The Shroud of Turin and Byzantine Coins

There are various long term evidences that the Shroud of Turin was kept in Constantinople over several centuries. Are the images of Christ on Byzantine coins one of them?

Indeed, it was a common practice of the Byzantine emperors to produce coins representing Christ on the obverse side, and themselves on the reverse side. This short presentation focuses on two such byzantine coins minted in the 8th and 10th centuries. The reader is also invited to analyze the collection of Byzantine coins from the online exhibits of the Dumbarton Oaks collection.

On August 15, 944, the image of Edessa was transferred from Edessa to Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. The image of Edessa was known as the Mandylion in Constantinople. Coin B below has been minted in 945, the year after the transfer of the image of Edessa to Constantinople.

The following photographs are the obverse and reverse of the two coins. Coin A was minted between 705 and 711, under the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian II. On the obverse, a bust of Christ, very unlike the face on the Shroud; on the reverse, Justinian II. Coin B was minted in 945 under the reign of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. On the obverse, a bust of Christ similar to the Shroud face image; on the reverse, Constantine VII.

Coin A, minted in 705-711 during the reign of Justinian II
Christ (obverse)
Justinian II (reverse)
Coin B, minted in 945 during the reign of Constantine VII (as sole emperor)
(Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des médailles)
Christ (obverse)
Constantine VII (reverse)

Note: to see details, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Notice, for coin B, the overall similarity of the facial representation with the face on the Shroud. It is quite different from the representation on coin A. Note that the left cheek of Christ, that is, the cheek that appears on our right, shows a clear protuberance, which is also on the Shroud. The beard and hair are also similar to the Shroud. Note the very peculiar lock of hair on the forehead. This is similar to the inverted '3' shape as seen on the forehead on the Shroud.

The fact that all these details and the overall appearance is very different on the Justinian coin shows that the artist who designed coin B, was using a very different model.

A systematic analysis of the Byzantine coins produced from the 7th century to the 11th century in the Dumbarton Oaks collection of Byzantine coins, shows that among all these coins, three coins minted soon after the arrival of the Mandylion in Constantinople (Constantine VII coin of 945, Constantine VII and Romanos II, Romanos II, son of Constantine VII) are the most similar to the face on the Shroud. Constantine VII had an exclusive access to the Mandylion, and showed great interest to it. Constantine VII and his son Romanos II might have used the facial image appearing on the Mandylion as a model of Christ on these coins, in which case it turns out to be the most similar to the Shroud.