmly believes it. He says that the burial linens were given to Joseph, the Lord of the grave, but "the shroud (sudara, Syriac for sudarium) Simon took, and it remained with him. And whenever he made an ordination, he arranged it on his head and many and frequent helps flowed from it, just as even now leaders and bishops of the Church arrange their turbans that are on their heads and about their necks in place of that shroud".

Writers often make this clear distinction between the burial linens and the shroud. Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa (635-651), is convinced that both "the linens (linteaminibus) and the shroud (sudarium) in which the Lord's body was wrapped" were preserved by the Apostles. Others, like the author of the seventh century Mozarabic rite [12], simply speak of "the traces (vestigia) on the linens (linteaminibus) of the dead and risen man" – a commentary on the linens in the empty tomb. John Damascene, listing the relics of his day that may rightly be venerated, might be taken to imply that Christ was buried in more than one shroud (sindonas),[13] a common belief that persists till the end of the nineteenth century in many quarters—a belief perhaps originally based on early Christian burial practice, interpreting John's account of the burial.

[12] The Mozarabic rite developed in sixth and seventh century Visigothic Spain. St Leander of Seville, who died in 599 and spent some time in Constantinople, may have influenced its composition. Our passage (echoed by two others), ad monumen- tum Petrus cum Johanne cuccurrit, recentiaque in linteaminibus defuncti et resurgentis vestigia cernit, has suggested the translation, "Peter ran with John to the tomb and saw the recent imprints of the dead and risen man on the linens", favoured by Savio (70). Vestigium (footstep, footprint, trace or mark: meanings unchanged since the seventh century) could permit this, but the more figurative traces would indicate merely the wrapped state of the cloths as though still enfolding the absent body, without implying any knowledge of imprints.
[13] Damascene's use of the plural is no more than suggestive, since elsewhere he uses the singular when referring to the burial cloths (in the plural).

E The Jerusalem Shroud.

The first person to mention the actual preservation of a shroud is the chronicler of the pilgrimage of St Antoninus Martyr about 570, describing a cave convent on the banks of the Jordan: "In the same place is said to be the sudarium, which was over the head of Jesus". No dimension is given; this shroud was kept in great secrecy. It could be identical with the one that appeared in Jerusalem three years before Bishop Arculf[14] venerated it about 670. He says that it was eight feet long. It seems to have been a sindone munda or figureless shroud without any imprint, though Arculf links it with a cloth portrait of Christ said to have been made by our Lady. According to the story he heard in Jerusalem, it was stolen from the tomb by a Christian in whose family it remained for many years, before falling to unbelievers. Not long before his visit it was an object of dispute, the Saracen ruler of Jerusalem deciding in favour of the Christians, apparently by ordeal of fire

[14] On his return from the Holy Land, Arculf, Bishop of Perigeux, was welcomed at Iona by Abbot Adamnan, who took down his report along with accurate drawings of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Soon afterwards St Bede incorporated it into his de Locis Sanctis (c. 720), the medieval guide for pilgrims.

F: European Shrouds?

These must be divided into "clean" and "figured shrouds". The figured shrouds which began to appear in Europe in the fourteenth century were all copies of the Turin cloth.

The "clean shrouds" were very ancient. Some were small "face cloths" or linen bands. It is impossible to tell which were genuine, unless like the shroud of Cadouin they can be proved to be false. None can be discarded definitely, since it is not known how many cloths were used at our Lord's burial. Not until 1935 was the famous shroud of Cadouin proved to be a Moslem cloth bearing the blessings of Allah! Brought from Antioch by the crusaders in the early twelfth century, it became a strong rival of the much more ancient shroud of Compiègne which had good claims to identity with Arculf's seventh century shroud. Possibly this was a gift to Charlemagne, whose grandson gave it to the monks of Compiègne in 877, where it was the object of huge pilgrimages and Papal and archiepiscopal patronage for eight centuries until its destruction at the French Revolution.

It is impossible to understand the fate of the Turin Shroud, unless its late appearance in Europe is seen against the background of these much more venerable linens. They, whether true or false, had been in possession for centuries; all were regarded as genuine right up to modern times and pilgrims flocked to them even in the hey-day of the Chambéry-Turin pilgrimages. How their devotees reacted to news of the upstart "figured shroud" and its satellite copies we cannot tell, but greater knowledge of inter-shroud politics might throw light on the undoubted suppression of evidence (revealed by gaps in important archives) that is a feature of the later tangled history of Turin's Shroud.

G: The True Likeness

While the West was mainly, though not exclusively, concentrating on collecting "clean shrouds" (sindone munda), the East was occupied with something much more mysterious – the "True Likeness" of Christ. This first appeared, so everyone believed, in Edessa, the home of St Ephrem and the powerful centre of Syrian Christianity, which was introduced in the second century or possibly the first. Documents in the Edessan Archives, seen by Eusebius and the author of the Doctrine of Addai during the fourth century, alleged that King Abgar V, who reigned from 13 to 50 A.D., sent an ambassador to our Lord with a letter inviting him to Edessa. Jesus is said to have written back declining, but promising Abgar and his people great benefits.[15]

[15] The problem of the letters is fully examined by Tixeront (cf. n. 27 below). Belief in the protective power of Christ's letter with its promise of perpetual immunity of Edessa from attack passed predominantly to the Icon, though even in our day copies of the letter were fixed over the doors of English houses as talismans just as it had been carved over city gates, houses and tombs in the Middle East from the fifth century.

According to the Doctrine of Addai, Ananias, the king's envoy and court painter, painted a portrait of Christ which was hung in Abgar's palace. Eusebius, a strong opponent of sacred images, is silent on this point. No more is heard of the portrait for two centuries, until Evagrius describes the Persian siege of Edessa in 544. He speaks of a portrait of Christ of divine origin, discovered in a wall, where it was thought to have been bricked in during a past persecution. Brought out from its hiding place during the siege, it gave miraculous help in repelling the Persians. Writing about 730, John Damascene describes its accepted origin: Jesus, noticing Ananias' inability to depict his features, took the cloth and put it to his face, imprinting his image on it. This, with a change of characters, is almost identical with the original Veronica story which seems to have derived from it.

This miraculous cloth image – acheiropoietos or "not made with hands" – was accepted as genuine by the whole of Christendom. It appears to be the first of a crop of such images, though this has not yet been generally established.[16] Gradually it acquired an artistic, theological and political importance greater than any other icon before or since.

[ 16] Miraculous images of Christ are divided into two types:
(a) Of divine origin, i.e. said to have been directly imprinted on cloth by Jesus, e.g. Edessa (first mentioned in 544), Camuliana (569), Memphis (570), and possibly the Column of flagellation in Jerusalem (570).
(b) Mechanical reproductions on tiles and cloth. The Edessan Image is said to have reproduced itself on at least two occasions. Of this type Kitzinger writes (p. 115), "The idea of mechanical reproduction – originally a sideline or the cult of relics and sometimes curiously prophetic of methods used in photography – seems to be more popular than that of celestial origin". Just how prophetic in the case of Edessa will become apparent, if we can establish its dependence on the Turin Shroud whose image in the opinion of eminent photographers like Leo Vala is a perfect photographic negative reproducing itself as often as we desire. The thesis of dependence (see below) provides a natural explanation of legends involving mechanical reproduction, the legends simply attaching themselves to man-made copies of the original.

In the realm of art, it coincided with an immense output of icons and their uninhibited veneration from the second half of the sixth century. This increased in volume until, in 725, Leo the Isaurian opened the Iconoclastic attack on the Icons and their defenders, the Iconodules. Though copied rather infrequently as long as it remained in Edessa [17], this image is generally supposed to lie at the origin of the Byzantine Christ which began to appear about this time. Once it reached Byzantium, it gave rise to an art form all its own, the mandylion [18] cloth image which portrayed the long haired, bearded Christ without neck or shoulders (Plates 7-11). No Orthodox church of note was complete without its mandylion on a special wall. In both Greece and Russia it was so popular that it decorated the battle standards of the imperial armies.

[ 17] One possible exception is the so-called acheiropoietos image at Lambousa (Cyprus), which has given its name to the Acheiropoiitos monastery where it is to be found on the iconostasis. Said to have been brought to the island from Edessa by Bishop Eulalios (whether Bishop of Edessa or Lapithos is not clear) in the sixth century, it is covered by a nineteenth century silver-gilt frame. The frame depicts the rare theme of the Virgin holding up the mandylion image of Christ. The two faces seem to be painted and peeping out from beneath the frame. That they are part of the original painting may be indicated by a sixteenth century cloth painting of identical theme in the same church. When the parish priest was shown a photograph of the Turin portrait earlier this year, he looked at it for a long time and said that it reminded him very much of the original painting he had once seen without its covering. An unsupported local legend maintains that the Shroud was kept in the monastery before being taken to Turin by one of the princesses of the Savoy family (cf. H. Thurston, The Traveller's Guide to Cyprus, London, 1967, p. 162). Two Lusignan princesses, Anne and Charlotte, married into the Savoy family in the fifteenth century. Though the parish priest was not aware of this legend, it ties up with a persistent tradition first recorded in Turin in the sixteenth century.
The Greek word for the cloth image and its copies, mandylion, is derived from the Latin mantile or mantilium (‘mantle'), via the Arabic 'mandil'. (Runciman, 248)

Eastern politics being so intermingled with theology, the Edessan Icon was inevitably dragged into both. Dobschiitz and Runciman believe that it was used in the sixth century by the Orthodox clergy of the city to oppose the monophysites who tended to deny the reality of Christ's human nature. The "self-portrait" of Christ was a convincing weapon against such views, despite the fact that later the monophysites made sure of their own copy of the Image.

With the outbreak of Iconoclasm the Edessan Image came into its own theologically. For centuries the Fathers and theologians had been debating the lawfulness of portraying Christ in art, opponents of sacred images urging the binding force of the Mosaic prohibition of images. Now the full weight of the Byzantine machine was thrown against the Icons, which were destroyed wholesale and their defenders persecuted. But even Byzantium could not reach Edessa, since Syria was now in Saracen hands.

The Syrian, John of Damascus, the great champion of the Icons, was the first to introduce Edessa into the controversy. If Christ had sent Abgar his own "true likeness", that was the end of the matter. At the second Council of Nicea in 787, direct appeal was made to the Image of Edessa as proof of the validity of the Orthodox position, and the Iconoclast Bishops had no reply.

Once Iconoclasm was finally defeated in 845, Orthodox Constantinople could not long remain without possession of its most powerful weapon. In 943, the old emperor, Romanus Lacapenus, sent his army to invade Syria with special instructions to obtain the Image. Edessa was besieged. The city would be spared, if the Image was handed over in exchange for 200 Moslem hostages. After long negotiations and unsuccessful attempts by the citizens to pass off two copies as the real thing, the Byzantine army returned in triumph in 944. The Image, by now known as the Mandylion, was given the welcome reserved to conquering generals. It was taken with great piety round the city walls, in through the Golden Gates to Santa Sophia, to be lodged finally in the imperial Chapel of the Bucoleon. Christ himself had entered his own city. Henceforth he would guard it against all attacks, as he had once guarded Edessa. On occasion his Image was carried round the walls as a defence measure, when the city was under siege.

H: The Nature of the Edessan Image

The evidence is conflicting and, as its accompanying legend develops, so its miraculous origin becomes more firm. From the many authors who have written about it, four main theories emerge.

1. The Doctrine of Addai, the first to mention it, says that it was a hand-made portrait, the work of Ananias, but the author never saw it, since it had long since disappeared and did not emerge till long after his time.

2. For most authors it is an image on cloth – they often use the word sindon – depicting our Lord's face, the imprint being produced miraculously.

3. According to one tradition it is something like a "figured shroud", with the whole of our Lord's body imprinted on it, though there is no suggestion that it was a shroud, since according to the legend Jesus gave the imprinted cloth to Ananias before the Passion. The earliest version of this tradition seems to be an insertion into an ancient Latin sermon translated from a Greek original known to Pope Stephen III (769). The important passage with insertions probably made after Pope Stephen's time (given here in italics) runs, "For the same mediator between God and men ... stretched his whole body on a cloth, white as snow, on which the glorious image of the Lord's face and the length of His whole body was so divinely transformed that it was sufficient for those who could not see the Lord bodily in the flesh, to see the transfiguration made on the cloth".[19] What secret lay behind this description, which seems to have been picked up by Ordericus Vitalis about 1142 and Gervase of Tilbury a little later, 1211-13? Both think of the Edessan Image as the imprint of the whole body on cloth. Although they tend to be gossip-mongers, their support of the sermon is of value, especially in view of the fourth even more remarkable theory.

[19] This sermon by an unknown author may have been written originally in Syriac, though idiomatic features incline Dobschutz to favour a Greek original. Parallel passages from Rufinus (fifth century), Pope Stephen's speech at the Lateran Synod of 769 and the Sermon show a close relationship. The Latin version of the Sermon and Pope Stephen seem to be dependent on Rufinus and the Greek original. The interpolation, perhaps due to news picked up by Crusaders, must have been made before 1142, when Ordericus Vitalis provides the terminus ad quern. On the other hand, since the text mentions the presence in Edessa of the image, this may indicate insertion before 944, when the image was removed to Byzantium.

4. This has been formulated by an Oxford history graduate, I. W. Wilson, with whom I have been in close correspondence. He has brought to light much new evidence relating to the nature of the Edessan Image, suggesting that it could be one and the same as our present-day Turin Shroud. He is in the course of preparing a fully-documented and profusely illustrated presentation of this thesis.

In particular he has commissioned the first full-length English translation of the only official history of the Edessan cloth, De Imagine Edessena. This document, written by a member of the court of the tenth century Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetus, gives a unique and quite remarkable description of how, to the Byzantines, the image appeared to be composed, "... a moist secretion, without any colouring or artificial aid". Clearly this brings us very close to the same apparent characteristic of the Turin Shroud. The work also mentions die rarer tradition about the origin of the portrait perhaps in an effort to explain the presence of blood stains. According to this version Jesus wiped his face with the cloth in Gethsemane

Wilson has also highlighted the importance of an incident recorded of the year 944, when the Emperor's sons had their special view of the Image, probably, thinks, Runciman, normally covered over by metal To them it seemed blurred, but the Emperor-to-be, the artistic Constants Porphyrogennetus, was able to make out the portrait clearly. Something of the subtlety of the Turin Shroud's stain-image is again suggested here.

The difficulty of Wilson's thesis is the question whether the Image was of the head only, as it appears in art, or whether it did indeed bear a full-length, though secret, image of the whole body of Christ, a secret that escaped somehow to form the "full-length" tradition we have just examined. If Wilson can prove his case, we will not only have solved the mystery of the Turin Shroud's whereabouts during the first millennium, we will also have a most remarkable account of its by no means inconsiderable place in Byzantine history.

Until he can do so, it seems prudent to think of the Edessan Image and the Shroud as two distinct things, while noting the close connection between them. This link is indicated both by the "full-length" imprint tradition coupled with the finds released by Wilson, and by the evidence yet to be examined.

J: The Holy Face of Lucca.

Our gossip, Gervase of Tilbury, provides an intriguing and unique Western tradition in support of the belief that Christ left the imprint of His whole body on cloth: and to some extent we can check on Gervase here. This tradition he came across in Lucca. He says it was to be read in Gestis de Vultu Lucano. This work no longer exists, but part of it may have been Leobino's twelfth-century account of the finding and arrival of the "Holy Face" in Lucca. An addition to Leobino's Relazione gives much the same version as Gervase, but scholars are not agreed as to whether the addition was made before or after Gervase's time, so that Gervase himself may be its source. This is what he says: "There is another figure of the Lord expressed on cloth." Our Lady and the other women, upbraided by Joseph of Arimathea for leaving the Lord naked on the cross, "bought a very clean cloth, so ample and extensive that it covered the whole body of the Crucified. And when the one hanging from the cross was laid down, there appeared the image of the whole body of the crucified expressed on the cloth; to the image and likeness thereof Nicodemus fashioned the Face of Lucca, in the midst of which he enclosed the cloth. . ." and other relics. Here we have a clear reference to a figured deposition cloth and the Shroud of Turin has often been thought of in these terms. If Gervase is the source of this development of the Luccan legend, he could have seen or heard of the "figured shroud" of Constantinople. If, however, he is telling the truth, then the tradition could be a good deal older and perhaps have a similar source to the Edessan "full-length" tradition.

In any case the "Holy Face" is in Lucca to bear him out in some degree (Plate 12). It is, in fact, a life-size crucifix internally hollowed out with space enough for relics and a large cloth. It is thought to be an eleventh- century work like others of the same type in Spain. Its legend goes back a long way and becomes confused with that of the Icon of Beyrouth, which was also attributed to Nicodemus. This curious legend tells how some Jews got possession of the Icon and decided to maltreat it as their ancestors had the Lord. They crowned its figure with thorns and when they pierced its side, blood and water came out. This miracle led to their conversion and to the collecting of blood from the image. Several places boast relics of "holy" blood from the Icon of Beyrouth.

K: What happened to the Icon of Edessa?

Several authors believe that it left Constantinople in the thirteenth century to be placed in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, where it vanished during the French Revolution. [20]

[20] Riant, Dobschiitz and Runciman. It is not clear how they determine this, since they do not distinguish the original, which they say went to Paris, from the other copies in Constantinople.

Both Genoa and Rome possess images which claim to be the Icon of Edessa, but their late origin seems to exclude them. The Genoese Icon [21], according to Grabar, is a fourteenth-century work similar to that in the monastery of Spas Andrionevsky in Moscow (Plate 11). The Roman Image is first mentioned by Baronius in the sixteenth century as having been brought to San Sylvestro in Capite in 1207.[22]

[21] Brought to Genoa in the fourteenth century, this Icon is the main treasure of the Barnabite Church of the Armenians, where an illuminated colour photograph is on view. This is the nearest one can get to viewing a "Holy Face" except on rare feast days. With the exception of the Laon Mandylion, all "Holy Faces" are jealously guarded and hidden from view. The Genoese Icon was the subject of a superb colour reproduction and an inaccurate article by Conrad Allen in the Weekend Telegraph (December 1964).
[22] The history of this Image is obscure and historians have entangled it with that of the Roman Veronica (cf. Dobschütz, 187). It was the glory of the English Church, San Sylvestro, until its recent transfer to the Vatican Museum. If professional examination and photographing of this and the Veronica Image (also in the Vatican Museum) were permitted, much confusion would be dispelled.

Failing certainty about the identity of the Edessan Image, we can imagine something of its appearance from the icons and mosaics inspired by it. Of these the Mandylion class is the most important. The oldest (Plates 7-10) are by Slav artists of the late twelfth century who could have seen it in Constantinople.[23] These works belong to a large family of the utmost holiness and importance in the Orthodox religion. Not only do they hold a place of special honour among the Icons in Byzantine churches, thereby entering into the heart of the Liturgy, but on occasion the Mandylion image is actually depicted on the altar instead of the Eucharistic elements with Christ himself celebrating the Sacred Mysteries and giving Communion to his apostles. Nothing could better illustrate the holiness of these Edessan inspired images than this replacement of the Real Presence by a Mandylion.

[23] The Holy Face of Laon (Plate 7) is the most easily accessible Mandylion in the West. Now in Laon Cathedral, it was sent by Jacques de Troyes, the future Pope Urban IV, to his sister Sibylle, Abbess of the Cistercian Convent at Montreuil-les-Dames near Laon, in 1249. In his letter he asks the nuns to treasure the Icon as a "holy Veronica or His true image and likeness". He says he was given it by "holy men", whom Grabar thinks must have been Slav clergy, since this master piece has a Slav inscription (cf. Grabar for full history). Paul Vignon has made a detailed study of the Image, comparing every feature with the details of the mask of the Turin Shroud.

Since the chief characteristic of the Mandylions is their lack of neck and shoulders, it is probable that they derived this peculiarity from the Image of Edessa. Otherwise, they belong to the same family as the typical Christs of the normal Byzantine icons. Their faces are of the same type, as can be seen from a comparison between them (Plates 7-11) and the Early Portraits [24] (Plates 1-6).
[ It is not at present possible to include these images on the website. ]

[24] Two early portraits merit careful study and photographing before they disappear completely. The first is a sixth century Byzantine fresco at the bottom of a disused well at Salamis, Cyprus. Cf. J. du Plat Taylor, "A Water Cistern with Byzantine Paintings, Salamis, Cyprus", The Antiquaries Journal Vol. XIII, 1933, No. 2, p. 102. The second is the Christ of the apse of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum. A seventh century fresco, it has an obvious relationship to the Shroud family – see text, infra. Several saints of this church bear the exaggerated forehead marks, especially St Abbacyr. Cf. Grabar, Byzantine Painting, Geneva, 1953, p. 80. This church was decorated by Pope John VII, who introduced the liturgical figured shrouds (epitaphioi) to decorate the Veronica shrine in 705. See text infra.

As we have seen, this type of Christ appeared in the sixth century with the Edessan Image as the most famous, and perhaps the earliest, of the miraculous Mandylions. Art historians associate this long-haired Christ with the forked beard and staring eyes with Syria rather than with Greece or Rome. None have been able to explain its origin nor its immediate acceptance as the true type as against the Greco-Roman Christ. Only Paul Vignon and his followers have noticed certain peculiarities of the Syro-Byzantine Christs which, when taken in conjunction with their generally accepted characteristics, seem to pin-point their origin. These may be seen in the illustrations, especially Plates 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9. The forehead marks of these Christs, for instance, are real disfigurements, as if their artists had deliberately accentuated one Byzantine method of emphasising eyebrows till their portraits seem to be branded for identification purposes. Were they driven by some remote model that they could not escape? [26] The full weight of this iconographic thesis will appear when the documentary evidence is complete.

[25] Vignon, 123-86, 211-25. Wuenschel (2) 103f. The forehead marks are also found on portraits of Apostles, Saints and Emperors, but are rarely given to lesser mortals. The best example is the mosaic in Sancta Sophia, Istanbul, which shows the Emperors Constantine and Justinian presenting their gifts, Constantinople and Sancta Sophia, to the Virgin and Child. Across their foreheads are strong horizontal lines surmounting three sides of a square, more emphatic even than the branding of the Christ of St Pontianus (Plate 3), whilst Jesus has a rounded mark beneath the line in keeping with his child's face. The iconographic evidence so far accumulated gives the impression that these marks are reserved for Christ and his close friends, just as Byzantine artists frequently give Apostles and Emperors the same cast of feature as the Christs depicted with them. This facial resemblance suggests a concern to express physically the spiritual likeness to Christ induced by sanctity and stressed by St Paul (Rom. 8, 21) and John Damascene (PG 94 1167f) while the sharing of the forehead marks suggested to B. G. Sandhurst the "seal" of the living God or Revelations 7, 3.

L: Liturgical Figured Shrouds – the Epitaphioi

During the second Council of Nicea, the Iconodules quoted Leontius, Bishop of Neapolis in Cyprus, 582-602, in defence of the Icons. In his Apology against the Jews he says it was the custom of the faithful to express or figure the Passion of Christ on cloths (sindon) and mentions the various materials on which Christ was figured. He could be referring to the Epitaphioi, apparently the only extant material evidence of this custom. They are liturgical em-broidered linens that were used during the Byzantine Liturgy, when they covered the gifts carried in at the "Great Entrance". Since the time of "slavery" – i.e. after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 – these "liturgical shrouds" have been used during the ceremony on Good Friday, known as the Threnos, when the people gather round the image of Christ on cloth to mourn his death.

These embroideries depict Christ, sometimes on his shroud or deposition cloth, sometimes on the stone of anointing or simply in the tomb. He is usually attended by angels and sometimes being mourned by his Mother. Plate 16 shows the central figure of the "Great Remeta", a Slav work from the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century. These embroideries date from the twelfth century onwards, and until recently historians like Schlumberger and Millet, searching for their origin, were directing our attention to similar deposition scenes in other art forms, such as that on Stroganov's tenth or eleventh century reliquary or the eleventh century fresco in the apse of the church at Samari in Greece, whose figure reminded Millet of the Turin Shroud.

It was thought that all hope of tracing the Epitaphioi earlier was gone, when Müntz came across the manuscripts of Jaques Grimaldi's work on Veronica and her veil. He has left us drawings of two objects that existed in the treasury of Pope John VII in the old St Peter's (Plates 15 and 17). One was an actual epitaphios showing Christ on an oblong linen with the inscription, Jesus Christos ho epitaphios threnos. The other was the central figure of Pope John's umbella (canopy or baldechino) used to decorate the altar of St Veronica once a year when the relic was exposed. This was the Veronica shrine in the chapel of Our Lady, both of which were erected by order of Pope John, who reigned from 705 to 708. Grimaldi tells us that the scenes depicted on the umbella reproduced those of the mosaics decorating the chapel. The Christ of the umbella seems to be lying on the stone of anointing.

These two objects appear to take the epitaphios custom back to the early eighth century. Since the Pope who commissioned them was a Greek, there is now more evidence to support Miss Venetia Cottas who traced the aer-epitaphios to Simeon of Thessalonica and beyond him to the first processions of Christians on the feasts of the Passion and Ascension near their dead – originally the martyrs.

Both Pope John's embroidered cloths depict the dead Christ without any sign of suffering, as was normal in art until the later Middle Ages. No dead Christ is to be found on any crucifix before the tenth century and all signs of agony are toned down until the thirteenth. The interesting point for our study is that these epitaphios portraits of the dead Christ were destined to adorn a Western Mandylion, the Veronica veil. Was there in the mind of the Greek Pope John a direct liturgical connection between the figure of the dead Christ on cloth and the "true likeness"? If so, did it have the same kind of connection noted at Edessa and Lucca?

M: The Shroud of Constantinople

From the time of Constantine the Byzantine Emperors scoured the Empire for every known relic of Christ, our Lady and the saints. By the end of the seventh century most of the major relics of the Passion were in imperial hands. We do not know when the burial linens reached the capital, but they figure in Western lists of relics from 1092 onwards. Called variously 'linen cloths" (linteamina), sindon, "the shroud which was over His head", le drap que l'en apele sisne: an Icelandic list distinguishes between the "linen bands with the shroud and the blood of Christ". It is not until 1201 that a definite clue is given as to the nature of these linens. In that year Nicholas Mesarites had to defend the relics of the Bucoleon chapel against a mob, to whom he made an impassioned speech, appealing to their reverence for the relics contained in the chapel. He says, "in this temple Christ rises again, and the shroud with the burial linens are the clear proof". He adds, "The burial lines of Christ: these are of linen, of cheap and easily obtainable material, still smelling fragrant of myrrh, defying decay, because they wrapped the mysterious, naked dead body after the Passion". That Nicholas saw them as a proof of the Resurrection and was so certain the body had been naked suggests that he knew more than he told the mob.

Three years later the shroud had been moved to the other imperial church, Our Lady of Blachernae. During their first entry into Constantinople as guests of the young Emperor, the Crusaders were overcome with admiration and envy at the spectacle of treasures and relics, the like of which they had never seen. Robert de Clari, the chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, was particularly interested in the shroud. He writes, "And among these others, there was another of the monasteries which was called Our Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, where was the shroud (li sydoines), in which our Lord was wrapped, which was stretched straight up every Friday, so that one could well see on it the figure of our Lord (on i pooit bien veir le figure Nostre Seigneur); nobody knew, neither Greek nor Frank, what became of this shroud (chis sydoines), when the town was taken". Was this perhaps the figured cloth connected with the Image of Edessa and the inspirational source of the liturgical "figured shrouds"? At any rate, once the city was sacked in 1204, it disappeared and has never been certainly identified, though many equate it with the Turin Shroud.

N: Relics and Icons

The documentary evidence has now been presented. What does it reveal? The Jewish and early Christian shroud burials led to universal interpretation of the Gospel evidence in favour of a shroud burial of Christ. This was accompanied by widespread belief in the preservation of his burial linens. Once these begin to appear in the sixth century, East and West develop characteristic practices. While the East is preoccupied with the "true likeness", the West concentrates more on "clean shrouds", though it does not ignore the "true likeness", especially from about 1200 onwards, when the Veronica veil became more universally popular.

We have seen how one tradition describes the Edessan Image as a cloth with a full-length imprint of Christ's body and how the epitaphioi,. when they first appear, have no other function than to adorn the Veronica "true likeness" brought from the East to Rome. In the case of Lucca, the "Holy Face" is not only said to have been copied from the deposition shroud, but actually to have housed it. By the time the Edessan Image and the shroud reach Constantinople both are kept in the Bucoleon Chapel; in his address to the mob Nicholas Mesarites stresses the presence of both, almost mentioning them in the same breath. One cannot but notice that whenever a cloth bearing the full-length figure of Christ is in play, it is always connected with the "true likeness", which in Edessa becomes the most holy Mandylion.

Perhaps the Veronica veil itself provides a curious clue to this relationship. The visible Icon was stolen in 1527, leaving only the underlying- stained cloth, on which Mgr Wilpert could discover no trace of an image. Does this illustrate how even a would-be miraculous imprint – in reality at most a cloth relic – demands its accompanying icon, until it is forcibly removed? [26]

[26] For dependence of the Veronica story on the Abgar legend and the Veronica Image on the Turin Shroud, cf. M. Green, o.s.b., "Veronica and her veil", the Tablet, 31 Dec.v 1966; and Wuenschel (2) 104f.

Inevitably this relationship between the full-length portrait of the dead Christ on cloth and the "true likeness" seeks for an explanation in the Eastern preoccupation with portraits and icons. The Egyptian custom, both pagan and Christian, of placing portraits over the faces of their enshrouded dead naturally suggests this. They seem at times to have felt an imperative need to accompany the remains with living portraits of the deceased. Professor Grabar has made a detailed study of this practice in connection with the martyria of the Middle East.

The martyria were shrines that grew up round the burial places of martyrs, which had their own clergy to cater for the crowds of pilgrims. On their return home pilgrims took with them relics and eulogia or "blessings" (fruit, fir-cones, stones, cloth, etc.) sold by the clergy. Having touched the martyr's relics, these "blessings" acted as talismans with power to protect the pilgrim and cure the sick. From the fifth century religious pictures began to be painted on the reliquaries and containers of "blessings". In Egypt, Asia Minor, the Crimea, Syria and Palestine, objects from important shrines depicted the portraits of the martyrs. Since these images were inseparable from their containers, they shared in the holiness and power of their contents. It was a short step from this to the painting of icons proper that were put through the process known as "incubation". Laid against the martyr's shrine – as was also the custom with the sick seeking a cure – the "processed" icons became objects of veneration that amounted almost to worship. Now they were truly miraculous with the protective and healing powers of the saint himself.

This was not due simply to the transference of power as in the case of eulogia. The likeness of the martyr made him actually present in the icon, a conception entirely foreign to Western thought and theology. This belief was not merely oriental superstition taken over from paganism, though doubtless that, combined with an element of magic, entered in. Behind it lay a whole theology of the very concept of the image, built up in the course of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. For the Cappadocian Fathers God was the supreme artist painting man in His own image; Christ was as much the image of the Father (and therefore of the same nature) as the Emperor's image was of the Emperor. Indeed, the Emperor's image is the Emperor and prostration before it is not only allowable to a Christian, but a duty. Therefore, says St Basil, "Honour rendered to the image passes to the prototype". Christian neo-Platonism provided the philosophic basis for this "image concept".

Once the Icons came into their own, eclipsing relics in popular esteem, (till they flooded the market in the sixth and seventh centuries, provoking Iconoclastic reactions long before the Emperor backed the Iconoclasts) theologians were quick to defend them with the "image concept". In the eighth and ninth centuries, John Damascene, Theodore the Studite and the Fathers of second Nicea were unscrupulous in using this purely theological idea in defence of image worship. In Byzantine thought there was hardly any distinction between the image and its prototype, so that an icon of Christ, and still more a Mandylion "true likeness", was almost Christ himself. "The divine Logos Himself becomes the Image of God, and even images of such an image participate in its divine character", writes Gerhart Ladner. He explains just how the theological "image concept" affected art: "It is from these two hallowed sources – Christian theology and anthropology on the one hand and Platonistic metaphysics on the other – that orthodox Byzantine speculation derived the aura of awesome sacred- ness which surrounds its idea of the image. Such origins make it easier to understand the vital role of the doctrine of the Holy Images in Byzantine religiousness, and even the majesty and beauty of Byzantine art itself".

This "vital role of the Holy Images" was many sided. In the martyriathemselves and, as a consequence, in all subsequent Greek and Slav churches, the predominant location and function of the relics passed to the Iconostasis, where Christ, the Virgin and Saints in a graded hierarchy both hid the Sacred Mysteries and acted as intermediaries. Those icons were especially holy that had a miraculous origin according to legend or tradition. This was above all true of Edessa, whose Image not only was given by the Lord himself according to the legend manufactured, Runciman suggests, by some Orthodox priest to cope with the Monophysites, but was regarded as the holiest of relics. The legend itself was very ancient and grew out of a story that could well be true in its germ.[27] The historicity of the accompanying legend of each miraculously given icon was of little concern to the oriental mind, as long as it explained the icon's origin in suitably miraculous terms. In any case, the icon was the important thing. If it was based on a major relic, so much the better, but the icon and its multiple copies actually made Christ present. As John Damascene explained, "the Holy Spirit who filled the saints in their lifetime, resides after death in their souls, their bodies in the grave and in their images". The latter presence was the vital one for the worshipper, because "the contemplation of the Holy Images is a means of salvation".

[27] Of the Abgar legend, Runciman writes: "Historians should not be so much victims to their scepticism as to dismiss a legend as false, unless they can suggest how it was that the false legend arose ... It is easy to show that the story of Abgar and Jesus as we now have it is untrue, that the letters contain phrases from the Gospels and are framed according to the dictates of a later theology. But that does not necessarily invalidate the tradition on which the story was based; and while we may respect the anxious incredulity that characterises modem believers, we should recognise that there is no reason why King Abgar V should not have suffered from the religious curiosity fashionable at that time, and should not have heard of the Messiah and sent to learn more", p. 239.

In the case of Christ this was infinitely truer, since his image, whether original impression on cloth or copy at many removes, was the re- enactment of the Incarnation. This was never the case in the West, which constantly rejected the notion, sometimes with scorn – "the Greeks place almost the whole hope of their credulity in images" – say the Libri Carolini – and hardly advanced beyond the veneration of relics. The significance of this oriental stress on icons to the detriment of relics has an obvious bearing on the Shroud, which would suffer the eclipse of relics, unless its mysterious image came to be seen as a source of the "true likeness". Then it would assume enormous importance and enter the ranks of the "Holy Images" as the holiest (though most secret) of them all.

O: Turin's figured shroud multiplied

The first recorded Western copies of the Chambéry-Turin Shroud occur in the fourteenth century, the earliest known copyist being Albrecht Durer about 1516. Most of them went to Spain to connections of the Savoy family. Often "processed" by incubation in the ancient manner, they came to be regarded as the real thing by the local Spaniards and their clergy, but each is not only obviously a painted caricature, it usually carries its date of manufacture, A point of special interest is that the nakedness of the original gave the artists pause, since they often provide a loin cloth.

I suggest that we have here important clues as to the treatment of the same Shroud when it was in Byzantine hands, due allowance being made for the more sophisticated, icon obsessed, Byzantine mentality. It is, after all, a major relic with its own in-built icon, but an icon that the Syro-Byzantine clergy could not possibly have exhibited as such during the long centuries of the Christological and Iconoclastic controversies. What success would a naked, horribly wounded, mysteriously blurred, dead Christ have enjoyed in those troubled centuries? Or later when the triumphant HolyImages were the very centre of religion? Hiat negative bleeding death mask would have been an embarrassment to orthodox and heretics alike.

The solution was to have its face copied and turned into living portraits of Christ – Mandylions, the Pantocrator or Christ the Teacher. All the evidence suggests that this was first done in Edessa, the only place whose "true likeness" was thought of in terms of a full-length portrait of Christ. Among the half dozen or so "true likenesses" which suddenly appeared in the sixth century, only the Edessan Image was universally accepted as the authentic acheiropoietos—image of miraculous origin "not made by hand". Paul Vignon, Delage's assistant, suggested this long ago but evidence has since come to light to bring out the full implications of his intuition.

The Epitaphioi show that when the Byzantines wanted to reproduce the whole figure of Christ on cloth, they contented themselves with restrained, non-suffering liturgical shrouds. Their artistic conventions would not permit a realistic copy of the Shroud, until their whole attitude to the suffering Christ had changed, by which time it was no longer in their possession. The "Great Remeta" (Plate 16) proves that even as late as 1400 their practice never approached the realism of the West.

If the archives of Edessa and Constantinople had not been so thoroughly destroyed or lost, we might be able to tie down this "icon-shroud" hypothesis with more documentary evidence. In default of this, Vignon has highlighted evidence of another kind – the hundreds of icons and Mandylions that strongly indicate the presence of the Shroud in the East from the sixth century. This is the earliest we can expect to hear of it in view of a long sequence of events and universal attitudes hostile to its disclosure and compelling its guardians to keep it a close secret: the Jewish horror of "impure" burial linens combined with the Jewish and Roman persecutions; the Christian shrinking from crucifixion and its detailed portrayal in art, an attitude that lasted many centuries; and the continuous quarrels about sacred images, both affecting and affected by the Christo-logical controversies, from the earliest times to the final defeat of Iconoclasm.

The late B. G. Sandhurst called these images of Christ "the Silent Witnesses" which steadfastly direct our attention to the Shroud. How do they do this? They point silently with the strange anomalies or disfigurements with which their artists felt compelled to adorn them. All these anomalies are to be found on the Turin Shroud (Plate 13), where they were produced either by the wounds and bruises of the Man of the Shroud or by faults in the linen accentuated by the stains of the imprint.

None of the artists reproduce all the anomalies, but all feel bound to show some. This may have been due to the Byzantine canons of art, their books of instruction laying down strict rules of convention to be observed by religious artists. The Byzantine strait-jacket, though it did not rob artists of their individual inspiration, led to centuries of copying accepted models, of which Edessa was the most notable. In the first instance probably a very few artists actually saw the death mask of the Shroud but they seem to have reproduced its anomalies and mistakes so faithfully that subsequent artists fek bound to copy them. A careful study of the characteristics and anomalies common to the Mandylions (Plates 7- 11), Byzantine Christs (Plates 1-6) and the Shroud, (Plate 13), will reveal what Vignon, Wuenschel and Sandhurst mean when they say that the Turin Shroud is the prototype of the Byzantine Christ and indeed the more remote origin of his traditional likeness in every school of art down to the present day

A most striking confirmation of this theory can be experienced by the reader. Let him show a positive photograph of the Face of the Shroud to someone who has never seen it nor heard of the Shroud, and ask him whose image it is. He will get only one answer. The only explanation I can see for this recurrent phenomenon is that the ancient artists who copied the negative of the Shroud and gave us our traditional Christ, did their job so well that when the camera revealed the secret of its mysterious mask the resemblance was obvious. They did, up to a point, transpose negative details, e.g. the nose, so dark in the Shroud image, becomes of natural tone in the pictures. Other points, however, were not recognised, e.g. the dark-coloured closed eyelids are copied as wide open eyes; the drawing of the mouth is badly affected by the lack of understanding just where the lights and darks are inverted in the Shroud image.

A special feature of this iconographic evidence is the evident likeness of the isolated head of the Shroud to the Mandytions. With long hair, staring eyes and absence of neck, it almost seems to be their negative. Could this similarity, coupled with the anomalies common to both, give us the moral certainty that the Shroud was the unique acheiropoietos, kept, as Vignon believed, in some monastery easily accessible to the theologians and artists of Edessa? For centuries it was a holy, but mysterious and embarrassing relic; suddenly, under pressure from the Monophysites, the Orthodox Clergy realise the role that could be played by a copy of the Face of the Shroud, if turned into a living portrait of Christ. The climate was right in the sixth century with the decline of relics in favour of icons. The Abgar legend with Ananias5 role as painter was to hand. All that had to be done was to have a copy made on cloth, "process" it by incubation, give it a plausible miraculous origin and the desired weapon was there to confound the Monophysites, put the Persians to flight and become in course of time the most holy Mandylion. Have we here then the unique source of all "true likenesses", Veronicas, Epitaphioi and the "figured shrouds" of the West?


Of course, this reconstruction might have to be modified when Ian Wilson presents his abundant and impressive new evidence. Meanwhile this is the most that the evidence available to me will stand and none of it is in conflict with his attractive theory that the Turin Shroud was the Image of Edessa.

Even without such identification I believe that we have already sufficient evidence to indicate beyond reasonable doubt that, whatever its whereabouts, the Turin Shroud was in existence at least from the sixth century on, and by implication dates therefrom back to the time of Christ. I submit that this would appear eminently acceptable to the ordinary canons of the history of art, were it not for the fact that the Shroud of Turin is so unusual a document. As was the case with Delage's medico-legal evidence, so it is, or has been, with the Shroud's historical and artistic claims. What he wrote of the reaction of his scientific colleagues in 1902, applies with equal force to the attitude prevailing in some circles today. "If they [the hypotheses that he had put before the Academy of Sciences] have not received from certain people the welcome they deserved, the sole reason is that there has been unfairly grafted on to this scientific question a religious issue which has excited men's minds and misled right reason. If not Christ but Sargon or Achilles or one of the Pharaohs had been involved, no one would have any objection. I consider Christ as an historical person, and I see no reason why people should be scandalised if there exists a material trace of his existence." Perhaps Delage would allow us to add, "Nor should we be surprised if strangely compelling artistic witnesses and certain documents urge us to look again at the baffling claims of that material trace".


As printed in the original article in 1969

Section A

Section B

Section C

Section D

Section E

Section G

Section H

Section J

Section K

Section L

Section M

Section N

Section O