The Historical Facts on the Holy Shroud
33 A.D. : The fact that the body of Jesus after his death by crucifixion was wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb is recounted in all four gospels of the New Testament , with the account by John being the most detailed.
Matthew 27: 57-61 “ So Joseph of Arimathaea took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud and put it in his own tomb”.
Mark -47: “……then came Joseph of Arimathaea, ..who bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock”.
Luke 23: 50-56: “…Joseph asked for the body of Jesus. He then took it down, wrapped it in a shroud and put it in a tomb which was hewn in stone.”
John 19: 40-42; 20:3-10: “ They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths following the Jewish burial custom. At the place… a new tomb…They laid Jesus there.”
“ So Peter set out with the other disciple ( John) to go to the tomb. They ran together but the other disciple running faster than Peter reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did no go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head, this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of Scripture that he must rise from the dead.”
The account of John mentions ‘linen cloths’ in the plural. These include the Shroud ( latin sindon); ‘ the cloth that had been over his head’ (latin sudarium), and various binding strips of cloth for the chin, hands and ankles. The French equivalent words are le Sainte Suaire or le linceul,and sudarium. In Italian the terms are: la sindone or la santa sindone, and sudarium.
1. The Period in
Tradition in the
Eastern or Byzantine church relates that
the burial linens (shroud, head cloth,
bindings, etc.) came into the possession of Claudia Procula, the wife of the Roman Governor of
“ Now as he ( Pilate) was seated in the chair of judgment, his wife sent him a message ‘ Have nothing to do with that man. I have been upset all day by a dream I had about him’ ”. (Matthew: 27:19).
The Eastern Church tradition, comes to us via St. Nino from the fourth
century [2,3] who had lived in
2. Circa 35 A.D. -944 A.D. : King Abgar of
extraordinary story, vouched for by the historian Eusebius ( 325 A.D.) [4, 5] and then in great detail by an
Briefly put, King Abgar V of
This miraculous image-bearing cloth eventually became known as the Mandylion ( the ‘napkin’ or ‘little cloth’), more commonly known as The Image of Edessa Not Made by Human Hands. After the death of King Abgar the kingdom reverted to paganism and the Mandylion disappears from any record. Even when the city again became a flourishing Christian centre a couple of centuries later, the cloth did not appear to be known, since visiting travelers such as Egaria of Aquitaine, a tourist in 343, made no mention of it, although she was apparently a very thorough sightseer. The local bishop showed her the gate through which the letter from Christ had reportedly been delivered by Addai, but there is no mention in her account of having been shown the Mandylion cloth and its image .
cloth reappeared in the records of
944 A.D., it was obtained by the Eastern
Emperor Romanus , who had sent an army from
3. The Shroud in
944 to 1204 A.D. the Shroud (and/or Mandylion) remained in
At this point we must face the natural question: Were the Shroud and the Mandylion the same thing or were they different cloths?
However, Wilson’s theory does not account for the fact that artist’s representations of the Mandylion all show it as being only about the size of a large napkin, and moreover that they all painted it as having fringes on its edges ( never, curiously, fringed on all four edges, the fringes being depicted by different artists only on two or sometimes on three sides) . More importantly, the Mandylion face has no marks of the Passion of Christ. Unlike the Shroud, there are no blood streaks, no head wounds from the “crown of thorns”, no facial bruises and so on.
Most obviously, on the Mandylion copies there is also missing the large bloodstain in the shape of the numeral 3, or the reversed Greek letter epsilon ε on the Man in the Shroud’s forehead, as is so evident on the Shroud photographs of the face. So, if the Mandylion and the Shroud were the same object, why did the artists not see or copy this striking Shroud feature? There is also the fact that over a period of many years a folded cloth will show different ageing colouration on the part exposed to light as opposed to the concealed parts. This is not observed; the Shroud’s linen in the non-image areas is the same pale yellow or ivory colour all over. Wilson argues here that the light in the various churches or chapels of exposition might simply have been too dim for the blood marks to show up for the copyists to see, and also might have been too dim for the natural photosynthetic ageing to an ivory colour to take place more noticeably on the facial area than on the rest of the cloth. It would appear that this matter of the relationship of the Mandylion to the Shroud is not fully explained yet.
But so far as the
Shroud history is concerned, a cloth that arrived in
Dubarle cites a recent book by W.K. Muller
describing a miniature painting from
completeness, we mention also the
existence of a small, blood-stained linen cloth kept at
The last mention
of the Shroud in
“ .. there was another of the churches which they called My Lady St. Mary of Blachernae, where was kept the sydoine in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which stood up straight every Friday so that the figure of Our Lord could be plainly seen there…”
“ And no one, either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this sydoine after the city was taken”
1205-1353 A.D.: The Shroud eventually ends up in
theory as to what happened to the Shroud
after 1204 is that it was taken by the Knights Templar from
Another point in
Other accounts of the Shroud’s journey from
In any case by 1239, Beaudoin, the Latin Emperor, was in
possession of a large number of relics from the East and he transferred many to St. Louis, King of
France, who moved them to his reliquary in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Finally, in 1353 or thereabouts, King
Philippe VI of
does support the other theory of
1353-1460 A.D. : In the possession of the de Charny family,
period the Shroud was continuously in the
possession of the de Charny family at
There is still a
question as to how such a relatively minor personage merited the gift of such a
momentous relic as the Shroud of Christ.
Dubarle  has a very interesting analysis of this, where he points out that the relic which was by far of
greatest interest to the Court and populace of the day in
Geoffrey de Charny II gave several expositions of the Shroud, one of which provoked the ire of the local bishop of Troyes, Pierre d’Arcis, who in 1389 A.D. wrote a scathing letter of accusation to Pope Clement VII in Avignon, asserting that it was a clever forgery and fraud. This letter was unearthed by Ulysse Chevalier in France around 1900 and re-studied by Herbert Thurston S.J. around 1903, together with the associated events and Papal correspondence. The conclusion of both Chevalier and Thurston was to accept the unsupported assertion of d’Arcis that the Holy Shroud was a cleverly forged painting by an unnamed artist.
Pope Clement, for his part, refused to suppress the expositions, and only required that the de Charnys and the canons at their church in Lirey claim it as a “representation” of the Shroud of Christ. He also ordered d’Arcis to henceforth adopt “perpetual silence” on the matter. Clement’s prudence, or caution, or whatever else motivated his decision, has certainly been vindicated by events, since the Shroud, following Secundo Pio’s photographs of 1898, has become the most enigmatic object in scientific history.
In 1459 Margaret de Charny negotiated transfer of the Shroud to the Royal House of Savoy. She died in 1460, and in 1464 Duke Louis of Savoy granted 50 gold francs to the canons at Lirey to complete the legal transfer of the Shoud to him.
6. 1460 A.D. to present day: ( Ex-king Umberto of Italy bequeathed the Shroud to the Vatican in 1983. It remains in Turin)
During this period the Shroud was continuously in the possession of the House of Savoy. It was kept first in the Sainte Chapelle at their castle at Chambery in the French Alps, and then in 1578 it was moved to their Royal Palace Chapel adjoining the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, where it still is today.
In 1983 on the death of ex- King Umberto II of Italy, the Shroud was bequeathed by him to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II and his successors, with the proviso that it was to remain in Turin. The Cardinal Archbishop of Turin is today the official Apostolic Custodian of the Shroud.
The principal events that will concern us in this final five and a half centuries of the Shroud’s history are:
1532. The Shroud damaged by fire at Chambery. Repairs made by Poor Clare Nuns.
1898. The Exposition of 1898 when Secundo Pia took his momentous first photograph which started the modern period of intense scientific and scholarly research.
1902. The 1902 paper by agnostic Yvon Delage before the Academy of Science in Paris upholding the authenticity of the Shroud as that of Jesus Christ on medical and chemical grounds; followed immediately by the demand of Berthelet, of the physical section, that the paper be written up for publication solely as a treatise on vapography of zinc with no mention of the Shroud!
1931. The definitive photographs of the Shroud taken by Enrie.
1935. The publication of Dr. Pierre Barbet’s booklet on the wounds of Christ; publication of Paul Vignon’s book on the Shroud giving his famous vapograph theory of image formation.
1972. The arson attempt to destroy the Shroud.
1973. The showing of the Shroud on television for the first time, the textile sampling by Prof. Gilbert Raes, new photographs by Judicia-Cordiglia; Dr. Max Frei’s dust and pollen sampling; which show that the Shroud must have at one time been in Palestine and Turkey.
1977. First U.S. Conference of Research on the Shroud, New Mexico.
1978. The STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) team examines the Shroud scientifically in Turin.
1988. The radiocarbon samples are taken, and the results of the tests appear in Nature in 1989; the authors declare that the Shroud is mediaeval in origin.
1993. STURP officially dissolves.
1997. Major fire at the Royal Chapel with the Holy Shroud rescued unscathed by the heroic efforts of Turin firemen.
1998. Exposition of the Holy Shroud to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Secundo Pia’s first photograph of the relic;
Shroud Websites are opened: ( see Other Shroud Sites).
2000. The Worldwide Congress Sindone 2000, held at Orvieto, Italy..
2002. First major repairs are made to the Shroud since the Chambery fire of 1532.
7. Conclusions on the Holy Shroud’s History
The main lines are fairly clear. The Shroud passed from the Apostles in Jerusalem to the court of King Abgar V of Edessa, probably via Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula and St. Luke, the Evangelist, ( who was a gentile and so could ritually handle the burial cloths, was also was a physician, and was probably born in Antioch, only a hundred miles or so from Edessa). There it soon became walled up over a city gate until around 524 A.D., when it was re-discovered, and was thenceforth know as the Image of Edessa or Mandylion, and understood across Christendom to be a face-and-head-only image on cloth.
In 944 it was taken by the Imperial army to Constantinople where it was then realized that the famous Image was in reality a folded full-length, image-imprinted shroud. From Constantinople it was stolen in 1204 during the sack of the city by the Venetian and French soldiers and went to the West, probably via Athens, to eventually end up in the hands of Geoffrey de Charny in Lirey, France, either as the gift of, or with the consent of, King Philippe VI of France. It passed legally from the de Charny family to the House of Savoy in 1460, and has been in their Royal Chapel in Turin since 1538.
(It is worth mentioning that, if the Shroud and the Mandylion are in fact the same object, as proposed by Ian Wilson, then the history in the period 525 to 944 A.D. is now fairly clear. If, however, they are different objects, then various interesting problems arise for the history of the Mandylion right from the Apostolic days in Jerusalem on down through the centuries. This would, however, not affect the essentials of the history of the Shroud as presented, although it would alter some of the details.)
A detailed chronological account of the Shroud in English is given in Ian Wilson’s The Shroud of Turin, and The Blood and the Shroud . Numerous other historical books, papers and references are to be found on the main websites (Other Shroud Sites). The largest library collection on the Shroud in North America is the Father Wuenschel Library at the Holy Shroud Guild, Esopus, N.Y. which can be consulted on the Guild’s website (http://www.shroud.org/).
It should also be kept in mind that in historical matters a major portion of the sources, literature and scholarly analysis is in European journals, publications and libraries, much of which is not available in English, but which must be consulted in any definitive study.
1. The Jerusalem Bible. Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. 1966.
2. Wilson, Ian, The Shroud of Turin, Doubleday & Company, Inc. New York. 1978; The Mysterious Shroud, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1986; The Blood and the Shroud, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1998.
3. M and J.O. Wardrop and E.C. Conybear, “The Life of St. Nino” in Studia biblica et ecclesiastia. Vol V. Oxford, 1900.
4. Eusebius, History of the Church, transl. G.A. Williamson. Penguin Books, London, 1965.
5. Cureton, W., “ The Doctrine of Addai”, in Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa, 1864.
6. Court of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, “ Narratio de imagine edessena” in Migne, Patrologia graeca, Vol 113. 12-13.
7. Wilkinson, J., Egeria’s Travels. SPCK , London, 1972.
8. Wilson, Ian, The Shroud of Turin , Ch. XIV, pp 115-125.
9. Robert de Clari, The Conquest of Constantinople, trans. E.H. McNeal. Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1936.
10. P̀ere A.M. Dubarle, O.P, “Histoire ancienne du Linceuil de Turin” and “Histoire du Linceuil de Turin” on Website Montre-nous Ton Visage (www.mntv.asspc.fr).
11. Scavone, Daniel, “ The Shroud in Constantinople: The Documentary Evidence,” in Daidalikon: Studies in Memory of Raymond V. Shoder, S.J., Bolchazy-Carducci Pub., Wauconda, Illinois, 1989.
12. Chevalier, Ulysse, Etude critique sur l’origine de Sainte Suaire de Lirey-Chambery-Turin. A. Picard Paris, 1900.
13. Thurston, Herbert, S.J., “ The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History’, The Month, 1903; “ The Holy Shroud”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., New York, 1912.
Copyright © 2003 Bernard A. Power