Historian: Shroud of Turin a Medieval Prop

Charles Freeman dug through descriptions, depictions of it
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2014 9:12 AM CDT
Historian: Shroud of Turin a Medieval Prop
This August 12, 2000, file photo shows the Shroud of Turin, a 14-foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, displayed at the Turin Cathedral in Italy.   (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

You can add one more name to the list of those claiming the Shroud of Turin dates only to medieval times. According to British historian Charles Freeman, Jesus' supposed burial cloth—believed by many to show his image after crucifixion—is a 14th-century prop that was likely used during an Easter-morning re-enactment of the resurrection. Freeman says his analysis of historical texts and illustrations has found no mention of the cloth before its first documented appearance in France in 1355, the Guardian reports. "Astonishingly, few researchers appear to have grasped that the shroud looked very different in the 16th and 17th centuries from the object we see today," Freeman writes in History Today. There, he examines "early depictions and descriptions of the Shroud that illustrate features now lost."

Among them, Antonio Tempesta's 1613 engraving of the cloth and writings on it: a description by a Benedictine monk in 1449, another by Pope Sixtus in 1474, and an entry in the Travel Journal of Antonio de Beatis, which records a 1517 viewing. They depict or reference a shroud in which blood and scourge marks are prominent. In Freeman's view, this syncs with a "change in iconography": The depictions of Christ's burial from the 1100s and 1200s are largely free of blood; the emphasis on a bloodied Christ came into play in the 14th century. In Freeman's view, the Shroud of Turin was not a forgery intended to deceive but a prop used during the Easter "Quem quaeritis? ("Whom do you seek?") ceremony, and he points to the 1988 radiocarbon-dating of the shroud that dated it to the 14th century as further proof. (A February study, however, asserted the image on the shroud was created by an earthquake in AD33.)

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