- There are no definite historical records concerning the shroud prior to the 14th century. Although there are numerous reports of Jesus' burial shroud, or an image of his head, of unknown origin, being venerated in various locations before the fourteenth century, there is no historical evidence that these refer to the shroud currently at Turin Cathedral.
- Historical records indicate that a shroud bearing an image of a crucified man existed in the small town of Lirey, France around the years 1353 to 1357. However, the correspondence of this shroud with the shroud in Turin, and its very origin has been debated by scholars and lay authors, with claims of forgery attributed to artists born a century apart. Some contend that the Lirey shroud was the work of a confessed forger and murderer. Professor Larissa Tracy of Virginia also argues that the shroud in Turin is a forgery, but that it was forged by Leonardo da Vinci, who was born in 1452. Professor Nicholas Allen of South Africa on the other hand believes that the image was made photographically and not by an artist. Professor John Jackson of the Turin Shroud Centre of Colorado argues that the shroud in Turin dates back to the first century AD. (100)
- So what are we to make of a 14th century bishop, Pierre d'Arcis, who wrote in a memorandum that a painter confessed to painting the Shroud's images? In isolation his document is damning. But the skeptical inquirer, being true to his ways, must challenge such a claim with the full conspectus of what was being written at the time. Pierre's peers doubted his veracity and questioned his motives. It was all about money. Pierre was the bishop of Troyes. The Shroud was being exhibited at nearby Lirey; and it was to that town that pilgrims with bags of coins were flocking. The d'Arcis memorandum is pointless. The skeptical inquirer is fully justified in his skepticism; for no painter painted on a caramel substance and a surrounding clear substance that was a hundred times thinner than a single brush hair.
- Almost certainly, an image-bearing piece of cloth taken from Edessa in 944 by the armed forces of the Byzantine Emperor, a cloth described on that occasion by Gregory Referendarius, the archdeacon of Hagia Sophia, is the Shroud of Turin. This image-bearing cloth disappeared from Constantinople in 1204 in the hands of French crusaders. We can trace it to Athens in 1207. But there the trail grows cold. If the Edessa Cloth -- later in Constantinople called the Holy Mandylion -- is indeed the Shroud, it reemerges in the annals of history in Lirey about 1355. The gap of about 150 years is uncomfortable. But such gaps are not unusual in the pursuit of history. It is in the plumbing and searching for details that historians find connections that bridge historical gaps; all too common gaps in ancient history. The description by Gregory, a drawing from the late 1100s, tantalizing clues sifted from commonly redacted and exaggerated legends and letters, and citations from documents that no longer exist: these things are plausible.
- It may have ended up in Besançon. There is some reason to think so. There is good reason to believe it was acquired by the French knight, Geoffrey de Charny by 1349 but not much earlier. We know, without any doubt, that it was displayed in Lirey just before Geoffrey was killed at the Battle of Poitiers. And there is no doubt, whatsoever, that cloth displayed in Lirey is the cloth that now resides in Turin.
- In the historical context, some evidence is dubious. That the Shroud may have been the hands of the Knights Templar; or the Cathars (the Albigensians) in Languedoc or in Greece or hidden away in Constantinople, as some have proposed, are at best only possibilities. Possibilities don't close gaps and don't make for good history. The skeptical inquirer is right to question such arguments. But he is not right to assume that gaps mean there is no history.
- Moreover, I am naturally skeptical about any relic with a historical footprint in medieval Europe. The year 1356 was a time of unbridled superstition in demons, witches, magic, and miracle-working relics. It was a time of frequent famine and the Black Death plague. It was a time of extreme economic and political turbulence and of war. The same year that the Shroud was first displayed publicly in the small French village of Lirey, nearby, at the battle of Poitiers, England’s Black Prince defeated the French and captured King John II. Adding to the political turmoil, the Pope was in Avignon, not Rome. Indicative of the thinking in this age, some believed that the plague was God’s retribution on the whole world because the Pope was not in the eternal city. In this climate of superstition, naiveté and disorder a lucrative market in false relics flourished. And though the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, acknowledged the problem, church authorities did little to curb the market in them. Our knowledge of this time in history rightly conditions us to be suspicious of any relic that might appear in Europe at this time.(101)
- As science moved forward, new historical information was coming to light. Indeed, there is evidence that the cloth, now called the Shroud of Turin, really was a treasure of the early church; not the Pauline communities with which we are so familiar, but the Church in the East. Edessa, in the Fertile Crescent of the upper Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, was a major city on the Silk Road and undoubtedly one of the earliest Christian communities. If you traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch, you were two thirds of the way to Edessa. Turn left to go to Tarsus, turn right for Edessa. There is some evidence and a strong tradition that Thomas and Thaddeus Jude (Thaddeus of the 70, Thaddeus of Edessa) went to Edessa as early as 33 CE. There is a legend that they carried with them a cloth bearing an image of Jesus. In 544 CE, a cloth, with an image believed to be Jesus, was found above one of Edessa's gates in the walls of the city, a cloth that Gregory Referendarius of Constantinople would later describe with a full length image and bloodstains. There is strong evidence that the Edessa cloth is in fact the Shroud of Turin. Numerous writings, drawings, icons, pollen spores and limestone dust attest to this.
- How curious these poetic words from the apocryphal Thomasine literature of Edessa seem. They are from the "Hymn of the Pearl," a poem arguably as old as the first half of the first century. As a figure of speech, Jesus, in the poem, is musing in the first person:
- But all in the moment I faced it / This robe seemed to me like a mirror,
And in it I saw my whole self / Moreover I faced myself facing into it.
For we were two together divided / Yet in one we stood in one likeness.
- These words resonate with the two head-to-head images we see seemingly reflected on the Shroud of Turin: like a mirror . . . my whole self . . . faced myself facing into it . . . we were two together divided . . . stood in one likeness. (99)
- There is evidence of an earlier history of the Shroud, such as the Codex Pray. Pure speculation. None of these stand up to a critical scrutiny and them being earlier appearances of the Shroud can be dismissed. Among the large number of paintings of Christ and the Crucifixion there are bound to be some that show some amount of resemblance. The Codex Pray depiction appears to show a box or coffin with a stiff lid, not a cloth at all. (104)
- Religious beliefs about the burial cloths of Jesus have existed for centuries. The Gospels of
- Matthew[27:59-60 , Mark[15:46 and Luke[23:53 state that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a piece of linen cloth and placed it in a new tomb.
- John 19:38-40 refers to strips of linen used by Joseph of Arimathea and
- John[20:6-7 states that Apostle Peter found multiple pieces of burial cloth after the tomb was found open, strips of linen cloth for the body and a separate cloth for the head.
- On April 6, 2009, the London newspaper The Times reported that Dr. Barbara Frale, an official Vatican researcher, had uncovered evidence that the Shroud had been kept and venerated by the Templars since the 1204 sack of Constantinople. According to the account of one neophyte member of the order, veneration of the Shroud appeared to be part of the initiation ritual. The article also implies that this ceremony may be the source of the 'worship of a bearded figure' that the Templars were accused of at their 14th century trial and suppression.[164 (100)