Sindonology (Shroud of Turin)

Introduction to the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is believed by many to have been used to inter Jesus Christ. It is made of linen, is essentially rectangular (4.3 by 1.1 meter) and bears the front and back images of a human body. It is named Shroud of Turin since it is kept in Turin, that is, Torino, a city in the North of Italy, not very far from France. You can see the cathedral of Turin via this webcam. The Shroud is securely stored in the cathedral, in a protective sealed reliquary, fully unrolled on a flat surface. The reliquary is filled with an inactive gas (i.e., argon) to reduce oxidation of the linen of the Shroud. The Shroud itself is not visible to visitors although a copy can be seen near the reliquary.
The Turin Cathedral, and the Royal Chapel, located in the back of the cathedral. The Chapel was damaged by fire in 1997 and it is still being restored. We can see the reconstruction of the dome of the chapel in progress. The Shroud of Turin is normally kept in the Chapel but has been moved in the cathedral during its restoration.

The linen cloth is a fine rare weave: a 3-1 herringbone. Its average thickness is less than half a millimeter, around 0.25 mm. It is shown only on rare occasions, most recently in 1998 (celebrating the 100 years anniversary of the first photography of the Shroud), 2000 (the new millennium), and in the Spring of 2010. The next exposition of the Shroud is going to be from April 19 to June 24, 2015.


The history of the Shroud is complex and we will only make a cursory exposition of it.

Note: The whereabouts of the Shroud before 1357 is not known with very strong certainty. Some would say that the Shroud did not exist before the 14th century, which, of course, would imply that the actual Turin Shroud is not authentic. But multiple evidences support that the Shroud existed before 1357. Some of the following statements about the history of the Shroud, prior to 1357, are considered controversial. The most obscure periods are the first three centuries and the years 1204 to 1356.

Edessa and Constantinople (-1204)

For several centuries, the Shroud appears to have been kept in the city of Edessa, now known as Şanliurfa in Turkey, near the Syrian boarder. The Shroud would have been the Image of Edessa. This theory was first proposed by Ian Wilson.

It is most likely that only the reliquary containing the Image of Edessa was displayed to the public and artistic copies of the face only was shown to the public. Confusion about the image of Edessa might have been caused by such copies.

Byzantine Emperors likely used the Shroud in many of their ceremonies and as a true representation of Christ for their icons, coins, paintings, and other artistic renditions.

In 944, the Image of Edessa was transferred to Constantinople, Turkey (known as Istanbul since 1930).

It was last seen, in the Eastern world, in Constantinople in 1203, before its reappearance in Lirey, France in 1357. In 1203, Robert de Clari, a Knight of the Fourth Crusade, reported a public display, in Constantinople, of a shroud similar to the Turin Shroud, with an image on it which he interpreted as being Jesus-Christ.

Constantinople to Lirey (1204 - 1357)

Historians have proposed several scenarios for the transfer of the Shroud from Constantinople to France, its next well documented location. I present a few scenarios here (this is not a comprehensive list):

  1. The Templars would have owned it for over a century until the order was disbanded. For some unknown reason, it would have been given to Geoffroy I de Charny. Ian Wilson has proposed this scenario in his book, The Shroud of Turin. On April 6, 2009, the Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reports that Barbara Frale, an historian and an expert on the Knights Templar, has uncovered evidence from the Vatican Secret Archives that the Shroud of Turin was in the hands of the Templars between the time it disappeared from Constantinople in 1204 and its appearance in Lirey, France, in 1357. The document relates the account of a young Frenchman, Arnaut Sabbatier, in 1287: "I was shown a long piece of linen on which was impressed the figure of a man and told to worship it, kissing the feet three times".
  2. Geoffroy I de Charny, a French Knight, would have acquired it as a gift from Humbert II after he participated at the battle of Smyrna (1345-1346) (croisade du Dauphin), then bring it back to Lirey, France. This scenario is coherent with a declaration of his grand-daugther Marguerite de Charny and of the monks at the Lirey Collegial. There are several weaknesses to this scenario, two of which are: the Shroud was never reported to be in Smyrna, it is not clear that Geoffroy I de Charny participated at the battle of Smyrna.
  3. Othon de la Roche would have owned the Shroud while in Athens, Greece. He would have transfered it to Besançon, France, around 1206. This scenario is mostly based on the presence of a shroud in Besançon in the 13th and 14th century and someone from the Charny or Vergy family stole it during the fire of the Saint-Etienne church in 1349. Daniel Scavone, a professional historian, has written several articles describing this scenario. See Besançon and Other Hypotheses for the Missing Years: The Shroud from 1200 to 1400. Yet, this theory has several weaknesses, one of which is that we have no report of any public exposition of the Shroud in Besançon before the 16th century. (Note: it is well established that the later shroud in Besançon, that is, from the 16th century to 1792, was a painting.)

Lirey, France (1357-1452)

The Shroud of Turin makes its entry in the Western world in France. We have strong historical records of its existence in 1357 at Lirey, France, a small city about 200 km South-East of Paris. For example, a medallion reproducing the Shroud was found in 1855 in the Seine river (see A Souvenir From Lirey). The medallion clearly depicts the Turin Shroud and it holds the ecussons of de Charny family and de Vergy family (14th century), his spouse. This is corroborated with a report from the same period that a shroud of Christ was on display at Lirey in 1357 at the collegiate founded by Geoffroy I de Charny.

Lirey on a modern interactive map.

Chambéry, (1453-1578)

In 1453, Marguerite de Charny, daughter of Geoffroy II de Charny, exchange the Shroud to the DukeLouis de Savoie, in Chambéry, France, for a small fief. This fief will actually be worthless for Marguerite de Charny, and she dies not long after, in 1460.

View Larger Map

The Duke had a chapel built to house the Shroud in Chambéry. It was also shown in many small cities in France until it was brought to Turin in 1578 by the Duke of Savoy, where it is still located today.

In 1983, the Shroud was given to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope.

The Shroud was never in America nor in the far Eastern World.

A lengthy introduction to the Shroud of Turin can be found at Wikipedia, Shroud of Turin. You can even study the series of editing that took place between believers and non-believers of the authenticity of the Shroud.

I invite the reader to read a short paper written by the professional photographer Aldo Guerreschi at The Turin Shroud: from the photo to the three-dimensional. In this paper, Aldo presents a personal experience of examining the Turin Shroud after the 1997 fire. I think that this personal introduction to the Shroud will give you a sense of the exceptional image inscribed on it. I quote from this paper:
While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from it remains the same, with the Shroud itself that is not the case.

Moving around that table from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure were almost outside the sheet; it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique.

Let me tell you more.

I asked permission to photograph some details of the face. As I said previously, I thought I knew it well.. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20 - 30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw ... nothing in the viewfinder; "and yet" I said " I know it by heart." I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it. So it is a barely perceptible image, one which escapes you, which leaves you perplexed.

I am convinced that if people could see it from close up they would not only feel great emotion, but would also realize the real consistency of this image, which would dispel the many doubts surrounding the authenticity of this sheet which unquestionably enshrouded a corpse, and of this there is absolutely no doubt.