Shroud of Turin History: Edessa to Turin

On August 15, 944 AD, a cloth known as the Cloth of Edessa, was forcibly transferred from the city of Edessa to Constantinople, the Byzantine capital. It had been in Edessa since at least the middle of the 6th century (544 AD) when it was found concealed behind some stones above one of the city gates. On that the historical record is clear.

What happened to the cloth of Edessa? Is it the Shroud of Turin?

In that year, in August, when the cloth arrived in Constantinople, Gregory Referendarius, the archdeacon of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, described it as a full length image with bloodstains from a side wound. We know this from a recently discovered document in the Vatican Archives. The document is in ancient Greek (translated by Mark Guscin). 

In Constantinople, the cloth was sometimes ceremoniously unfurled, raised up like a vertical banner, in a way that showed a full frontal picture of Jesus as though rising from a grave.  In 1201, Nicholas Mesarites, the sacristan of the Pharos Chapel where the Image of Edessa was kept, described this ceremony in somewhat interesting terms:

Here He rises again and the sindon [Shroud] is the clear proof still smelling fragrant of perfumes, defying corruption because they wrapped the mysterious naked dead body from head to feet.

There is reason to believe that the Edessa Cloth, along with other priceless treasures, was taken from Constantinople in 1204 AD by French knights of the Fourth Crusades. About 1205, in a letter to Pope Innocent III, Theodore Ducas Anglelos wrote:

The Venetians partitioned the treasure of gold, silver and ivory, while the French did the same with the relics of saints and the most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after His death and before the resurrection.

We know that the sacred objects are preserved by their predators in Venice and France and in other places. In 1207, Nicholas d'Orrante, Abbott of Casole and the Papal Legate in Athens, wrote about relics taken from Constantinople by French knights. Referring specifically to burial cloths, he mentions seeing them "with our own eyes" in Athens.

But there are no known records between the time of the Crusades and 1357. That does not mean there are no records. There are just no known records that can directly link the Edessa Cloth and the Turin Cloth. Historians have two theories about this. One is that the cloth was in the hands of the Knight Templar and they kept that fact secret. The other theory, one that is gaining favor with some historians, is that the cloth was in Besancon during the years in question and that existing records and documents were destroyed during the excesses of the French Revolution.

Is there any other evidence that might tie these cloths together. The answer is yes.

We can be quite certain that in Edessa as well as in Constantinople, the cloth was kept folded in such a way that only the face was visible. By folding the cloth, doubled in fours (tetradiplon) that is exactly what results: a centered face of Jesus on a horizontal folded cloth, as seen in a 10th century painting --  a picture that is odd for its horizontal shape as a portrait.

John Jackson, who was one of several physicists who physically examined the Shroud in 1978, used special raking light photography to reveal ancient fold marks on the Shroud. He found persistent creases exactly where expected and in the correct folding direction for just such a tetradiplon folding.

Even more important is a drawing from an ancient codex, known commonly as the Hungarian Pray Manuscript or Pray Codex. Written between 1192 and 1195, the codex includes an illustration, one of five in the manuscript, showing Jesus being placed on his burial shroud, a shroud with the identical pattern of burn holes found on the Shroud. The artist drew the very unusual herringbone weave on the shroud and a number of other graphic characteristics consistent with the Shroud. Jesus is shown naked with his arms modestly folded at the wrists, the fingers are unusually long in appearance as they are on the Shroud, and there are no visible thumbs. (There are no thumbs visible in the images of the man of the Shroud either.) Forensic pathologists tell us that this makes sense since nails driven through the wrist would likely cause the thumbs to fold into the palms. In the drawing, there is also a clear mark on Jesus' forehead where the most prominent 3-shaped bloodstain is found on the forehead of the man of the Shroud.

There can be little question that this illustrator of the Pray Codex, far removed from France, working at a time before the sacking of Constantinople by French knights, before the time given for the Shroud by carbon 14 testing, and before or the d'Arcis Memorandum, knew about the Shroud, the Holy Mandylion, the Image of Edessa.


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