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imageThe Turin Shroud hits the headlines once again as the Pope has made a visit to see the most famous of alleged relics of Jesus. He spent some time with it in fact and before leaving touched the glass case it is enclosed in.

In a carefully worded announcement, the Archbishop of Turin stated that :-

The Pope confirms the devotion to the Shroud that millions of pilgrims recognise as a sign of the mystery of the passion and death of the Lord

You may notice that he said nothing about its authenticity. The Church takes no official position in fact, saying it is a matter for scientific investigation.  Since the radiocarbon dating in 1989 proclaimed the 14 ft x 4 ft piece of linen to be roughly 700 years old, the Church has avoided claiming that it is anything more than an “icon” of devotion.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the decree proclaimed by a past Pope?…

In 1390 Pope Clement Vll decreed that it was not the true Shroud but could be used as a representation of it, provided the faithful be told that it was not genuine

THE TURIN SHROUD – A HISTORY

imageI first became interested in the shroud way back in the 80’s on reading John Calvin’s 1543 “Treatise of Relics” for a paper I was due to write. The Middle Ages was a particularly busy time for the Catholic Relics and there must have been a veritable production line to keep up with demand.

However, with the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Vlll, many were destroyed as the investigators, time and again, found them all to be fakes.

An injunction carried out by the Inspectors of Religious houses begun in 1535 stated:-

that Monks shall not show any relics or feigned miracles for increase of lucre

Richard Leyton, Tomas Legh, John AP Rice and John Tregonwell were charged with the investigation into the monasteries; their interim reports to Thomas Cromwell are still available to pour over, if you are so inclined. In August 1535, Layton dispatched a book of “Our Lady’s Miracles” to Cromwell which seems to be on a par with “The Canterbury Tales” for pure invention. He also reported that at Farley, he had confiscated ‘Vincula Sancti Petrs’ ( the chains of St Peter.  He charged the monks with having no written proof of provenance, similarly on some ‘combs’ supposedly used by Mary Magdalene, St Dorothy and St Margaret.

The biggest clue that the relics are fake is that there were often more than one…

JOHN CALVIN 

He refers to several copies of Shrouds in his “Treatise of Relics”, including alleged shrouds in Nice, Aix-la-Chappelle and Besancon (which was later renamed the Turin Shroud).

Calvin refers to these particular shrouds in detail :-

  1. SHROUD OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE – which was later moved to St Cornelius Abbey in Compeigne, where it was venerated for 9 Centuries until it was destroyed during the French Revolution.
  2. THE CADIUN SHROUD – this survived the French Revolution only to be proved in 1935 to be an 11th Century Muslim cloth.
  3. THE SHROUD OF NICE – later to be called the Turin Shroud, it had first appeared in 1355 in a small church in Livey, france.  According to the Bishops report to Pope Clement Vll, an artist admitted he had “cunningly painted” the image on the cloth.  Stylistic and iconographic elements corroborate a medieval origin.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE SHROUD

  • Carbon dating confirms the cloth was created between 1290-1390 AD
  • The tools, inspiration and knowledge to create this were available as early as the 12th Century
  • The style and complexity of the shroud weave itself would confirm a 14th Century cloth
  • The earliest shrouds we have found in Israel date to no earlier than 2nd Century AD

THE MEDIEVAL RELIC TRADE

imageThroughout the Middle Ages, Europe was host to a thriving holy relic trade. Most have now been confirmed fakes and I’m sure more will be confirmed with time.

Relics of Christ or the Virgin Mary were considered the most valuable and included items such as milk of the virgin Mary, teeth, hair and blood or Jesus, pieces of cross, shrouds, samples of the linen of the birth, Jesus foreskin (of which, it seems, he had a dozen or so).

Another fun fact is the Italian town of Bari actually commissioned a group of robbers to obtain the remains of St Nick (aka Santa Claus) from the Turkish town of Myra.  The expedition was a success and for decades Bari basked in the glory of having the bones of Santa Claus…

THE JOAN OF ARC RELICS

Another famous fake were the ‘relics’ of Joan of Arc, which fooled tourists for decades, they resembled burnt bones, which follows the historical accounts of the execution of Joan for heresy.

The bottle containing the bones first surfaced at a pharmacy in 1867.  Its label read

remains found under the pyre of Joan of Arc, maiden of Orleans


Using different techniques including DNA analysis, microscopy, chemical analysis and carbon dating, the remains were confirmed to be a few bones from two ancient Egyptian mummies, one human the other feline.  The mummified remains were dated to 3-6th Century BC

Originally people speculated a cat had been thrown on the pyre to represent the devil, however the mummified remains quite obviously pre date the execution by many centuries.

The fact that the artefacts originated  from a pharmacy is not surprising as Egyptian Mummy remains have been used in medicines from the Middle Ages. Of course, not now in the West, at least  😉

TOP TEN RELIGIOUS RELICS 

  1. Shroud of Turin
  2. Blood of San Gennaro
  3. Muhammads Beard
  4. Mary’s Holy Belt
  5. John the Baptists Head
  6. Buddha’s Tooth
  7. Tunic of the Blessed Virgin
  8. The Grapevine Cloth
  9. Footprint of the Prophet Muhammad
  10. The Chains of St Peter

I encourage you to check out the histories behind all these objects for, if for nothing else, a fascinating read.

IN CONCLUSION

imageRegardless of authenticity it is fascinating to study and search for the history of all these artifacts no matter the age or provenance.

History research is a jigsaw puzzle and Palaeopathology finds the truth behind the histories given.

In April of 2014, a University in Italy stated that an earthquake in 33AD may be responsible for the mysterious Turin Shroud image. That a supposed  flood of neutrons could have imprinted the image onto the linen. Taking a stab in the dark, I guess they don’t agree with the carbon dating; I would love to find the miracle that causes a cloth made in the 14th Century to arrive in the 1st Century AD for imprinting.

Fans of Back to the Future will maybe ask Michael J Fox; Whovians,  Peter Capaldi.

I will of course keep you updated on the Earthquake theory 🙂

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