The Historical Facts on the Holy Shroud



1. The Jerusalem Period : circa 33 A.D. – 35 A.D



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 [1], 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 15: 45-47: “……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
Jerusalem Immediately After 33 A.D.


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 Palestine, Pontius Pilate. She is mentioned in the gospel account of Matthew, who as a tax collector would have had official contact with the Roman government in Jerusalem. Matthew writes:


“ 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 Jerusalem in her youth.  She recounted  that Pilate’s wife, Claudia Procula, came into possession of the burial linens, and after a while gave them to Luke, the evangelist, “ Who put it in a place known only to himself”.  (Luke,  being a Gentile, and moreover a physician, would have had no restriction against handling such burial cloths, whereas the Apostles, being all observant Jews, would have been unable to have anything to do with them on pain of ritual defilement).



2. Circa 35 A.D. -944 A.D. :  King Abgar of Edessa: An Image of Jesus ‘not made by human hands’       


This extraordinary story, vouched for by the historian Eusebius ( 325  A.D.) [4, 5] and then in great detail by an Imperial Court historian at Constantinople (944 A.D.) [6], has been the subject of great analysis and study.           


Briefly put, King Abgar V of Edessa, in what is now southern Turkey, being stricken with leprosy, sent an envoy to Jerusalem to see Christ. The reply by way of a letter from Christ promised to send someone to the King at a later date. The account says that the  eventual messenger chosen  by the apostles after the Resurrection  was a disciple  Thaddeus  or Addai  ( it was not Jude the Apostle). This messenger carried with him  a cloth with an image on it, and upon it being shown to  King Abgar,  the  latter was instantly cured of his illness.


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 [7].


The image-bearing cloth reappeared in the records of  Edessa shortly after a disastrous flood in 527  A.D. when the future emperor Justinian sent engineers from Constantinople to repair the city wall  which had been badly damaged in the flood. Apparently, the image-bearing cloth has been walled up in a niche over a city gate as a protective measure against its destruction during a Persian occupation  centuries earlier.  Upon its rediscovery, it soon  became one of the most celebrated objects in the world of its time, known all over the Eastern and Western Empires as The Image of Christ “not made by hands” ( in the Greek- speaking world  as The Image of Christ acheiropoietos ).


Eventually, in 944 A.D., it was obtained  by the Eastern Emperor Romanus , who had sent an army from Constantinople to recovery it  from the Persian occupiers of the still mainly Christian city of Edessa by elaborate barter and negotiations. The account of its arrival in the Imperial city, and the tumultuous and joyous reception it received there, is given in great detail by the Imperial historian [6].


3. The Shroud in Constantinople (944-1204 A.D.)


From 944 to 1204 A.D. the Shroud (and/or Mandylion) remained in Constantinople, and is listed in the official records of the Imperial  reliquary.  It is also mentioned by a number of  writers of that period  who had seen it there..


At this point we must face the natural question:  Were the Shroud and the Mandylion the same thing or were they different cloths?


Wilson [2] has espoused the theory that they were the same cloth. He argues that the full length Shroud was folded in eight   ( in Greek tetradiplon  or ‘doubled in four’, is the way  the image bearing cloth is described in The Doctrine of Addai,  a 10th century Syriac MS which in turn is  based on earlier accounts). Folded in this way the cloth would show just the head and face of Man in the Shroud, so that the Shroud as thus displayed would have become the portrait-sized Mandylion or Image of Edessa.


Wilson argues that the folded Shroud was then enclosed in a sort of ornamental frame for exposition, and so people for centuries never realized that they were looking at just the head and face portion of a long cloth with the entire full-length figure of the Lord impressed on it.


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 Constantinople from Edessa in 944 A.D. was pretty clearly the full length Shroud.  Pere A.M. Dubarle  [10 ] analyses a Byzantine court  document uncovered by Gino Zainotte , containing a sermon given by a  functionary of the Imperial Court in 944 A.D.  who clearly states that the cloth that arrived in Constantinople from Edessa was examined by him, and that there was depicted on it  a flow of blood and water from the right side of chest of the Man in the Shroud.  And so it must have been a full-length figure and not just a head-only portrait. 


In addition Dubarle cites a recent book  by W.K.  Muller  describing a miniature painting from Byzantium of the 11th century depicting the arrival of the Mandylion in Constantinople in 944A.D. It shows the emperor  and his two sons bending over to look at a long image-bearing cloth  falling in several folds to the ground. This is clearly not the traditional  napkin-sized Mandylion image of Edessean tradition. Thus the Edessa relic which arrived in Constantinople in 944 A.D. is the full length Shroud of Turin.


[For completeness, we mention also  the existence of a small, blood-stained linen cloth kept at Orviedo, Spain.   Its history is known with certainty from the 6th century. It was traditionally reported to be one of the burial linens of Christ. This napkin- sized cloth  bears no image on it, but the stains  apparently match those on the Shroud.]


The last mention of the Shroud  in Constantinople is by a French  crusader chronicler, Robert de Clari in 1203 [9], who wrote:


          “ .. 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…”


The  sack  of  Constantinople by the Venetians and French  took place in 1204 A.D. and de Clari then writes:


“ And no one, either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this sydoine after the city was taken”



4.  1205-1353 A.D.: The Shroud eventually ends up in Lirey, France


Ian Wilson’s theory as to what happened to the   Shroud after 1204 is that it was taken by the Knights Templar from Constantinople, and  eventually brought to Paris by them after they were forced to withdraw from the Latin Kingdom of Palestine. This concealment of such an important  relic by the Templars would be rather odd, since other stolen relics were not concealed by their new owners at  the time, but instead were usually  rather proudly exhibited.


Another point in Wilson’s argument involves the suppression of the Templar Order  by Philippe II, King of France,  in 1307. At that time   the Grand Master of the Templars in Normandy was named Geoffrey or Godfrey de Charnay, and he perished by execution  at the stake in Philippe’s purge of the military order. There is apparently no evidence that the Geoffrey de Charny who emerged in possession  of the present day Shroud in  Lirey, France  was related in any way to the  Grand Master  de Charnay from Normandy  of a similar name  who had been executed by King Philippe as a heretic.   There is only the similarity of the name.  A Templar in any case was a celibate religious knight,  and none could have had  legitimate children or descendants.  However, one of the charges of heresy brought against the Templars by Philippe II was that they secretly worshiped a bearded head or image as an “idol”, and the exact nature of this object, if it existed, has not been established. Wilson suggests it may have been connected with the Shroud image.


Other  accounts of the Shroud’s journey from Constantinople in 1204 to Lirey, France in 1353 are more prosaic.  For example Dubarle [10] maintains that the weight of the evidence is that the Shroud was taken from the Blachernae church in Constantinople in 1204,  probably by the Latin Duc d’Athenes, Orthon de la Roche, who passed it to his father in France.    In support of this is a letter from the Imperial Comnenus family in Constantinople to Pope Innocent III asserting that they knew for a fact that the  Shroud was  then in Athens, and demanding the return of it and other stolen religious articles and relics, but offering to allow the Venetians and the French to keep the stolen gold and precious  objects.


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 Anjou either presented the Shroud to Geoffrey de Charny, a distinguished and heroic knight of the day, or endorsed his pre-existing ownership  by giving him a grant for a church to house it in.


Dubarle, however, does support the other theory of  Wilson that the  Shroud  “folded in four” is the same object of earlier fame  known as the Mandylion of Edessa , transferred to Constantinople in 933 A.D. There is no doubt that Duarble’s analysis of the sermon of the Imperial historian Gregory in 944 shortly after the Image of Edessa cloth arrived in Constantinople seems to prove conclusively that the Mandylion, as transferred, was not a small cloth with a head only image, as described in earlier accounts and portrayed in earlier icons and frescoes, but was, instead, a long  cloth with a full length image showing the marks of the Passion.


5.  1353-1460 A.D. : In the possession of the de Charny family, Lirey, France. The D’Arcis charge of forgery.

During this period the Shroud was continuously in the  possession of the de Charny family at Lirey, France, southeast of  Paris.  The first Geoffrey de Charny was a very distinguished soldier who eventually died a heroic death shielding King John  of France, with his own body at the Battle of Poitiers.


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 [10] 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 France was  the Crown of Thorns. The Shroud, an ordinary linen cloth  with its vague and indistinct image, apparently did not impress the practical, soldierly leaders of the time, nor the mass of people. Consequently, the gift of the Shroud to de Charny, if that is what happened, although important, would not necessarily have been  in the eyes of King Philippe a major donation. Perhaps we today also do not fully appreciate how much our own estimation of the value of the Shroud is owing to the astonishing Shroud photographs of Secundo Pio, and since reinforced by those of Enrie,  Judica-Cordiglia, Miller and others who have followed.


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 [1]. 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 (


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 [2], 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 (


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.



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