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Quick Links: Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

This final part of the Shroud of Turin's Earlier History addresses the means by which it left Constantinople in the east (in or not long after 1204) and reappeared about 150 years later in the little village of Lirey, France. The relic's 'good' history is acknowledged by almost all to begin about 1355 when a minor French nobleman with an outstanding reputation, Geoffrey de Charny, is believed to be the cloth's first certain owner.

Unfortunately, soldier de Charny died in 1356 during the Hundred Years War, apparently leaving no record of how he came by the cloth. His recently married second wife, Jeanne de Vergy, and (later) son Geoffrey II probably did know but curiously did not divulge. Nevertheless, for the next hundred years these and Geoffrey’s granddaughter, Maguerite, kept the details secret admitting only that the Shroud was conquis par feu messire (acquired by the late sire) Geoffroy de Charny (Crispino 1988: 30-31). Today there are at least half a dozen theories (but no consensus) of the Shroud’s transport to France, three of which are discussed here. However, for many readers of the first three parts, this exercise may seem superfluous. Considering the pre-1205 textual and artistic evidence produced by Wilson and other researchers, and the massive looting of Byzantine treasures now to be found in western museums, churches, and private collections – of course the Shroud was among those spoils. De Charny and both his wives were descendants of the western forces which looted the city or participated in its later Latin administration. But the 1988 C14 findings (1260-1390), critics demonstrating (cleverly but unsuccessfully) new methods by which a late medieval trickster could have made the Shroud’s images, and an angry French bishop’s late 14th century claim that the Shroud had been proven a recent fraud, all necessitate a better understanding of how the shroud of Constantinople became the Shroud of Lirey.

Did the leaders of Constantinople’s new Latin government leave any records of what relics they had just acquired? Yes, but no official inventory by the Crusade leaders listed a shroud in their relic treasuries; one performed at the Boucoleon palace’s Pharos Chapel, where ordinarily the shroud relic would have been kept, listed none (Wilson 1979: 176). However, the Byzantine emperors had moved their residence to another site, the Blachernae Palace on the other side of the city, late in the 12th century. It seems probable that the Shroud would have been moved there, too, especially as this was the place where Robert de Clari made his famous observation of the figured sydoines in 1203 (Piana 2007:5-6). Some Greek documents during this time can be understood as recording a continued post-1204 presence of a shroud in the city (Crispino 1982: 27) leading a few researchers to suspect that it was passed on later to French King Louis IX (“Saint Louis”).

Could Geoffrey de Charny have obtained the Shroud from a French king? In the early 1350’s de Charny built a small, wooden church in tiny Lirey, where he was lord, to house various relics and, although not immediately documented, the Shroud. La sainct suaire was removed from there after not many years and the modest structure rebuilt early in the 16th century. At that time a manuscript was composed testifying that

The members of the [Lirey] chapter assert that Geoffroy I, after his liberation from the English, received the Shroud at Amiens from Philip VI ....

Additionally, a tablet placed in the church added that

Geoffroy, knight, Count of Charny and lord of this place Lirey ... received from King Philip as recompense for his valor, the Holy Shroud of Our Lord ... with a generous portion of the true cross and several other relics and sanctuariums, to be placed in the church which he hoped to build (Scavone 1993: 208-09).

The year would have been no later than 1350, the date of Phillip VI’s death. Crispino has identified numerous errors in these documents (Crispino 1985:25), but other scholars believe there might be some fundamental truth in them. Laying aside for the moment the incredible largesse a king would have giving away Christianity’s greatest relic, how would a mid-14th century western royal come by it? Thirty years after Constantinople’s fall the third Latin emperor, Baudouin II de Courtenay, was desperate for money to pay the army defending his shrinking realm. In the ten years between 1237 and 1247 he obtained large loans from the Venetians and his cousin, King Louis IX of France, and gave up many relics which found their way into Louis’ new, exquisite Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Christ’s reputed Crown of Thorns was the most prominent, but apparently not a complete shroud. A document finally ceding these relics to Louis listed “A part of the Sudarium in which the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped in the sepulchre” from which snippets were supposedly sent by Louis to various churches (Crispino 1986: 28-29). But after Baudouin finally fled Constantinople in 1261 and until his death about a decade later, he left no record of what happened to the full shroud. (Interestingly, some of Baudouin’s descendants found a place in the French court, with his granddaughter helping to raise Phillip.) How could the relic silently move from Baudouin in mid 13th century Constantinople to Philip VI in mid 14th century Paris?

In the last issue of scholar Dorothy Crispino’s excellent Shroud Spectrum International periodical (No. 42: Dec. 1993) she relates an interesting theory posited by researchers A.-M. Dubarle and Hilda Leynen. As unlikely as the king giving up such a treasure may be, two minor relics known to be in Philip VI’s Sainte-Chapelle were documented as received in de Charny’s new Lirey Church, increasing the likelihood that the Shroud may have been another, too. Dubarle and Leymen noticed that among the relics passed on by Baudouin to Louis’ Holy Chapel was a sanctam toellam tabule insertam, “holy towel inserted in a frame.” This object supposedly would have been the old Edessa Icon relic which many historians believed survived in obscurity through the centuries only to be destroyed by French revolutionaries in 1792 (Wilson 1979: 175). However, Hilda Leynen discovered

an inventory of the Sainte-Chapelle made in 1534 ... where there had been a tableau in a large reliquary and a painting where appeared an effigy [Christ’s face] covered by a trellis [slipcover surrounding the Edessa face], only the trellis had been found (Crispino 1993: 47)!

This assumes the Shroud had been folded (tetradiplon) back into its mandylion frame by the Byzantines before the Latin forces completed their 1204 city conquest. Had King Phillip VI given away what he thought was only an odd, faint painting of Jesus’ face? The de Charny family secret, then, would have been that after discovering Christendom’s greatest relic in the cloth folds, they would rather the king not learn the astonishing truth and demand its return.

No other theory of how the Shroud came to Geoffrey de Charny is better known than that advocated by Wilson’s 1978 The Shroud of Turin, and for good reason. Wilson accepts that no text documenting the Shroud during these missing years is compelling. He therefore goes into super-sleuth mode and reviews the 13th century cultural landscape for the most likely suspect (Wilson 1979: 178 –79). Wilson concludes that due to the length of time, a group rather than single individual must be responsible. They must have been wealthy with no need to sell such a fabulous relic. Although much of Western society seemed to attach no shame in possessing stolen Byzantine treasures, these individuals must have had special reasons to keep it “underground,” and very secret. They probably also had some kind of connection to the new Latin rulers in Constantinople and later to Geoffrey de Charny, too. Wilson concluded that all these criteria were met by one organization: The Knights Templars. Having a humble origin earlier in the 12th century, these warrior monks were initially formed to protect pilgrims in the recently conquered Holy Lands. They answered directly to the Pope and not to any local rulers. By the time of the Latin conquest of Constantinople (1204) they had grown large and wealthy, eventually providing dependable banking services and engaging in numerous other profitable enterprises. Wilson observes “...the Order was able to act as guardians, traders and pawnbrokers for the flourishing trade in relics, genuine and false alike, that ensued after the Fourth Crusade”; he also noted that they indulged in secret, late night mystery cult rituals venerating “a certain bearded head, which they adored, kissed and called their Saviour” (2010: 198). Could this vague description and other similar rumors be references to the Shroud, kept in great secrecy and even not fully known to most rank and file members? But such practices suggested idolatry and heresy to many outside the Order. And envious eyes were on the Templar wealth.

Wilson believes that out of the cataclysm suffered by the Templars early in the 14th century the Shroud stealthily made its way to Geoffrey de Charny. French King Phillip IV, “the Fair” (in appearance, not character), took advantage of an inquiry being made of some Templar irregularities and in 1307 imprisoned as many members as could be found. Phillip owed large sums to the Templars and coveted their wealth. Many were interrogated under torture confessing, not surprisingly, to immoral and heretical practices, conveniently covering the king’s real motives. Phillip’s armed men made determined but unsuccessful searches for the “idol.” Avignon Pope Clement V reluctantly agreed to the purge under pressure from Phillip, but eventually absolved the Order of heresy (Wilson 2010: 207). In 1314 the Order’s Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and another Templar were burned at the stake in Paris. Wilson noticed that the other Templar was none other than a knight named Geoffrey de Charny. Could Geoffrey the Templar have been related to the later Geoffrey of Lirey, perhaps a great uncle? Unfortunately, the Order’s records disappeared during Phillip’s attack, but Wilson believes the intermarriage of the great French families in this era makes it “near definite” that there was a relationship (Wilson 2010: 209). Geoffrey de Charny of Lirey would have somehow acquired the Shroud before 1355, just at the time new King John II, “the Good” because of his pious and upstanding character, was attempting to establish a new Templar-like order. Called the Order of the Star it was devoted to the same chivalric idealism so characteristic of the Templars, and so evident in Geoffrey’s personality. Geoffrey was among 500 knights from across France called to join. Wilson wonders “was Geoffrey trying to revive the Templars under a different name?” with plans to use the Templar Shroud as an object of veneration to rally select knights of similar attitudes (Wilson 1979: 198). But the new Order was effectively destroyed at the September 19, 1356 Battle of Poitiers with the English capture of John and death of many knights of the Order, including Geoffrey. This also signaled the end of 1300 years of quasi-secret Shroud possession as the cloth’s new decision makers began to share it with the wider Christian public. So, in Wilson’s view, the de Charny secret was that the Shroud had been the “idol” of a disgraced Christian sect.

“Historiography, however, proceeds by documents” declares historian Prof. Daniel Scavone (Scavone 2008: 3). Scavone considers all but one of the theories on the Shroud’s missing 150 years to be seriously defective because each lacks documentation of a shroud. Documents suggesting a shroud remained among the Latin emperor’s relics after 1204 are better understood that none was found; no shroud was documented leaving Constantinople for Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle, and no inventory ever placed it there (Scavone 2008: 2-3). The Knights Templars made no claim to having Jesus’ shroud, and none claimed that their idol was a shroud or even on cloth (Scavone 2008: 1-2). Scavone stands among a growing rank of scholars dating back over 100 years who believe Burgundian nobleman Othon (also Otto) de la Roche obtained Constantinople’s shroud in the 1204 conquest of the city. Some chronicles reviewed by French author Dom Chamard in 1902 suggest that Othon numbered among the Frankish forces occupying the Blachernae Church where Robert de Clari saw the “sydoines in which Our Lord had been wrapped” (de Cremiers 1991: 42). Othon, a high ranking 4th Crusade lord, supposedly took the Shroud to Greek lands granted him by the Crusade leaders. Later he sent it back to his ancestral home near the city of Besançon, a region of Burgundy (near the Swiss border) soon to be called the Franche-Comté; this is the “Besançon thesis.” Othon was granted as a fief large areas in central Greece with his capital at Athens. Two documents are frequently used to support Othon’s Shroud possession. In August 1205, Byzantine nobleman Theodore Angelos wrote a letter to Pope Innocent III complaining of the theft of precious objects from Constantinople including the “linen cloth of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped in after his death and before his resurrection” (Barta 2008: 1); Theodore named Athens as the place where the Latin invaders took it. A second document discovered by Scavone in 1989 stated that Nicolas of Otranto, an Italian abbot who accompanied the new Latin Patriarch on a trip to the East in 1206, says that he “saw with our own eyes” Christ’s burial linens; both Constantinople and Athens were on his travel itinerary with his language more likely referring to the latter (Scavone 2008: 5-6).

image.axd 2711Some writers in the 17th and 18th centuries claimed there was a document in a Spanish library attesting that the leaders of the 4th Crusade awarded to the nobleman Othon de la Roche (from the Besançon area of modern eastern France) the Byzantine shroud; unfortunately, this record has disappeared, although other existing documents support Othon’s possession. John Long

At this point a brief word about Shroud documentary sources during the 13th and early 14th centuries is in order. Frequently they are tenuous. Historical writers like Jean-Jacques Chifflet in the 17th century and Francois Dunod de Charnage in the 18th left potentially valuable information in their books about Besançon, although some of their shroud speculations were obviously mistaken. Some of the earlier sources they cited are not to be found today. Fires in churches and monasteries as well as the deliberate destruction of older records by French revolutionaries have made it difficult for modern historians to verify these older authors. For example, Charnage and others named sources for a manuscript in a Spanish library stating a certain Jerome Turrita, an Aragon nobleman, was present when Fourth Crusade leaders awarded Othon de la Roche the Byzantine shroud (Scavone 1993: 194-195 and Barta 2008: 1). Such a source would, of course, be of paramount importance, but the original documents are not extant, prompting modern researchers to be cautious in using these earlier claims.

image.axd 2712In late Medieval France the Shroud of Turin makes its first certain appearance in the little village of Lirey outside the city of Troyes (left arrow). Perhaps the most important theory for how it got from Constantinople to France posits that it was first taken to the Besançon area of the Franche-Comté in the 13th century (right arrow), then quietly brought to Lirey in the early 1350’s by noblewoman Jeanne de Vergy, new wife of the Shroud’s first certain owner: Geoffrey de Charny. Credit (off-site link): 

The Besançon thesis continues by postulating that Othon shipped the Shroud to his lands near Besançon possibly as early as 1206. This is discussed in an anonymous 18th century document, MS 826, placed in Besançon archives about 1750 naming sources no longer existing. It was customary for relics to be donated to local churches and MS 826 claims that Othon’s family passed the Shroud to a Bishop Amadeus de Tramelay for depositing it in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Besançon (Scavone 1989: 98). There information from Chifflet informs that it was used in Easter and Ascension rituals before the middle of that century (Scavone 1993: 192-93). In 1349 a fire burned down nearly all of St. Stephens supposedly destroying church records and whatever shroud may have been there. Within about five years the future Shroud of Turin makes its first, uncontested appearance in the possession of Geoffrey de Charny, a few years after he married a Jeanne de Vergy from Besançon. Was it just a coincidence that Jeanne happened to be none other than a 5th generation descendant of Othon de la Roche? The documentary vein is very thin and scholars like Dorthy Crispino note that surviving records show no shroud in possession of either the church or bishop. She believes that if there were a shroud, it was a small, unfigured stage prop used in Easter ceremonies (Crispino 1985: 19-20).

image.axd 2713At their present day Ray-Sur-Saone residence near Besançon, France descendants of Othon de la Roche maintain relics supposedly brought from Constantinople in the early 13th cen., including a box made from parts of an original which, by family tradition, brought the Shroud to the West. pdfPianaMYHSWeb.pdf

The Besançon thesis receives additional support from Othon de la Roche’s descendants. Surprisingly, family members tracing their roots back to Othon still reside today in his residence, the castle at Ray-sur-Saone, near Besançon, France. Among contemporary family heirlooms are relics (e.g., small fragments of the True Cross) supposedly obtained from the treasures of Constantinople. Of more importance is an ornate box constructed from pieces of an original that, by family tradition, transported the Shroud from Athens to Besançon in 1206 (Piana 2010: 2-3). So little evidence of any Shroud showings during the latter 13th century might be related to the Church’s attempt to curb abuses in the relic trade; in 1215 the 12th Ecumenical Council, Fourth Lateran, placed restrictions on the use of relics including “new ones could not be venerated without church authorization” (Piana 2010: 5). Othon’s granddaughter, Elizabeth de la Raye, married into the powerful de Vergy family; her great granddaughter, Jeanne de Vergy, may quietly have brought the Shroud to her marriage with Geoffrey about 1350. This was a time when Besançon, as part of the Franche-Comté, was still nominally part of the (German) Holy Roman Empire, with a large faction of the population like the de Vergys desiring a union with France. Some scholars have suggested that Jeanne, using the 1349 St. Stephen’s fire as cover, may have been executing a family plot to place the great relic into French hands. Jeanne may have offered it to the French king who then gifted it to Geoffrey, perhaps as a wedding present (Scavone 1993: 207) (and with the understanding that its origins would remain quiet?). This link is strengthened by the first undisputed historical representation of the Shroud, a small 14th century pilgrim’s medallion picturing not only de Charny’s coat of arms but also that of his new wife, Jeanne de Vergy. According to the Besançon thesis, then, the de Charny secret would have been the relic’s quiet transfer (possibly “theft” from St. Stephen’s Church?) from Besançon to France.

image.axd 2714This small lead medallion was made to celebrate pilgrim visitation to Shroud expositions in Lirey, France in the mid-14th century. It depicts two clerics (their heads are missing) holding up, with crossed arms, the Shroud. This is the first certain picture of the Shroud, complete with both the back and front images, even capturing the Shroud’s herringbone weave. Of particular interest, not only Geoffrey de Charny (first certain owner of Shroud) but his new wife, Jeanne de Vergy, have their family coat of arms shown (lower left and right). Courtesy Dan Porter at (off-site link): 

The Shroud’s “good” history (accepted by skeptics and believers alike) finally begins about 1355, but with predictable controversy. In 1389 the French Bishop of Troyes, Pierre d’Arcis, wrote an angry Memorandum to Avignon Pope Clement VII complaining that Geoffrey’s son, Geoffrey II, was exhibiting in nearby Lirey

a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man... pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Saviour Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb... (Wilson 1979: 266).

D’Arcis declared that about 34 years earlier (1355) the Lirey church’s dean (chief cleric) had obtained the cloth “falsely and deceitfully” to milk the pilgrim trade and had even hired individuals to pretend they had been healed miraculously during expositions. He went on to claim that his predecessor at that time, Henri de Poitiers (Bishop of Troyes 1353 to 1370), had been advised by theologians against the possibility of the cloth’s authenticity and, after further investigation

he discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth having been attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed (Wilson 1979: 267).

Supposedly Henri then tried to confiscate the cloth but the dean hid it until, in d’Arcis’ time, a new dean, also “with fraudulent intent and for the purpose of gain,” initiated a new round of expositions, with the assistance of Geoffrey II. D’Arcis was particularly piqued as Geoffrey II had circumvented the bishop’s authority by recently securing permission from a cardinal, the Pope’s representative. D’Arcis complained that this permission was granted because Geoffrey II proclaimed that the Shroud was only a “picture or figure” of Christ’s actual burial cloth, but “it is given out in private and noised abroad” that it was the true Shroud (Wilson 1979: 268). D’Arcis requested assistance from the French king, but civil authorities (who were probably sympathetic to Geoffrey) apparently made only a half-hearted attempt to find the cloth (Wilson 2010: 231). The Memorandum of Piere d’Arcis appears to make a strong case against the Shroud’s authenticity and has formed the cornerstone for skeptical historical judgement, especially during the 20th century. However, there are fatal problems with its claims.

Some researchers have concluded that Bishop d’Arcis misunderstood the Shroud’s nature and origins and drew erroneous conclusions based on garbled rumors. First, d’Arcis' complaints about the evil intents of Lirey’s deans seem misdirected, as it is clear that the de Charny family, who enjoyed a well deserved good public reputation, was always in charge of and behind the Shroud’s expositions. More importantly, where did the bishop obtain his information about Henri de Poitiers and the painter who supposedly produced the relic? It was not from any known documentation; d’Arcis was a competent lawyer before his clerical appointment and surely would have referenced any files from 30 years earlier (Wilson 2010: 228-29). If Bishop Henri de Poitiers had discovered a fraud and opposed the relic’s showings during the 1350’s, he left no known record for d’Arcis to cite. Instead, after reviewing de Charny’s papers related to the new Lirey church’s activities, Henri’s sole surviving document, dated May 28, 1356, praises de Charny’s devotion adding

And ourselves wishing to develop as much as possible a cult of this nature, we praise, ratify, and approve the said letters in all their parts ... we give our assent, our authority, and our decision ... (Bonnet-Eymard 1991: 18).

If anyone at this time was charging fraud, it was unlikely to be in the next year either, as in June of 1357 twelve bishops granted indulgences to pilgrims visiting the church. Pope Clement was confronted with conflicting correspondence from both Geoffrey II and Bishop d’Arcis and finally decided early in the next year on somewhat of a compromise: de Charny could exhibit the Shroud without elaborate ceremonials and declaring it not Christ’s true shroud but “a copy and representation” of it (Geoffrey’s “official” position, anyway), and Bishop d’Arcis could not interfere with those expositions or face excommunication (Fossati 1983: 25).

image.axd 2715Right are four typical painted copies made of the Shroud in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sometimes called “gingerbread men” these and all the many dozens of others completely fail to capture the real qualities of the image on the Shroud, to say nothing of the blood pathology. Modern duplicators are more successful at imitating the images, but still fail to capture all its physical and chemical subtleties. Could the Shroud really be a late medieval painting? Pictures courtesy of Shroud Spectrum International #12, pp. 10-11

Finally, was there an artist who in the middle 14th century created perhaps the greatest fraud of all time? Three additional lines of inquiry argue against it. Beginning a hundred years after the Shroud’s first appearance in the West many dozens of painted copies were made, most still visible today, but all “look crude and almost ludicrously amateur by comparison to the original” (Wilson and Miller 1986: 13). And where else in late medieval art can this unknown artistic genius’ masterpieces be seen? Second and more decisively, what does modern scientific inquiry say about the Shroud being a painting? In 1978 a team of more than thirty mostly American scientists, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), spent about 120 hours pulling various technical data from the Shroud and then devoted years to its analyses. In October, 1981 they met the press and announced, with only one dissenting voice,

No pigments, paints, dyes or stains [could be found and that both physics and chemistry tests] preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image ... We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist (Schwortz online at

When the numerous unusual, perhaps unique image properties became apparent to participating scientists John Heller and Alan Adler, they identified about ten near insurmountable difficulties an artist would face trying to create the Shroud’s image (Heller 1983: 202-204). STURP published their findings in a variety of professional scientific journals (see Schwortz at, still available today, which made the Shroud “the most intensely studied artifact in human history” (Heller 1983: back dust cover). Last, if there never were an artist who created the image, researchers have taken another look at the Latin in d’Arcis’ famous Memorandum and made a key observation. The Latin phase so casually translated “it was proved by the artist who had painted it” could also be rendered “the artist who had copied it.” French researcher Brother Hillary de Cremiers recognizes that the Latin depingere (to paint) is ambiguous but that the verbal construction throughout this section of the Memorandum makes the best sense if an artist making a copy gave his opinion that the image was “made by human hand” (de Cremiers 1991: 41-42). This might also help to explain some indications that a hidden shroud, thought by many to be the actual pre-1349 shroud but obviously a painted copy, was supposedly found in Besançon’s St. Stephens about 1377; later it became famous throughout France until it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Could it have been a copy made by Bishop de Poitiers’ confessed artist as a replacement for Jeanne deVergy’s secret transfer of the original to Lirey (Scavone 1993: 213)?

image.axd 2716

These poor b&w pictures show a few of the several surviving Eastern Orthodox epitiahioi from an early date (14th-16th cen.) that feature flowers banked around Christ’s body. Did the faint appearance of flower patterns seen on the Shroud while kept in Constantinople (944 – 1204) get passed on quietly in later artistic traditions? Pictures courtesy of Pauline Johnstone’s Byzantine Tradition in Church Embroidery

This Part 4 understandably has focused on France and Besançon, but dim memories of the Byzantine shroud continued to linger in the Orthodox East. These were faint because, as noted in Part 3, the Imperial authorities never initiated a “welcoming celebration” for their new shroud as they did for other precious objects like the Edessa Icon. Few records documenting their shroud were passed on to later Orthodox generations. Without the few texts left by visitors and the illuminating remarks made by the emperor’s relic keeper early in the 13th century, there would be few reasons to believe there was a shroud in Constantinople. But Byzantine art from the 11th century made it clear that in the Great City there was an object very similar to our Shroud of Turin, and this image was passed on in their artistic traditions. Their epitaphios, a burial shroud representation used in Easter liturgies, depicts a dead Christ figure and has impressed researchers as a probable derivative of the Turin Shroud (Wilson 1979: 160 and Scavone 2000: 202-209). The earliest surviving examples dating from the 14th and 15th centuries always featured a near nude body stretched out over a long cloth, and sometimes hands crossed over the waist, missing thumbs, and distinctive herringbone weaves, although these latter characteristics diminished through time. Occasionally one intriguing feature was flower-like patterns surrounding the body. In point of fact, Eastern Orthodox traditions dating back to the Middle Ages include scattering flower petals on the epitaphios during Good Friday services. In issue Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 1995) of the Bible & Spade, ABR fellowship members will recall a brief mention (p. 58) of North Carolina Shroud researchers Alan and Mary Whangers’ identification of flower images on the Shroud. Could floral patterns seen on the Shroud while in Constantinople have contributed to these representations on later epitaphioi?

image.axd 2717

The b&w picture shows an area above the anatomic left side of the Shroud man’s head. On the right is a drawing of the flower Chrysanthemum coronarium, and on the left is a picture of the same flower produced by physicist Oswald Scheuermann using high voltage discharges. In the middle is the faint pattern of this flower as found on the Shroud, the first one to be noticed by Dr. Whanger. Courtesy of Alan & Mary Whanger – found on CSST website

The possibility of nonbody imagery (coins, flowers, etc.) hidden in the cloth’s fabric has been a topic since STURP scientists, using computer enhanced images, discovered button-like objects over the Shroud man’s eyes in 1977. Alan Whanger’s life-long experience with photography helped him to develop a means, the Polarized Image Overlay Technique, of comparing two images by superimposing one image over the other and then counting the number of PC’s, Points of Congruence, between the two (Whanger 1985: 767-771). By 1985 Dr. Whanger believed he could confirm the presence of two 1st century coins over the eyes. About that time the Whangers obtained professional, life-sized Shroud enlargements made from second generation 1931 prints well regarded for their detail (Whanger 1990: 12). These specialized photos paid special attention to faint images around the body and were used for in-depth searches for other possible objects. The work of German physics teacher Oswald Scheuermann also has aided the Whangers; Scheuermann was able to produce images on cloth similar to the Shroud’s by running high voltages over various objects. The Whangers have documented their surprising finds in numerous papers, their book The Shroud of Turin: An Adventure of Discovery, and website for the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin. These include hundreds of flowering plants, 28 of which they believe they could identify.

image.axd 2718

This picture depicts an area on the Shroud man’s chest, near the top of a water stain. Dr. Danin has outlined portions of the plant Zygophylum dumosum, which he could identify while standing only a few inches from the Shroud. A drawing from a book on Palestinian flora is shown on the right. This plant grows only in the greater Jerusalem area, West Jordan, and the Sinai. Courtesy of Alan & Mary Whanger

Some researchers, however, have remained very skeptical about the possibility of proving the existence of other objects, concluding the Whangers’ efforts are unscientific “I think I see” imagination. The recent scientific paper “Perception of Patterns After Digital Processing of Low-Contrast Images, The Case of the Shroud of Turin” (discussed on Dan Porter’s Blog on 1/6/2013 ) argues “that image processing of both old and recent photographs of the Shroud may lead some researchers to perceive inscriptions and patterns [like flower images] that do not actually exist” and is a proper cautionary warning to this kind of research. However, in fairness to the Whangers they have invested an enormous effort in their researches; their Polarized Image Overlay technique and enlarged, enhanced photographs give them an advantage in making these kinds of identifications. And there are many patterns resembling imprints of specific plants (distinct in size, shape, and particular structures like berries), not just the generic “face in the clouds.” Additionally, plant pollen studies done by the late Swiss criminologist Max Frei also indicated that there are pollens on the Shroud from many of the flowers the Whangers have identified, although Frei’s death (1983) before his research could be completed and difficulties identifying actual species have made the value of his work unsettled (Wilson 2010: 62-65). But Shroud studies during the last hundred years have gone from one amazing discovery to another and it may be seriously erroneous to completely discount any newly identified phenomenon. And the Whangers’ discoveries are buttressed by one more remarkable support.

image.axd 2719

This picture above shows the anatomic right side of the Shroud image with a drawing overlay of thorn flowers, principally Gundelia tournaforti, placed on the shoulder. Both the Whangers and botany expert Avinoam Danin can identify this structure, possibly the Crown of Thorns removed from the head but kept with the body because Jesus’ blood was on it. Although these researchers use specially enhanced Shroud pictures, some imprints can be seen on ordinary, high quality picture close-ups. The white arrow above points to one such flower, often appearing as a “starburst” on photographs. Courtesy of Alan and Mary Whanger

Avinoam Danin is Professor Emeritus from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the world’s top experts on the flora of the Middle East. Interested in flowering plants from an early age, his M.Sc. thesis mapped sandy desert vegetation in Israel, and his Ph.D. thesis did the same for rocky terrain. Since then he has authored or co-authored hundreds of articles and booklets, and seven books beginning in 1972 with Flowers of Jerusalem (Danin 2010: 30). In his 2010 book Botany of the Shroud he recalls

One day in September of 1995 the Whangers visited my home in Jerusalem and showed me some of the photographs of the Shroud they had, asking me if I saw images of flowers. I looked for some ten seconds and said that I saw images of a few plants I know from the Jerusalem area (p. 8).

Since then Dr. Danin has continued his researches with the Whangers and has found hundreds of flowering plants banked around and on the body. He can identify more than 18 species, all of which grow in the greater Jerusalem area (pp. 92-94). Most identifications depend on the Whangers’ enhanced photos. While visiting the Whangers in 1997 Danin observed leaves from Zygophyllum dumosum.

From that moment on, I was irrevocably involved, as I had made my own discovery and it was a very important geographical indicator. I know that fresh leaves of Z. Dumosum could be brought to the Shroud only from Israel, W. Jordan, or Sinai. I now had the single indicator for this “forensic investigation,” questioning the origin of the Shroud (p.12).

However, when he participated in a Shroud conference in Turin in March, 2000 he and other researchers were unexpectedly welcomed to spend time viewing the Shroud very close up. Without any enhancements he could clearly identify not only Z. dumosum, but also “the prominent image of the flowering head of Gundelia tournefortii on the [Shroud’s] right shoulder” and “the image of Pistacia lentiscus fruits on a short peduncle” an inch or so above the head on the anatomic right side (pp. 20-21). (These last two are so obvious that they can be seen on any good quality Shroud photograph, but not understood for what they really are until these researches.) Interestingly, the range of G. tournefortii is primarily through central Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq and Iran, with just a minor branch coming as far south as Jerusalem. Z. dumosum is found almost exclusively to the south, with both plants overlapping only in the larger Jerusalem area. Also interestingly, the flowering time for most of these plants is in March and April. The complete structure of G. tournefortii as seen on the right shoulder convinces the Whangers that it was likely used as one of the plants for the crown of thorns (Whanger 1998: 84-85).

image.axd 2720The picture shows an area near to the top of the anatomic right side of the head. The Whangers and Danin believe portions of the flowering plant Pistacia lentiscus can be seen, especially berries on a stem (shown in box). A drawing of the plant is at the bottom. Courtesy of Alan & Mary Whanger

The Whangers are devoted Christians; Danin is “a Jew and not a profound believer of any religion” (Danin 2010:20) but “I lost many hours of sleep as thoughts about the meanings of my findings kept me awake at the oddest hours” (p.78). Danin acknowledges a variety of reactions among his friends and associates, and even some rejections among other sindonologists. But he is very confident in his conclusions. He and the Whangers understand that placing flowers around the deceased, although a common ritual among many cultures, is not documented for ancient Israelis. Danin suggests that if flowers were laid at the foot of the cross and blood dripped down on them, by Jewish tradition they would have been buried with the body (Danin 2010: 70). The Whangers agree, especially for the blood on the flowering thorn plants used to construct the mocking crown; many of the flowers may also have had a role similar to burial spices, deodorants helping to mask unpleasant odors (Whanger 1998: 83-84). So, could these now faint flower images have been seen in Constantinople between the 10th and early 13th centuries, and then influenced later epitahios art? The Whangers believe that the major fire damage suffered by the Shroud in 1532 accelerated the linen’s yellowing, obscuring faint images that were much more visible in earlier centuries (Whanger 1998: 81). Scavone considers the flower imprints’ evidence convincing and supportive of the Shroud’s presence in Constantinople; he advises that the “floral motif on numerous epitaphioi deserves a careful study in its own right” (Scavone 2000: 209). Perhaps buried in an obscure Eastern Orthodox archive (from a Mt. Athos monastery?) an unnoticed, old art manual recommends flower images for epitaphioi as was seen on their Constantinople exemplar.

The Whangers’ and Danin’s books describe numerous objects, especially flowers, that can be identified on the Shroud.

image.axd 2721  image.axd 2722

This journey from Jesus’ burial linen to the Turin Shroud’s first certain emergence on the world stage has reached its destination. The Shroud’s history from the late Middle Ages is adequately documented: from the de Charny family in 1453 to the powerful Dukes of Savoy and future Kings of Italy (with a later capital in Turin), and then officially to the Papacy in 1983. Although many observations could be offered about these first 1300 years, two are particularly useful. Wilson notices that

In the entirety of human history, there is absolutely no one else who has ever had that idea [his likeness imprinted on cloth] attributed to them – not Mohammed, not Buddha, not any saint, only Jesus. Why? (2010: 109)

Could the answer be that there is substantial evidence of a Jesus picture barely remembered in antiquity as a painting, then known from the 6th cen. as a miraculous facial imprint, and finally from 10th century Constantinople as Christ’s burial shroud with a full body image? Contemporaries obviously were puzzled by its unusual, even unique characteristics and searched for a variety of nouns and adjectives to describe it: rakos (cloth), sindon (linen), acheiropoietos (not made by [human] hands), tetradiplon ([folded in] four doubles), soudarion (sweat cloth), himation (large outer garment), idrota (sweat) soaked, ektypoma (imprint), peplos (robe), even mandylion (little hand cloth – but by that time just a painted picture of the original), etc. Although the Edessa Image was not formally announced as Christ’s burial shroud, Professor Scavone is close to the truth in wondering why these words “always move towards an ever more precise description of the Turin Shroud?”

Secondly, many of the ABR fellowship will be skeptical (as initially this writer) of such an important witness to Christ’s death and resurrection that appears, at first glance, to be ungrounded in our traditions. Our Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and Christian history books know little of it, and most of us have been through many Easter celebrations without any mention of it. Our Evangelical leadership often has been cautious or disinterested. For it only to arrive on the world stage in a very public way 1300 years after its origin seems difficult to accept. But when we remember that Christ did not come at the Fall, or at the Flood, or when Jerusalem fell in 587 B. C., but rather left a series of prophetic clues for his eventual appearance in the 1st century, then was understood as only a good man, but then a rabbi, later a prophet before finally recognized as messiah (but what kind of messiah?), perhaps the Shroud’s delayed, cloaked appearance isn’t so unlikely after all. But whatever the weaknesses for the Shroud’s identification as Jesus’ NT burial shroud, a missing earlier history is not among them.

Quick Links: Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four


Barta, Cesar

2008 Otho de la Roche in The British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, No. 67 pdfn67part6.pdf

Bonnet-Eymard, Brother Bruno

1991 Superabundant Historical Testimony. Pp. 3-26 in The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth Century, No. 237, ed. R. P. Georges de Nantes, Saint-Parres-Les-Vaudes (France): Workshops of Saint-Joseph.

Crispino, Dorothy

1982 1204: Deadlock Or Springboard? Shroud Spectrum International, No. 4: 24-30.

1985 Doubts Along the Doubs, Shroud Spectrum International, No. 14: 11-24.

1986 The Emperor’s Scissors, Shroud Spectrum International, No. 19: 26-31.

1988 To Know the Truth, Shroud Spectrum International, No. 28/29: 25-40.

1993 A.-M Dubarle, O.P.: “La Premiere Captivite de Geoffroy de Charny et l’Acquisition du Linceul,” Shroud Spectrum International, No. 42: 43-48.

Danin, Avionam

2010 Botany of the Shroud. Jerusalem: Printiv.

De Cremiers, Brother Hillary

1991 The Holy Shroud Refound From Constantinople to Lirey (1204-1354). Pp. 42-47 in The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth Century, No. 238, ed. R. P. Georges de Nantes, Saint-Parres-Les-Vaudes (France): Workshops of Saint-Joseph.

Fossati, Luigi

1983 The Lirey Controversy, Shroud Spectrum International, No. 8: 24-34.

Heller, John

1983 Report on the Shroud of Turin. Boston:Houghton Mifflin.

Piana, Alessandro

2007 The Shroud’s “Missing Years.” The British Society for Turin Shroud Newsletter No. 66 (off-site link).

Scavone, Daniel C.

1989 The Shroud of Turin – Opposing View Points. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.

1993 The Turin Shroud 1200 to 1400. Pp. 187-225 in Alpha to Omega: Studies in Honor of George John Szemler on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. W.J. Cherf, Chicago: Ares Publishers, Inc.

2000 Greek Epitaphioi and Other Evidence for the Shroud in Constantinople up to 1204. Pp.185–195 in Proceedings of the 1999 Shroud of Turin International Research Conference, ed. Bryan Walsh. Richmond VA: Magisterium Press

2008 Besançon And Other Hypotheses For The Missing Years: The Shroud From 1200 To 1400. Shroud Science Group International Conference at Ohio State University August 14-17, 2008 pdfp41.pdf

Wilson, Ian

1979 The Shroud of Turin: Burial Cloth of Jesus? (Rev. ed.). Garden City NY: Image Books.

2010 The Shroud. London: Bantam Press.

Wilson, Ian and Vernon Miller

1986 The Mysterious Shroud, Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday and Company.


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