The Shroud’s Earlier History Part 2: The Great City -- By: John Long

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 20:4 (Fall 2007)
Article: The Shroud’s Earlier History Part 2: The Great City
Author: John Long

The Shroud’s Earlier History
Part 2: The Great City

John Long


The Shroud’s Earlier History is a four-part review of the historical evidence for the Shroud of Turin from the first century to the beginning of the 15th. In Part 1, we saw that a mysterious object slowly emerged in antiquity as a cloth on which Jesus supposedly imprinted His face, and which was then sent to a king in the northern Mesopotamian city of Edessa. But during the sixth through tenth centuries, additional evidence would further indicate that this was, in fact, a large, folded cloth depicting Christ’s full, bloodied body.

Face Cloth or Folded Shroud?

The eighth through mid-tenth centuries were to make the Holy Image of Edessa the most famous icon in the Christian world, offering clues as to its physical appearance, but also reflecting predictable contradictions stemming from the great secrecy in which it was kept. John of Damascus (d. 749), a defender of image veneration, wrote “he [Jesus] took a cloth (rakos) and applied it to his face and impressed on it his own likeness (charakter), which is preserved until the present day” (Cameron 1998: 40). This description, very similar to and perhaps derived from the Acts of Thaddeus, appears to be the most common way of understanding it during these centuries. Pilgrims traveling to the Holy Lands and Syrian-educated churchmen migrating westward would undoubtedly spread what they heard about the Image. It is said that Pope Stephen (752–57) remarked “that he had often heard the story from those coming from the eastern parts of how Christ imprinted his face on a linen cloth and sent it to Abgar” (Chrysostomides 1997: xxxiii). Texts from outside greater Syria mentioning the Image are few before the later eighth century, but the great iconoclastic controversy (726–843) gave a major boost to its notoriety. Iconodules (“image lovers”) used it to argue Christ sanctioned pictures by making one himself. In the image-friendly atmosphere of the Second Council of Nicaea (787) the Edessa Icon was noted several times, and Evagrius’ history was used to help explain its past. The assembled ecclesiastics were concerned “with establishing the proper degree of respect for religious images-veneration (proskynesis), but not worship (lateria)” (Cameron 1998: 45). Theodore Abu Qurrah, from the same monastery and with the same theological views as John of Damascus, wrote (very early in the ninth century), “As for the image of is honored by veneration especially in our city, Edessa, the blessed, at definite times, with its own feasts and pilgrimages” (Cameron 1998: 46). By the early tenth century Alexandrian Patriarch Eutychius ...

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