Guest post: Better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land

Originally a comment by Charles Freeman on The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets.

The article has given rise to a lot of interest and outside the authenticists’ websites very positive. For those who read the original to the end, you will see I never argue that the Shroud was a fake. There were hundreds of thousands of painted linens around in the medieval period and they were widely used in churches, especially during Lent when opulent altars and statues were traditionally covered up.

If you were a forger hoping to get away with a burial shroud you would stick to the gospel sources and certainly not add images. The most successful shroud relics in the medieval period were single cloths WITHOUT images – better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land.

The Quem Queritis Easter ceremony when they held up a cloth from a makeshift ‘tomb’ to show that Christ had risen is the best fit explanation for the origins of the Shroud. We know that the linen was often painted and a single sheet.

I have never seen anyone except David Roehmer put forward this second century Gnostic theory – so I don’t know what historical or scientific work he is relying on.

When you wanted to paint a linen in medieval times, you gessoed it on the surface and once it was sealed then you painted on top. Some of the few surviving examples are vastly more sophisticated than the Shroud ever was. The trouble was that the painted surface easily disintegrated although the Shroud seems to have kept pretty intact until the nineteenth century. The present discoloration of the linen appears to be the result of centuries of the weave being overlain by the gesso and paint. It is only a surface disoloration – presumably the gesso stopped the images penetrating further – and the varying thicknesses of the original paint left a sort of negative image behind. It is all too often assumed that the images left today are the images that were originally created and all kinds of ingenious methods, from laser beams to scorches, have been devised to recreate them – but you would have to seal and paint the linen according to the medieval manuals and leave it in place for several centuries and then when it disintegrated we would probably have similar images. See you in 500 years time!


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Charles Freeman is one of the world’s foremost authorities on holy relics – his ‘Holy Bones, Holy Dust’ is a wonderful introduction to the fascinating realm of relics. For those who have a passion for relics, the venerable John Calvin – founder of Calvinism – has an astonishingly entertaining (for a cleric) treatise on relics, “A Treatise On Relics”: The Protestant Reformation resulted in the destruction of perhaps most of Christendom’s relics (which is a shame, as they’re so interesting), on the basis that these were objects of idolatry and must be destroyed for everyone’s benefit or something. Sounds sort of Muslim/Shariah Law-ish today, actually…

    The medieval circus-circus of relics became so outrageous that relics formed an alternative currency (like how oil is today a currency all its own): When King Louis IX set his sights on a “crown of thorns” relic (of course there are many, but King Louis IX was certain he’d chosen the authentic one), he built the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, to house it. And he spent MORE on acquiring the relic than on building the entire cathedral! Relics formed a significant portion of Western economies.

    But back to Charles Freeman – a favorite article of his is here: , and since we were talking about the Shroud of Turin specifically:

    If the Shroud was genuine, it would be its very survival as a well preserved piece of cloth from the first century that would be the real miracle! Damp is the great enemy- you only need three or four years of exposure over those early centuries for it to have done immense damage. I am sure the Shroud is much later-in my own studies it was quite usual for the first documentary record to correlate with the moment of creation!

    The comments there are terrific 🙂

  2. Charles Freeman says

    Thanks, Blanche. It amazes me the amount of pseudo-science that has built up around the Shroud. Having failed to overthrow the radiocarbon date, the latest is that an earthquake at the time of the Resurrection skewed the carbon. As earthquakes are quite common that would mean that the whole radiocarbon testing for the past four decades is likely to be invalid, but the Shroudies don’t think outside their box.
    If the National Geographic had not been so gullible, a researcher would have simply started with the weave – you can’t have the images without the weave. If they had then talked to a specialist in ancient and medieval weaving techniques they would have quickly been out onto the medieval treadle loom as the only loom realistically known to be able to weave a cloth of this type and dimensions. They would have been told that the spin of the yarn is Z spin which is western Mediterranean/Europe. And if they had talked to radiocarbon experts they would have been told that none of the challenges to the 1260-1390 radiocarbon date added up.
    So they would soon be exploring the medieval context in which the Shroud was made and there would be none of this ‘ beyond scientific explanation’ nonsense. It is not that difficult to get there.
    And have you noticed that the head of the man on the Shroud is that of a man standing up, not. lying down? This alone tells us that this did not cover a dead body- well unless it was buried in the tomb standing up – but then the feet don’t work. The Shroudies are the mystery. Not the Shroud.

  3. Dunc says

    The whole posture of the body depicted on the shroud is impossible for a dead body lying down. Also, one of the arms is significantly longer than the other, and the proportions of the skull are grotesquely wrong (but in accordance with the artistic conventions of the 13th and 14th centuries).

  4. Charles Freeman says

    Yes, Dunc. It seems to obvious when you actually look at the bodies- which don’t even match with each other. If my hypothesis that this was a cloth used at the Quen Queritis ceremony , which took place early on Easter morning, is right, then the important thing would have been impact, rather than artistic accuracy. So you put a lot of bright blood on the cloth (the first thing early observers noted), you made the figures larger than life size for this period and doubled them up. The Savoys realised brilliantly that if you then turned this into a relic you could exhibit in a large space and the crowds would come flocking as they would have been able to see the original images from afar. You can’t say that for many ‘relics’.
    The scourge marks give the date away- these overall, front and back, scourge marks are not known in the iconography of the Passion before 1300, spot in the middle of the radiocarbon dating..
    Until i started reading the authenticists i thought there was a genuine problem over the origin of the Shroud, now I know that there is a genuine problem about the authenticists who have eyes that can see what the rest of us cannot.

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