Turin Shroud is one of the most controversial relics ever. Said
to be the burial cloth of Jesus, for some, it is the ultimate
relic, proving the reality of his resurrection; for academics,
it remains an enigma, for how the image has become embedded
on the cloth has never been fully reproduced. For others, it
is nothing more than a medieval fake, for which a 1988 carbon-dating
result has to provide the evidence.
The Shroud therefore very much acts like a mirror: if you believe
in Christ and the Resurrection, one is likely to believe it
is genuine. If you are an atheist, you will quickly adhere to
the official conclusion which says it’s a medieval fake.
That is in fact the official position of the Church: they have
no opinion on the Shroud as such, and leave it to individual
Christians to believe its veracity, or not. Apart from the Church’s
position, there is also a scientific position. Alas, that “scientific
position” is not so scientific at all. It relies on the
1988 carbon-dating, which placed the shroud’s origins
between 1260 and 1390, but there is one important problem with
this: there is no conclusive evidence to show that the material
that was submitted for carbon-dating originates from the shroud.
Indeed, intriguingly if not mysteriously, the key portion of
the sample taking, in which pieces of the shroud were placed
in containers to be sent out for analysis, for this portion,
the Vatican demanded that the video-cameras, which were there
to record the entire process, and specifically this key sequence,
were turned off.
If it were a crime scene investigation, it would mean that the
carbon-dating results were inadmissible as evidence. Which would
mean that we would have to rely on other evidence, most if not
all of which suggests that the shroud is much older than the
14th century. For example, it is known that there is pollen
on the shroud, which show the Shroud was once in Palestine.
We know that the weaving technique of the cloth is contemporary
with Jesus. And that there is genuine blood on the shroud, blood
group AB, rare in Europe, but common in the Middle East. That
the position of the hands is consistent with a person genuinely
crucified. And more. As such, even many scientists now argue
that the carbon-dating is the odd-one out, and should be treated
with suspicion – though few dare to point the finger directly
to the Vatican as the culprit, instead arguing other problems
with the tests might have occurred.
has been responsible for dozens of books and documentaries,
most of whom treat the shroud in isolation. This, alas, is their
biggest shortcoming, for what is little known, but totally factual,
is that the shroud has a little brother: the Oviedo sudarium,
which has been residing in Spain for more than a millennium.
The Oviedo Shroud or sudarium is a bloodstained sweat cloth,
believed to have been wrapped around the head of Jesus Christ
after his death – as mentioned in the Gospel of John.
Unlike the Turin Shroud, it does not show an image; merely blood
marks and like. Interest in the Oviedo sudarium came about when
Mgr. Ricci visited Oviedo in 1965. He was in fact the first
to suggest that there was a correspondence between the stains
on the cloth of Oviedo and those found on the Shroud’s
face area. It would take a further two decades before a local
organisation was created that would begin a series of scientific
tests that could prove the veracity of the Gospels.
Oviedo Shroud was only meant to be used for a short period of
time. The linen is composed of taffeta ligaments, with the threads
twisted in the form of a Z, which is the simplest form of weaving.
It is a fairly coarse, inexpensive cloth, unlike the Turin Shroud,
which would have remained around the dead person’s body
for a year or so, when the bones of the deceased would have
been collected and placed in an ossuary. As mentioned, unlike
the Turin Shroud, there is no image on the sudarium; it contains
“merely” stains of blood and bodily fluids. Measuring
85 by 53 centimetres (34x21 inches), the sudarium is kept in
the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo, where it is put on
display three times per year: on Good Friday, the Feast of the
Triumph of the Cross on September 14, and its octave on September
21, the feast of St Matthew.
Part of the problem of the Turin Shroud is that its history
is only fully documented from the late the 15th century onwards,
when it came into the hands of Marguerite of Austria, who ordered
a special chapel to be built for it in the castle of Chambery.
But the history of the sudarium is far better known. It is known
to have existed since at least the 11th century, when it was
placed inside the cathedral; few find any problems with pushing
its date back to the eighth or even seventh century.
Some go as far back as 570 AD, when a manuscript by Antoninus
of Piacenza mentions that the sudarium was being cared for in
a cave near the monastery of Saint Mark, in the vicinity of
Jerusalem; there lived seven nuns in seven cells, who “looked
after the sudarium of Christ.” But soon after, the sudarium
was moved. In 614 AD, when Jerusalem was attacked and conquered
by the Persian King Chosroes II, the sudarium had been taken
away ahead of the invasion, first to Alexandria, where it was
nevertheless not safe, as Chosroes conquered that town in 616
AD. As such, it was taken across northern Africa, possibly entering
Spain at Cartagena. The bishop of Ecija, Fulgentius, welcomed
the refugees fleeing from the Persians, as well as the relics
they brought with them.
The chest containing the sudarium and other precious Christian
relics was known as the “Arca Santa”. Fulgentius
surrendered it to Leandro, bishop of Seville, where the “ark”
remained for a number of years. Later, it was taken to Toledo,
but when the Muslims invaded Spain in the 8th century, the chest
was once again moved, this time secured in a cave or well on
the mountain known as Monsacro – near Oviedo.
of the trajectory and details of how the Arca Santa precisely
reached Oviedo is open for speculation. But there is also very
hard evidence connected to how this cloth arrived in Northern
Spain. A key date and a key man in the history of the sudarium
is King Alfonso II of Asturias, who had a special chapel built
for the chest, the Cámara Santa (also known as the Chapel
of St Michael), in 840 AD, which acted as the royal chapel and
which was later incorporated into Oviedo Cathedral. Alfonso
II is the king who had the bones of Saint James at Santiago
de Compostela recognised as such by the Pope and Charlemagne.
Afterwards, he created the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago
de Compostela and made sure that Oviedo, his new capital, was
on one of the routes.
Even though he built a chapel for the chest, for a very long
period of time, there was genuine fear to open the chest. In
fact, the sudarium “only” officially entered the
annals of history when on March 13, 1075, the fourth Friday
of Lent, the chest was officially opened in the presence of
King Alfonso VI, his sister Doña Urraca, as well as the
Infanta Doña Elvira, several bishops and Rodrigo Díaz
de Vivar, better known as El Cid. All three had arrived in Oviedo
on February 2 and had prepared themselves to see the relics
by fasting for forty days. When opened, the chest included,
as expected, the sudarium. Ever since, it has not left the cathedral.
Other relics present in the chest were the sole of Peter’s
sandal, a piece of Mary’s garment, some of Mary Magdalene’s
hair, the hands of St Stephen, the first martyr, and much more.
After 1075, the chest once again remained closed for many centuries.
No-one knows of an opening until 1547-56, when Don Cristóbal
de Rojas y Sandoval ordered it opened for him. Then, as now,
no-one was overly promoting the sudarium’s existence,
and then, as now, it was only put on exhibit three times a year,
during regular church services. But even though it was obscure,
it didn’t come without skirmishes with disaster. Like
the Turin Shroud survived an almost fatal fire in 1532, the
Holy Chamber in which the sudarium resided was almost destroyed
on October 12, 1934, when dynamite that had been placed in the
crypt, exploded. The sudarium was unharmed, though severe damage
had occurred to the chapel.
the Gospel of John speaks of a sudarium present in the empty
tomb (John 20:7): “The handkerchief, which had been on
His head, was not lying with the linen cloths, but was rolled
up in a place by itself.” It was common usage for the
Jews to take care of the dead as such. A sudarium was placed
over the head of a corpse so that onlookers and the family of
the deceased would be spared the horror of seeing the face go
into rigor mortis. Jewish culture also had a specific code of
conduct with blood, and all accounts relate that Jesus had been
severely bleeding at the cross.
Most interestingly, scientific analysis has shown that the stains
of the sudarium match those on the head portion of the Shroud,
as first suggested by Mgr. Ricci in 1965. As such, it is clear
that both cloths at one point covered the same body. This conclusion
is augmented by the fact that the same blood group (AB) can
be found on both relics, as well as identical pollens (e.g.
Gundelia tournefortii). In fact, the sudarium contains pollen
from Palestine, Africa, and Spain, the pollen traces thus confirming
the relic’s historical journey. It also contains aloe
and myrrh, common and known ingredients in the preparation of
the dead for burial. The scientific analysis of the sudarium
has also shown that the person who was laid inside the sudarium
and the Shroud was tortured and died on the cross. If this was
a fake (i.e. not Jesus Christ), then someone went through the
trouble of duplicating Jesus’ death perfectly.
the sudarium has a recorded history from 1075 AD onwards, the
conclusion has to be that the sudarium and the shroud predate
1075 AD – if not the 6th century. And this should be the
final nail in the coffin of the carbon-dating.
One of the principal researchers into the Oviedo shroud is Mark
Guscin, who in 1999 presented the conclusion of the scientific
committee that both the sudarium and the Shroud indeed had covered
the same injured head. Their analysis also revealed that the
man for whom the sudarium had been used had been dead, had suffered
wounds before death, while the formation of the stains showed
that he had had both arms outstretched above the head and the
feet in such a position as to make breathing very difficult
– in short, that he was likely crucified. Finally, he
added that the man had a beard, moustache and long hair, tied
up at the nape of his neck into a ponytail. This conforms to
other research carried out on the Turin Shroud, including the
recent work by Ray Downing, who created a three-dimensional
reconstruction of the face from the image on the Shroud, which
reveals a beard, a moustache and long hair too.
evidence compiled from the sudarium follows the bible’s
timeline: the sudarium would have been over the head of Jesus
for about 45 minutes, when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate,
to have the body removed from the cross and allow it to be buried.
From the position of the blood and fluid stains, scientists
have been able to show that the sudarium covered a dead man’s
head who was first in a vertical position, and later in a horizontal
position – for another hour or so. The cause of death
in crucifixion is asphyxiation, i.e. fluid building up in the
lungs. When the body is put in a horizontal position this fluid
exits through the mouth and nose and this can be seen on the
Jewish custom also allows that during the transport to the tomb,
a cloth was wrapped around the body, which would have been removed
and exchanged for the burial cloth. The gospels argue that a
new, clean linen was indeed wrapped around Jesus for transport.
This “transport shroud” might have been the cloth
given to Charlemagne in ca. 797, brought to the Abbey of St
Cornelius in Compiègne a century later, where it became
the object of many pilgrimages, and where it was destroyed during
the tumult of the French Revolution.
two of whom survived the ages. But whose whereabouts, for most
of two millennia, were unknown, and which are therefore the
subject of great controversy. Though, the Gospel of John makes
reference to both a sudarium and the shroud, it seems that after
their discovery in the empty tomb, both objects took different
trajectories. Most sources argue that Peter had taken charge
of the sudarium, had hidden it, while the burial cloth was given
to Joseph of Arimathea. Interestingly, Isodad says that Peter
used the cloth in a rite known as the imposition of the hands,
in which the relic was used to obtain cures, Peter placing the
sudarium on his head, like a mitre. Interestingly, the miraculous
powers of the sudarium might equally be fact, not legend. Janice
Bennett, who has had a long interest in the sudarium, writes
how in 1988 she was given an image of the sudarium, which had
touched the blood on the sudarium. She reports how on a number
of occasions, when she used it, it was able to heal. Indeed,
other relics to do with the Passion are said to have the same
But some relics are more interesting than others. And the Turin
Shroud could be the highest of them all. When we read the Gospel
of John, it is clear that when “the other disciple”
– John – entered the empty tomb, it was from the
position in which the shroud was seen, that he “believed”.
Maybe he also saw the image on the shroud, though this is unconfirmed.
But from the position alone, John was convinced something out
of the ordinary had occurred.
image on the Turin Shroud, which science still has not been
able to explain as to how it was created, is further evidence
to substantiate this theory. Indeed, scientists agree that the
shroud and the testimony of John argue that a paranormal event
had occurred. The methodology on how the image on the Turin
Shroud has been created, cannot be reproduced at present. The
closest one has come has been outlined by Ray Downing, namely
that a top of the art computer scanner is able to create a similar
image best, but it fails to account for how the tiny dots became
attached to the cloth. And of course there were no such scanners
at the time the Shroud was created.
At the time of the carbon-dating of the Turin Shroud, the quest
was opened to find the genius whom had been able to create this
great piece. Two decades on, the question is how and what paranormal
event allowed the Turin Shroud to be created. In simple terms,
the easiest is that the body disappeared in a puff of smoke,
while at the same time it was emanating a type of light (or
rather, that the body was being scanned while it dissolved)
that left us with the image on the Turin Shroud. While studying
whether or not the Turin Shroud was genuine or not, the scientific
research actually became evidence gathering for the existence
of the paranormal – whatever that means. And it highlights
that the Shroud is not just all about religion. In fact, it
is about science documenting an extra-ordinary event, one in
which two billion people on this planet believe in.
thanks to Mark Guscin and Janice Bennett in furthering the cause
of the Oviedo sudarium.
article appeared in Atlantis Rising, Issue 83 (September - October