Friday, February 24, 2017

Chronology of the Turin Shroud: Eighth century

Chronology of the Turin Shroud: AD 30 to the present
© Stephen E. Jones

This is part #8, "Eighth century," of my "Chronology of the Turin Shroud: AD 30 - present" series. For more information about this series see part #1, "First century" and index.

[Index #1] [Previous: 7th century #7] [Next: 9th century #9]

8th century (701-800)

[Above (enlarge): Bust of Christ Pantocrator from the catacomb of Pontianus, Rome[2]. Note in particular the Vignon marking on this 8th century fresco[3]: "(2) three-sided [topless] `square' between brows." See "710" below.]

c. 710 Estimated completion during the reign of Justinian II (668–711) of the eighth century Christ Pantocrator fresco[4] (see above), in the style of Byzantine iconography[5], found in the depths of the catacomb of Pontianus, Rome[6]. That the Shroud ("doubled in four" = tetradiplon as the Image of Edessa) was the original of which this early eighth century Byzantine icon was a copy, is evident in that it has at least eight[7], and by my count eleven Vignon markings [18Mar12 & 22Sep12, 27Apr14]:

"(1) Transverse streak across forehead[8], (2) three-sided [topless] `square' between brows[9], ... (5) raised right eyebrow, (6) accentuated left cheek, (7) accentuated right cheek, (8) enlarged left nostril, (9) accentuated line between nose and upper lip, ... (12) forked beard, (13) transverse line across throat, (14) heavily accentuated owlish eyes, (15) two strands of hair[10].
out of the fifteen found on the Shroud[11]! In the 1930s French biologist Paul Vignon (1865-1943) was struck by this "topless square" and other oddities which were unnatural and had no artistic merit[12], found in Byzantine depictions of Jesus' face, which are also found in identical positions on the Shroud[13]:
"Vignon thought. If the Shroud was the progenitor of the traditional Christ, then something of the parent must have carried over into the offspring! Eventually, after a long and minute comparison of the face on the cloth with hundreds of paintings, frescoes and mosaics, he found the answer. Certain peculiarities were evident in the Shroud- peculiarities that were really accidental imperfections in the image or the fabric itself, and that served no artistic purpose. Yet, he observed jubilantly, these very oddities appeared again and again in a whole series of ancient art works, even though artistically they made no sense. Surely, this could mean only one thing: ancient artists had taken their conception of a bearded, long-haired man from the image on the Shroud, and had included the anomalies because of a feeling that they were in some mysterious way connected with the earthly appearance of Jesus. There were about twenty of these items in all [later refined by Wilson to 15[14].]; some very pronounced, some just strongly characteristic of the face on the cloth. Most arresting were such things as a small square set above the nose and open at the top, the result either of a defect in the weave or a unique, accidental stain. There was the distorted appearance of the nose, swollen at the bridge with the right nostril enlarged; the abnormal shading of the right cheek; a curved transverse stain that ran senselessly across the forehead."[15]
So these "peculiarities" became known as the "Vignon markings"[16]. But as can be seen below, this "topless square" is merely a flaw or change in the weave of the Shroud[17], which runs all the way down the

[Above (enlarge): Extract from ShroudScope "Face only Vertical" Shroud photograph showing outlined in red the `three sided' or `topless square' Vignon Marking no. 2, superimposed on the above 8th century bust of Christ in the catacomb of Pontianus, Rome: ShroudScope and Wikipedia.]

cloth (see 22Sep12), which explains its "starkly geometrical" shape[18]. Other Byzantine portraits of Christ which have the same `topless square' marking include the eleventh-century Daphni Pantocrator, the tenth-century Sant'Angelo in Formis fresco, the tenth-century Hagia Sophia narthex mosaic, and an eleventh-century portable mosaic in Berlin[19]. And since this catacomb was closed in 820 and only opened after 1854, a 14th century forger could not have known of the Vignon markings on this Pontianus fresco[20]. So as Wilson points out, just as "a single footprint on fresh sand provided for Robinson Crusoe the conclusive evidence that there was another human being ... on his island":

"Just as the viewing of a single footprint on fresh sand provided for Robinson Crusoe the conclusive evidence that there was another human being (later revealed as Man Friday) on his island, so the presence of this topless square on an indisputably seventh/eighth-century fresco virtually demands that the shroud must have been around, somewhere, in some form at this early date"[21].
so is "this topless square on an ... eighth-century fresco" (and many other Byzantine portraits of Christ) conclusive evidence that the Shroud existed in at least the eighth century! That is, six centuries before the earliest 1260 date given to it by radiocarbon dating[22]. Moreover this `footprint in the sand' is not "single" - there are fourteen other different `footprints in the sand' which prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Shroud existed in at least the eighth century[23]!

711 Musa ibn Nusayr (640–716), the Muslim governor of North Africa, invaded Spain in 711[24] and in 718 took Toledo[25]. But in 711 the Sudarium of Oviedo [see "616"] had already been taken from Toledo[26] in its then chest to the northern Spanish kingdom of Asturias where it was kept in a cave on a mountain called Monsacro, ten kilometres (6 miles) from what was to become the city of Oviedo[27]. In 722 a small Christian resistance force under the leadership of Pelagius of Asturias (c.685–737), a Visigoth nobleman, defeated a much larger Muslim army at the Battle of Covadonga and then established the independent Christian kingdom of Asturias[27a].

723 As previously mentioned [see "550"] from 723 to 842 [see "842"]

[Right (enlarge) "A simple cross: example of eighth century iconoclast art in the Hagia Irene Church in Istanbul [Constantinople]."[28] See ["723"] below.]

was a period of iconoclasm (Gk. eikon = "image" + klastes = "breaker"[29]). In 723 the Muslim Caliph Yazid II (r. 720–724) issued an edict in Damascus ordering the destruction of all Christian icons in his Caliphate[30]. An outbreak of image-smashing ensued[31]. "For the next 120 years both the Byzantine and the Moslem empires suffer outbreaks of 'iconoclasm' in which countless icons and artistically created images of Jesus are destroyed"[32]. In 726 the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717–741), under pressure from Islam[33] decreed that all icons were to be destroyed as idolatrous[34]. As a result countless thousands of images of Christ were destroyed[35], which explains the paucity of visual documentation of the Image of Edessa/Shroud before the tenth century[36]. But the Cloth of Edessa (the Shroud "doubled in four" = tetradiplon), because its imprint was obviously not artistically created, survived[37]. Also the Cloth was no doubt kept hidden in faraway Muslim-controlled Edessa[38], where paradoxically it was safer than it would have been in Christian Constantinople[39]! Indeed the Edessa Image was the main argument used against the iconoclasts[40] [see ""730" below]. However, most copies of the Image of Edessa/Shroud were destroyed[41].

730 St. John of Damascus (c.675–749), aka John Damascene, in his De

[Left (enlarge): A "himation was with the ancient Greeks ... a loose robe ... worn over [clothes] ... alike for both sexes"[41a].]

Imaginibus (On Images), writing in defence of images at the outset of the Iconoclastic Controversy[42], mentioned "sindons" ("shrouds") among the relics of the Passion to be venerated on account of their connection with Jesus[43]. That John was referring to the Edessa Cloth/Shroud is evident in that he cited the Abgar V legend [see "50"] in support of its significance as an image[44]. John also referred to the Edessa image as a "himation" (see above), a Greek outer garment [imation Mt 5:40; 9:20-21; 14:36; Mk 5:27-30; Jn 19:2; Ac 12:8][45] about two yards (183 cms) wide by three yards (274 cms) long[46], which means that the full size of the Cloth was then known[47]. Finally John referred to the Edessa Image as "the miraculously imprinted image" that it "has been preserved up to the present time"[48].

731 The Venerable Bede (c.673–735) was told that in the Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes), Pope Eleutherus (r. 174-189)[49] had received a letter from Lucio Britannio rege, probably between 183 and 189[50], asking for Christian missionaries to be sent that he might become a Christian[51] and to help convert those within his lands to Christianity[52]. Bede wrongly interpreted this to have been a previously unknown British King Lucius[53], and wrote in his c. 731 Ecclesiastical History of the English People that Lucius was a British king and that Christianity had commenced in Britain in the second century[54]. But as the German church historian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) wrote in 1904, the only King Lucius who converted to Christianity in the second century was Lucius Abgar VIII of Edessa[55] [see "183"], full name Lucius Aelius Septimius Megas Abgarus VIII[56], who took the forenames Lucius Aelius to honour his Roman overlord, the Emperor Lucius Aelius Commodus (r. 180-192)[57], and who lived in the time of Pope Eleutherus[58]. [see "202"]. And "Britannio" was short for "Britium Edessenorum," which in turn was the Latin rendering of the Syriac "Birtha of the Edessenes" which was the name of Agbar VIII's Edessa Citadel[59] [see "205"]. But since every subsequent British historian and clergyman read Bede[60], his non-existent King Lucius of Britain became an important `reality' as the king who brought Christianity to Britain in the second century[61]! It was due to Bede's misunderstanding[62] that the French creators of the Holy Grail legends located their stories not in France but in England[63], and the legend arose that Joseph of Arimathea had visited England and in Glastonbury from his staff miraculously a tree grew[64]!

754 A copy of the Image of Edessa/Shroud called the Acheropita, a

[Right (enlarge)[65]: "The Acheropita 'holy face' that for at least twelve hundred years has been preserved in Rome's Sancta Sanctorum chapel, originally the popes' private chapel before papal residence shifted to the Vatican. The icon's cover is thirteenth-century, and its 'face' a crude over-painting, but beneath lies an intriguing though near totally-effaced original that dates at least as far back as AD 754"[66]. Note that the head is centred in landscape aspect, exactly as it is on the Shroud[67].]

Latinization of acheiropoietos[68]("not made with hands" - Mk 14:58; 2Cor 5:1; Col 2:11) was in the Sancta Sanctorum Chapel of the Vatican's Lateran Palace by at least 754[69]. That is because when Rome was threatened by the Lombards after their capture of Ravenna in 751, Pope Stephen II (r. 752-757) in 754 personally carried this Acheropita barefoot at the head of a huge procession in Rome, praying for this icon to be instrumental in the deliverance of their city[70]. Yet it is probably much earlier than that, being reliably regarded as having been brought to Rome in the last years of the sixth century by Pope Gregory I the Great (r. 590-604)[71]. Before he became Pope, Gregory had been the papal legate in Constantinople at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Tiberius II (r. 574-582), when interest in acheiropoietic images, after the discovery of the Image of Edessa in 544[72][see "544"], was at its peak in Constantinople[73]. Tiberius II's throne had a majestic image of Christ, since destroyed, derived from the Image of Edessa, which had been set there by his predecessor, Justin II (r. 565-574)[74]. It is therefore very likely that this Acheropita icon now in the Sancta Sanctorum Chapel in Gregory's Lateran Palace in Rome, was specially commissioned by Gregory before 590 for him to take back to Rome[75]!

761 The Arca Santa (Holy Chest) containing the Sudarium of Oviedo

[Left (enlarge)[75a]: The Holy Chest (or Arca Santa).]

and other relics is placed in the primitive Monastery of San Vicente, near where the city of Oviedo was later founded[75b].

769 In his Good Friday sermon delivered in Rome at the Lateran Council of 769[76], Pope Stephen III (r. 768–772), opposing the iconoclast movement[77], spoke in favor of the use of sacred images[78]. In that sermon, Stephen referred to the Abgar V legend [see again "50"] mentioning the Edessa towel with its miraculous facial image[79]. Stephen quoted Jesus' supposed response to Abgar's request for a cure:

"Since you wish to look upon my physical face, I am sending you a likeness of my face on a cloth ..."[80]
And as we shall see in a twelfth century updated version of Stephen's 769 sermon [see "pre-1130"[81]], a copyist had interpolated a reference to Jesus' "whole body" being visible on the Edessa cloth, reflecting the later discovery in Constantinople that Jesus' body was imprinted on the Edessa Cloth/Shroud, not just His face[82].

787 The iconoclasm of Leo III was continued by his son Constantine V Coproymos (741–775)[83], and grandson Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775–780)[84]. It was only after the death of Leo IV that the first period of iconoclasm was brought to an end in 787 by the Second Council of Nicaea[85], the last of the first seven ecumenical councils of the whole Christian church, both East and West[86]. The Council debated the veneration of holy images[87] and in particular about the Image of Edessa not having been produced by the hand of man[88]. Leo, Lector (Reader) of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia Cathedral, reported to the Council that he had visited Edessa and seen there "the holy image made without hands and adored by the faithful"[89]. The Council endorsed the veneration of images[90], and in particular the Image of Edessa, the "one `not made by human hands' [acheiropoieton] that was sent to Abgar"[91]. It was the main argument used by the bishops to defend the legitimacy of the use of sacred images[92] and to which the iconoclast bishops had no reply[93].

Continued in the next part #9 of this series.

1. This post is copyright. Permission is granted to quote from any part of this post (but not the whole post), provided it includes a reference citing my name, its subject heading, its date, and a hyperlink back to this page[return].
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Posted 24 February 2017. Updated 4 April 2024.

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