Shroud of Turin Facts

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The Image of Edessa

Historians have long known about an ancient cloth said to bear an image of Jesus known as the Image of Edessa, the Edessa Cloth, and later in the Byzantine era as the Holy Mandylion.

Edessa was a cosmopolitan city in Jesus’ day and one of the cities were Christian communities developed early as they did in Antioch. Edessa, now the city of Urfa in modern day Turkey, is situated about 400 miles north of Jerusalem. We can be quite confident that this ancient cloth, which disappeared during the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by knights of the Fourth Crusade, is the Shroud of Turin.

Legend has it that the cloth was brought to King Abgar V Ouchama of Edessa (13 - 50 CE) by one of Jesus’ disciples known to us as Thaddeus Jude (Addai). We know of this legend from Eusebius of Caesarea’s early fourth century Ecclesiastical History. Therein, we learn of a now lost document once in Edessa’s archives purportedly written by King Abgar V and delivered to Jesus by an envoy named Ananias. Abgar, supposedly, asked Jesus to come to Edessa and to cure him of leprosy. Eusebius’ history reports that the Apostle Thomas did send Thaddeus Jude sometime after Jesus’ death and that he founded a church in Edessa. Historians are highly critical of this legend since Eusebius’s history includes, as elements of the letter, references from the Gospels, which were written later, as well as theological concepts, which were developed later. It also must be pointed out that Eusebius makes no mention of the cloth.

Another Syrian manuscript, the Doctrine of Addai, fills in some gaps. According to this document, which also mentions the letter, Ananias painted a portrait of Jesus "with choice pigments." A later document, the Acts of the Holy Apostle Thaddeus, written in the early part of the sixth century, adds more detail. It suggests that the image was formed when Jesus wiped his face on the linen cloth and it refers to the Edessa Cloth as a tetradiplon. We can only assume that this is all legend. But from this material we can gather three very important clues:

  1. The cloth arrived in Edessa.
  2. The image on the cloth is recognized to be unique in that the images were described as painted with choice pigments or formed when Jesus wiped his face on the linen cloth.
  3. The cloth is described as a tetradiplon, which means doubled in fours. When folded thus, only the face from the Shroud will be visible.

Regardless of how the image-bearing cloth arrived in Edessa, it was discovered in the early sixth century concealed behind some stones above one of the city gates. It was a practice in ancient cities of this area to mount a stone tile with a picture of some favored deity above the city’s main gate. It may be that the Image of Edessa was simply stored behind such a tile as suggested by some Byzantine iconography. It could well have been that because of severe floods, to which Edessa was very prone; the cloth was placed high in the city’s walls for protection. There is also the very real possibility that it was hidden to protect it from invaders or to protect it during times of Christian persecutions. We know that during the many persecutions of the first three centuries, valuable relics, writings, and ceremonial items of the church were routinely destroyed. There is evidence of local persecutions in Edessa as early as the latter part of the first century and of Roman persecutions that persisted until the time of Emperor Constantine. If, in fact, the cloth was taken to Edessa in the earlier part of the first century, it might have been hidden for protection as early as the reign of Ma’nu VI, Abgar’s son, who is thought to have reverted to paganism.

What is not legend, nor speculation, is that the cloth, with an image of what was then believed to be a true and miraculous facial image of Jesus - described as a divinely wrought image and an image not made by hand - was found in the walls of the city in the sixth century. During repairs of the city walls in 525 CE, or more likely, during a Persian invasion of the city in 544 CE, the cloth was rediscovered and placed in a church built especially for it. It was, to the people of Edessa, the lost cloth of the "legend." In the late sixth century, Evagrius Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History mentions that Edessa was protected by a "divinely wrought portrait" (acheiropoietis) sent by Jesus to Abgar. In 730 CE, St. John Damascene in On Holy Images describes the cloth as a himation, which is translated as an oblong cloth or grave cloth. This may be the first mention, among extant documents, of it being a grave cloth.

For a bigger picture see: Image of Edessa

  The scientific study of the Turin shroud is like a microcosm of the scientific search for God: it does more to inflame any debate than settle it.”

  And yet, the shroud is a remarkable artefact, one of the few religious relics to have a justifiably mythical status.

  It is simply not known how the ghostly image of a serene, bearded man was made.”

Scientist-Journalist Philip Ball
Nature, January 2005

Nature, that most prestigious of scientific journals, that once had bragging rights to claim that the Shroud was fake, responding to new, peer-reviewed studies that discredit the carbon 14 dating and show that the Shroud could be authentic.


  1. The Shroud of Turin is certainly much older than the now discredited radiocarbon date of 1260-1390. It is at least twice as old and it could be 2000 years old.  FACTS
  2. Though no one knows how it was made, the image is a selective caramel-like darkening of an otherwise clear coating of starch fractions and various saccharides.  FACTS
  3. The blood is real blood.  FACTS
  4. Much of what we think we see in the image is an optical illusion FACTS

Shroud of Turin Facts Check: 2005 Facts