History of 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. 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 last exposition of the Shroud was from April 19 to June 24, 2015. The next exposition has not been announced.

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 publicly displayed. We do not have any artistic copies of the Image of Edessa nor do we have any documentary evidence that the Image was publicly shown, although it is most likely that high ranking clerics at Edessa saw the Image.

In 944, under the intiative of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos Lekapenos, the Image of Edessa was transferred to Constantinople, Turkey (known as Istanbul since 1930). After the death of Romanos, the new Emperor Constantine VII established a ceremony in which the Image is involved, but the Image is never shown to the public. While in Constantinople, the Image remains locked up most of the time. The Image is called in various ways during its stay in Constantinople, one of the them being the Mandylion

The earliest depictions of the Image known to us come from the period of Constantine VII. It is always shown as a face only of Christ. But given the few people who directly saw the Mandylion, is it really the extant of the image on the cloth? If it was a face only, why was it not shown to the public?

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. Was this the Mandylion finally shown to the public? It is possible that the Mandylion was kept in Constantinople for many years after the city was sack by the crusaders in 1204.

Constantinople to Lirey (1204 - 1357)

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

The Knights Templar

The Templars would have owned the Shroud for over a century until the order was disbanded in 1312. This scenario is based on the description by some templars of a "Baphomet", a bearded head, used in the initiation ritual. But almost all of these descriptions were obtained by the Inquisition under torture. The "Baphomet" would have been the Shroud. For some unclear reason, the Knights Templar would have given the Shroud to Geoffroy I de Charny. Ian Wilson has proposed this scenario in his book The Shroud of Turin.

This scenario has several major weaknesses, two of which are: 1) the "Baphomet" was always described as a tridimensional object made of only a head; 2) how would the Shroud passed from the Templars to Geoffroy de Charny is totally unknown; 3) it is unknown how the Templars acquired the Shroud.

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". This finding has been critized by several historians and scholars as an incorrect interpretation of an already known text.

Battle of Smyrna

Geoffroy I de Charny, the first owner of the Shroud in France, 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.

There are several weaknesses to this scenario, two of which are: 1) the Shroud was never reported to be in Smyrna; 2) it is not clear when Geoffroy I de Charny participated at the battle of Smyrna.

The de la Roche Family

Othon de la Roche would have owned the Shroud while in Athens, Greece.

This possibility appears very unlikely because it is based on many erroneous statements made in the 1714 dissertation on the Shroud of Besançon in the manuscript 826 of the Archives of the Bibliothèque de Besançon.

In any case, several subscenarios are based on the assumption that Othon de la Roche once owned the Shroud. The following mentions two such subscenarios.

The Besançon hypothesis
Othon de la Roche 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 stole it during the fire of the Saint-Etienne church in 1349. Daniel Scavone, an historian, has written several articles describing the Besançon hypothesis. See Besançon and Other Hypotheses for the Missing Years: The Shroud from 1200 to 1400.

Yet, this theory has several major 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.)

Jeanne de Vergy

Another scenario does not include Besançon but assumes that the Shroud was passed down from Othon de la Roche to Jeanne de Vergy, the second wife of Geoffroy de Charny. This scenario would contradict the statement by Marguerite de Charny, the granddaughter of Geoffroy de Charny, who stated that the Shroud was from his grandfather and not his grandmother.

Sainte-Chapelle of Paris

The Mandylion, also known as the image of Edessa, would be the Shroud of Turin. The Mandylion would have reached the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris when Louis IX acquired several relics from the emperor Baudoin II in Constantinople. The Mandylion would be described as a "toile" (cloth), inserted in a box (the reliquary), in the list of relics.

The reliquary of the Mandylion would have been kept until the French Revolution, but the Mandylion would have been removed from the reliquary before 1535 because the inventories of the relics of the Sainte-Chapelle of that period, and all the following inventories, do not mention a "toile" (cloth) but only a description of the reliquary with an image of the face of Jesus Christ in it (named as a Veronica).

Apparently the the kings of France, from Louis IX to Philippe VI de Valois, as well as the clerics responsible for the safeguard of the relics, would not have known that an image existed on the "toile". They would have confused the painted face of Jesus Christ in the reliquary as the main relic. Meanwhile the cloth, which would have been folded in the reliquary, remained unidentified by the clerics for over a century.

This confusion is possible, because it is well documented that the "toile" was considered a secondary relic among all the relics received from Baudoin II. It was never listed in the first articles in the list of relics (more important relics, such as the Crown of Thorns were listed first) and no mention about its relation to the Mandylion was ever done by the Latin owners when they took power in Constantinople. In other words, the Mandylion and its image was unknown by the Latin. In the West, the Veronica was well known, and indeed, this is the term used by the clerics, in the 17th and 18th centuries, to describe the face of Christ they saw at the bottom of the reliquary.

Philippe VI would have given the Mandylion to Geoffroy de Charny, founder of the collegiate church at Lirey, for his services to the King of France, but the King would not have been aware of the presence of the image on the cloth.

Further details about the presence of the Mandylion at the Sainte-Chapelle of paris can be found here.

Lirey, France (1357-1418)

The small Lirey village on Google map.

The Shroud of Turin makes its entry in the Western world in France. We have strong historical records of its existence around 1357 at Lirey, France, a small village about 200 km southeast 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 coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny and his second spouse, Jeanne de Vergy (14th century). This is corroborated with a report from the same period that a shroud of Christ was on display at Lirey around 1357 at the collegiate church founded by Geoffroy de Charny. But the Geoffroy de Charny dies in 1356 at the battle at Poitiers while defending the King of France. It is possible that the first exposition of the Shroud at Lirey was done after its death.

In 1418, the canons of the collegial of Lirey agree to temporarily move the Shroud to a more secure location under the protection of Humbert de Villersexel, the second husband of Marguerite de Charny, the granddaughter of Geoffroy de Charny. However, the Shroud never goes back to Lirey, although the canons tried to regain possession of the Shroud by bringing Marguerite to court, on two occasions, at Dole and Besançon. The Shroud is exposed publicly in various places under her initiative. It is clear that she did not believe that the Shroud should be kept at Lirey solely under the control of its collegial.

Humbert dies in 1438, leaving Marguerite childless. It is clear that from then on she is looking for an appropriate owner of the Shroud. This owner had to be powerful enough to protect and exposed the Shroud adequately. She does not remary, but travels in various cities exposing the Shroud and apparently trying to negotiate a new home for it.

Chambéry, (1453-1578)

In 1453, Marguerite de Charny ceded the Shroud to the Duke Louis de Savoie and his wife Anne de Lusignan. The Duke had its capital in Chambéry, France. His mother was Marie de Bourgogne who was a granddaughter of king Jean II de Valois, son of Philippe VI de Valois. If the theory of the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris is true, the Shroud came back in the lineage of Saint Louis through the very king who would have given the Mandylion/Shroud to Geoffroy de Charny, the grandfather of Marguerite de Charny.

During that period, the canons of Lirey are still in conflict with Marguerite and try to regain possession of the Shroud. But they soon realized that the Shroud is no longer owned by Marguerite and negotiates a monetary compensation with Louis de Savoie. Marguerite de Charny dies not long after, in 1460.

In June of 1502, the ducal chapel of Chambéry officially became the Sainte-Chapelle of Chambéry and housed the Shroud. From 1535 to 1561, the Shroud is moved with the Savoy family in various cities. The Shroud definitely leaves Chambéry for Turin in 1578.
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In 1578, Emmanuel-Philibert, the Duke of Savoy, transfers the Shroud to Turin, the new capital of the Savoie family.

In 1983, the last king of Italy, Umberto II, died and the Shroud was bequeathed to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope. The Shroud is still located in Turin today.

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.