Shroud of Turin – Historical Witness

This post is part of a multi-part series investigating the evidence and arguments surrounding the Shroud of Turin. See the first post, Shoud of Turin, Could it Be Real?,  for an index.

There is substantial agreement among researchers on the historical record of the Shroud of Turin from 1349 to present day, with some claiming a later date of 1390. I encourage you to visit Shroud History, hosted by the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association (STERA, Inc), for highlights of the undisputed history of the Shroud. In this post, we will focus on the earlier, more controversial evidence, prior to 1349.

But first! You may have seen some skeptics, and even television documentaries, claiming that the shroud was formed by Leonardo da Vinci. This may be good for ratings, but it’s obviously inaccurate. Even if we accept that there was no reliable historic record of the Shroud before 1390, that is still 60 years before da Vinci was born in 1452. Now, on to more interesting topics…

The Image of Odessa and the Mandylion

There is in antiquities the mention of another cloth discovered in Edessa, Turkey in 525 that bore a face image that was declared “The True Likeness” of Christ, “not made by human hands.” We will cover this in an upcoming post on iconography, but there is remarkable resemblance between early icon images and the image that is on the Shroud, lending support to these earlier dates of something significant in the belief of painters and artists in what they were modeling or copying.


Some historians on this topic have gone to great lengths to connect the dots that have pieced together a prior 1390 history events to the Mandylion. Could the Mandylion and the Shroud of Turin be one in the same?


Almost 100 years prior to the undisputed history, in 1203, a crusader knight named Robert de Clari claims to have seen the burial cloth:

“Where there was the Shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright so one could see the figure of our Lord on it.”

Shortly after that, following the Fourth Crusade, in 1205, a letter was reportedly sent by Theodore of Epirus, a Greek Lord, to Pope Innocent III protesting the attack on the capital:

“In April of last year, a crusading army, having falsely set out to liberate the Holy Land, instead laid waste the City of Constantine. During the sack, troops of Venice and France looted even the Holy Sanctuaries. The Venetians partitioned the treasures of gold, silver and ivory, while the French did the same with the relics of the saints and, most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before the resurrection.” (1) (2) (3)

When all the descriptions are analyzed, it becomes clear that the Mandylion was understood to be 1) a burial shroud 2) with a faint image 3) not made with artistic substances and 4) covered in blood including the side wound.

It is believed by some scholars that sometime after 1204, those who had come into possession of the Mandylion, because of its extreme value as something left by Christ, entrusted its care to the Knights Templar. One author who has a lot to say about the topic is Ian Wilson author of “the Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ” August 7, 1979. Wilson traces the history of the cloth “from its creation almost two thousand years ago,” asserted in the bio on Amazon of this book.

One curious coincidence is that one of the leaders of the Templars was burned at the stake in 1314 for heresy. His name was Geoffrey de Charny. That is the same name as the one recorded as revealing the Shroud for the first time in France in 1353. Obviously, it can’t be the same person, but perhaps a grandson or relative? Perhaps mere coincidence? The historical record does not disclose this. Could the Mandylion, the cloth discovered in Edessa and the Shroud of Turin be one in the same?

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