Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Shroud of Turin: A gift to our proof-demanding era?

Today I came across a reference to this 1973 article by Ian Wilson in the Catholic Herald. I could not find it webbed as text anywhere, even by the Catholic Herald. So I decided to laboriously convert it from images to text for my own use. But then I thought I might as well post it on my blog!


CATHOLIC HERALD, 16th November 1973, page 4

A gift to our proof-demanding era?

Ian Wilson

On Friday of next week the Holy Shroud of Turin will be exposed to television cameras for the first time. Millions will have their closest glimpse of the dim stains on the 14 ft. cloth believed to have wrapped Jesus Christ in the tomb.

For the faithful it may be an experience of the deepest emotion. For the cynics it may be regarded as a reversion to the grossest medieval relicry. We can, however, be certain of one thing. That from the moment the lid of the elaborate silver casket is opened there will be controversy.

There will be the resurrection of old claims that the cloth is 14th century forgery. There will he accusations that it is incompatible with the gospel record of Christ's burial. More than a thousand years of silence over the cloth's early history will be quoted as clear evidence of its falsity.

The kindest of critics will suggest that it is most likely the genuine shroud of some unknown victim of crucifixion; that the odds for this being really Jesus Christ seem infinitesimal.

It has, of course, all been said before. What has not been said is that during the 40 years since the Shroud was last shown there has been significant British research throwing new light on just some of these mysteries.

Ironically it was in English lance which, on September 19th 1356, thrusting deep into the side of the French knight Geoffrey dc Charny, severed for ever one vital link with the Shroud's past.

We know that shortly beforehand Geoffrey had founded a religious charity and had gone through the suitable motions for housing a precious relic without ever revealing publicly that he possessed such a thing.

It was only after his death — and no doubt because of their straitened financial circumstances — that his family brought the stained linen out of his coffers, attracting queues of pilgrims, but with them the local bishop's utter disbelief that the relic could be genuine.

There would have been little grounds for such disbelief had there existed, either then or now, clear independent evidence for the Shroud's whereabouts during the previous 13 long centuries.

When the cloth's remarkable photographic imprint came to light in 1898 historical experts such as Canon Ulysse Chevalier and the Rev. Herbert Thurston combed the records and found nothing — largely because they looked for specific references to shrouds. Only recently has a possible history for the cloth been postulated from an entirely new angle.

[The story of the Holy Mandylion from a 17th century icon in the collection of H.M. the Queen. This icon was made some five centuries after the Mandylion was "lost" from Constantinople, and is derived from earlier copies. The border "scenes" depict incidents from the cloth's earlier history, including (bottom loft) the discovery of the cloth in Edessa's walls during the 6th century and (bottom right) the transfer of the cloth to Constantinople in A.D. 944. A similar copy of the Mandylion, with the scenes engraved in metal, is preserved at Genoa.]

In the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace is an unusual icon, itself not more than three centuries old, but expressing in pictorial form a legendary story of considerable antiquity. The centre-piece, a likeness of Christ's face seen imprinted on a cloth, at first sight bears a remarkable resemblance to our familiar Veronica.

As the inscription tells us, however, this is the Holy Mandylion, a reputedly miraculous piece of linen first brought to the Syro-Turkish city of Edessa (now Urfa) during the very first century of the Christian era. It was instrumental in the conversion of many of Edessa's chief citizens, including the petty king or toparch, Abgar V, an authentic contemporary of Christ, reigning from AD 13-50. But persecution broke out and shortly after the cloth disappeared. its whereabouts remaining unknown until the sixth century AD when it was discovered sealed inside a niche in the city's walls.

Without hesitation it was hailed as the miraculously created true likeness of Christ and so coveted by the emperors of Byzantium that in 944 a bargain was sealed with Edessa's Arab masters for the relic's transfer.

The price was an enormous sum of money, the release of 1,200 Moslem prisoners, plus a guarantee of Edessa's perpetual immunity from attack. Once in Constantinople the Mandylion languished in great esteem until 1204 when, during the Crusader capture of the city it disappeared without any further trace up to the present time.

Perhaps because of the superfluity of stories of wonder-working icons during the Byzantine era, the story of the Mandylion has never been studied by scholars with the attention it deserves. The legend apparently refers to a head only portrait. The suggestion of the legend is that the image was created while Christ was alive. Artists' copies made shortly before the 1204 disappearance show only a head on the cloth, not the full-length figure of the Shroud.

But recent research and the translation of early texts reveal significant new information. When the cloth was received in Constantinople in 944 its image was described by the official "De Imagine Edessena" — as "a moist secretion, without colouring or artificial stain." This is an exact parallel to the Shroud.

Another text refers to the Mandylion as having been "doubled in four," which when reconstructed by folding a photograph of the Shroud in this manner reveals a "head only" area of the cloth exactly corresponding to artists' copies of the Mandylion — having particularly their characteristic "disembodied" appearance. And if this is how the Shroud was originally folded the ancient stories of the Mandylion's origin begin to make sense.

To anyone viewing the head only, and without knowledge of the rest, the "eyes" of the Shroud's image would indeed appear open and staring, precisely as if the image had been created in life. For this reason during the earlier centuries the cloth may never have been thought of as a burial shroud.

Such a theory has much in its favour. A Greek liturgical text of the 10th century tells how the cloth was so highly venerated, and so closely guarded, that few were ever allowed to view it directly. These were just the circumstances for the full-length figure to remain a secret.

During the 1930s the Frenchman Paul Vignon postulated that many Byzantine portraits of Christ reveal small "iconographic" peculiarities directly traceable to the Shroud. This pre-supposed widespread knowledge of the Shroud's existence during the first millennium AD, a condition impossible for Vignon to substantiate from documentary evidence. But if Shroud and Mandylion are the same object there is no difficulty.

Furthermore, the significant Christ portraits date from the 6th century on — precisely the period when the Mandylion was re-discovered.

And from the point of view of documentary evidence, two twelfth century monks, Ordericus Vitalis and Gervase of Tilbury, both claimed that the Mandylion bore the image of the whole body of Christ. Previously maligned as gossipmongers, it seems likely that, in this instance at least, they were right.

What of the rest of the Shroud's history? It is probable that after Constantinople the cloth fell into the hands of the Crusader Knights Templars, who as rumour had it, worshipped an unidentified bearded male head at their secret chapter meetings.

Accused of idolatry and heresy, the Order was suppressed in 1307 without anything being found. But recently, on the site of an old Templar preceptory at Templecombe in Somerset, there came to light a medieval wooden panel painted with just such a head. Its likeness to the Shroud is unmistakeable, and there can be little doubt it was the provincial preceptory's revered copy.

What precisely happened to the original we can only guess. But in 1314 the two last Templars were brought out to die at the stake before Notre Dame. One was the Grand Master, the other the Order's Preceptor of Normandy, Geoffrey de Charny . . . Although the Templars celibacy makes a father son relationship unlikely, there can be little doubt of his link with the Shroud-owning Geoffrey a generation later. Small wonder that the latter was so cautious and reluctant to display his luckless but priceless heirloom.

So much for the hitherto "inexplicable" silence of the Shroud's early history, a history which when studied in detail is as rich and colourful as that of any object in history. One prevailing and spine-tingling impression remains. That if my reading of it is correct, the Holy Shroud has survived pagan persecution, two Edessan floods (it was kept high in the city walls), Byzantine image-smashing, Crusader looting, persecution of the Templars, not to mention the fire of 1532, a fire in which it sustained the burn-marks visible to this day, burn marks which somehow missed the all-important image. One cannot escape wondering whether the Shroud was intended to survive into the 20th century, its negative image only discoverable by our technology, a gift to our proof-demanding time.

If this is so it is a pity that the authorities in Turin, while allowing the forthcoming exposition, are still reluctant to allow any definitive scientific examination by the Doubting Thomases of today.


(Ian Wilson, "A gift to our proof-demanding era?" Catholic Herald, 16th November 1973, page 4).

5 comments:

Singing Bear said...

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to read Mr. Wilson's thoughts regarding possible Shroud history. The recent massive accumulation of evidence that points to the authenticity of the Shroud certainly makes one wonder whether it does have a particular message for us today. The astonishing fact of its 'negative' photographic quality alone should, you would think, be enough to make most sceptics stop and think. I wonder what the next public showing will reveal to us?

Danusha Goska said...

Hi, Stephen, do you have any readers in the NYC area? If so, would you care to post an announcement of an upcoming talk on the Shroud by me?

Stephen E. Jones said...

Singing Bear

>Thank you for giving us this opportunity to read Mr. Wilson's thoughts regarding possible Shroud history.

Thanks for your thanks.

>The recent massive accumulation of evidence that points to the authenticity of the Shroud certainly makes one wonder whether it does have a particular message for us today.

The Shroud was thought (even most Roman Catholics) to be just another fake mediaeval relic until it was first photographed in 1898 and it was discovered that its image was a photographic negative.

No one could have known that until the invention of photography in about 1820 and it was still nearly 80 years after the invention of photography that it was realised that the Shroud's image was a photographic negative.

Other features on the Shroud, such as the serum halos around its blood clots which are visible only under ultraviolet light, are only knowable under modern technology.

So I personally do believe that the Shroud was INTENDED by the One whose dead body it covered and whose resurrected image it bears, Jesus, to survive into the 20th and now 21sth century, "its negative image only discoverable by our technology, a gift to our proof-demanding time."

>The astonishing fact of its 'negative' photographic quality alone should, you would think, be enough to make most sceptics stop and think.

Agreed. The Shroud image's photographic negativity is probably the feature which most converts sceptics to Shroud pro-authenticists, and even to Christianity.

>I wonder what the next public showing will reveal to us?

I may now attend that exposition of the Shroud, between "mid-April 2015 ... and ... August 16th, 2015."

Stephen E. Jones

Stephen E. Jones said...

Danusha

>Hi, Stephen, do you have any readers in the NYC area? If so, would you care to post an announcement of an upcoming talk on the Shroud by me?

Sure, email it to me and I will post it on my blog.

Stephen E. Jones

Stephen E. Jones said...

Danusha

>Sure, email it to me and I will post it on my blog.

I found the flyer on your "Save Send Delete" blog and have now posted it on mine.

Best wishes for your talk.

Stephen E. Jones.