The Sudarium of Oviedo - Part of the Burial Cloth of Christ?

"And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ("sudarium") which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself." ~ John 20:6-7

After a five year absence from public display, the "controversial" Shroud of Turin can once again be viewed by the public in Turin, Italy.  For those unfamiliar with the Shroud (possibly because they have been spent the last few decades living on the moon -- it's hard to imagine some other way someone would be unfamiliar with the Shroud), I defer to the description of the Shroud found at the official website of the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. A man that millions believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. Is it really the cloth that wrapped his crucified body, or is it simply a medieval forgery, a hoax perpetrated by some clever artist? Modern science has completed hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud. It is, in fact, the single most studied artifact in human history, and we know more about it today than we ever have before. And yet, the controversy still rages.

Personally, I don't think that the Shroud is all that "controversial", but that's the word chosen to describe the Shroud by our friends at USA Today as well as the Shroud of Turin website. Personally, I believe a better word to describe the Shroud would be fascinating, as in "the question of whether the Shroud is really the burial cloth of Jesus leads to fascinating discussion." I love reading stories about the Shroud because there is so much up-in-the-air about the authenticity of the Shroud and the questions that have been raised about the efforts to determine a date for the Shroud. I mean, if the Shroud is a fake, exactly how did people with medieval technology manage to pull it off?

But in reading about the Shroud, I recently came upon a very interesting article entitled
The 'Other' Shroud of Christ" by Mary Jo Anderson (hereinafter, the "Anderson article") about an object called the Sudarium of Oviedo. Now, I have never heard of the Sudarium of Oviedo previous to reading the Anderson article, but in looking through the articles, I found the story to be worth sharing with CADRE readers -- especially since there appears to be a relationship between the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin.

According to a Anderson article,

While the assumed chronology of the Shroud is veiled in the mists of medieval history, the Sudarium is a revered relic that could well have been preserved from the days of Christ’s crucifixion.

In Latin, sudarium means “face cloth.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates sudarium as “napkin,” a clear indication that this smaller cloth was not identical to the longer burial shroud called the sindon in the New Testament’s Greek. The smaller cloth was used to cover the face of the body immediately following death, a Jewish practice of respect and compassion for the family of the dead.

According to Liber Testamentorum (Book of Testaments), written by Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo in the twelfth century, a “holy ark” made out of oak by followers of the twelve apostles was said to contain the Sudarium, along with several relics of the Virgin Mary and the apostles and a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. According to Pelayo, the ark remained in Jerusalem for the first 500 years following the resurrection.

Philip “the Presbyter,” a leader of the Christian community in Palestine, fled Jerusalem with the oak chest when Chosroes II, king of Persia, sacked the holy city in 614 A.D., according to Pelayo’s chronicle. John the Almoner, bishop of Alexandria, welcomed Philip and his precious cargo. When the Persian invasion continued into Egypt, the chest was said to have accompanied the faithful into Spain, where St. Fulgentius received it and sent it to Seville. In 657, according to Pelayo, the ark traveled north to Toledo where it was protected until 718. Citing slightly different dates from those in Pelayo’s chronicle, Lucas, the bishop of Tuy, wrote in his 13th-century Chronicum Mundi (Chronicle of the World) that the ark was taken north from Toledo to Monte Sacro in Asturias in 711, to escape the advancing Moors. History and Description of Spain, a text completed in 977, corroborates this move, at least obliquely, with a description of Christians fleeing the Muslims to the mountains of Asturias and burying their relics underground.

From atop Monte Sacro, Alfonso II, king of Asturias, turned back Spain’s Moorish invaders and established his court at Oviedo. The 800-year Reconquista, or reconquering of Spain from the Moors, began with Alfonso’s victory. He built a C├ímara Santa (holy chamber) in 840 A.D. to shelter the relics in the ark. Later kings built Oviedo’s cathedral of San Salvador (Holy Savior) around this tiny chapel.

So, the Sudarium (face-cloth) appears to have a pedigree that demonstrates that it was in existence (apparently without dispute) since at least 718 A.D. when it left Toledo and was transferred Monte Sacro in Asturias. It has remained in Oveido since 718 A.D. and has been in the Oviedo Cathedral since it was built in 840 A.D. While the Sudarium itself is not on display, the ark in which it is stored can be found in the Ovido Cathedral.

The Sudarium, while rarely displayed to the public, has been the subject to some examinations over the past several years. According to the Anderson article,  

In the late 1980s, Ricci urged a systematic study of the Cloth of Oviedo that would compare it with the Shroud. Early investigations included a photographic study of ultraviolet and infrared images of the cloth. This preliminary study confirmed that there is no underlying image of a face on the Sudarium—unlike the Shroud, which contains a bodily image that looks like a photographic negative. The Sudarium presents only a pattern of successive stains from perspiration, blood, and lymph. In the testing, video images were digitized so that the images on the two cloths could be highlighted and compared.

The First International Congress on the Sudarium of Oviedo, held in 1994, sponsored further testing. The findings indicated that the Sudarium had been placed against the face of a man who had been beaten on the front and back of the head. Although there is no facial image on the Sudarium, it does contain a distinct facial impression, the 1994 study showed. The cloth is impregnated with blood and lymph that match the AB blood type on the Shroud. (This was a crucial test, for had the blood types not matched, any subsequent testing would be pointless.) The pattern and measurements of the stains indicate a placement of the cloth over a face. Measurements of facial features were also made.

It sounds very interesting, but the carbon dating of the Sudarium has been, to a certain degree, as disappointing as the carbon testing of the Shroud. According to the Anderson article, the Sudarium's Carbon testing placed the date of the relic in the 7th Century (the 600s) which would correspond to the date that we know that it has been in Spain. So, if the Sudarium is a 7th Century forgery based on Carbon testing, why am I bringing it to the attention of the readers?

I bring it to the attention of the readers because the Sudarium gives rise to a rather interesting problem when combined with the Shroud. The Shroud, some may recall, was Carbon tested three times since 1988, and the dating from those studies placed the creation of the Shroud between 1260 and 1390 A.D.  But here's the interesting part: there are a lot of similarities between the image on the Shroud and the evidence found on the Sudarium. According to the Anderson article:

Alan Whanger, professor emeritus of medicine at Duke University, found similarities in the blood stains on the two cloths by using a polarized image overlay technique. He noted 70 congruent patterns on the face and more than 50 on the back of the head and neck. Furthermore, when the image on the Shroud was placed over the stains on the Sudarium, there was an exact correlation between the stains on the Sudarium and the image of the beard of the man on the Shroud.

Now, if the Sudarium has been kept safely in Oveido since 718 A.D., and if the Shroud was created between 1260 and 1390 A.D., exactly how did these two forgeries (because that is what the carbon dating tells us that they are) come to correspond so exactly? Did the artist who created the Shroud -- using methods unknown to 21st Century artists -- also have access to the Sudarium? Was his/her access lengthy enough for him/her to measure out 120 different patterns on the front and back side of the Sudarium so that they would correspond with the patterns on the yet-to-be-created Shroud? How was this artist able to observe these patterns when they are so very difficult to see today despite 1300-1400 years of careful preservation? How did the artist create the image of the face on the Shroud so that there would be an "exact correlation" between the stains on the Sudarium and the bearded image on the Shroud?

I don't know the answers, but I do think that these are good questions. I will keep my eyes open for other articles and pass them along when discovered.


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