The Hagia Sophia, or Church of
the Holy Wisdom, one time seat of
the Patriarch of Constantinople
Now to reasonable conjecture. Medieval documents allege that the shroud was in Constantinople from an unspecified date, probably as early as the seventh century, until the city was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204. It disappears at that time until possibly (and even probably) 1353 when it shows up in Lirey. (There is mention of it in 1353, but the earliest definitive record is 1390.) How did it get from Constantinople to Lirey, and where was it from 1204 until 1353 (much less 1390). The theory is (and it is a reasonable conjecture) that it had come into the possession of the Knights Templar at the time that Constantinople was sacked in 1204 and remained with them until the Order was dissolved in 1307. A key figure in the Templars was Geoffrey de Charny who served as the Grand Preceptor of Normandy (the head of the Order in North-west France). DeCharny was among the Templars burned at the stake with Jacques de Molay, the Master General of the Order. When the shroud surfaces, it is in the custody of his nephew, another Geoffrey de Charny. There is a bit of a jump here, but it is reasonable.
Ok, but how did it get to Constantinoplein the first place? Here there is some controversy. There are coins from the reign of Justinian II—coins minted in 692—that purportedly display the image of Christ from the shroud? Do they? Hard to say. Art historians differ and medieval representations are never exact. If they do, it would indicate that the shroud was in Constantinople, Justinian’s capital, by the end of the seventh century. There are other scholars who identify the shroud with “The Image of Edessa”—a representation of Christ on cloth that is mentioned by Saint John Damascene (675-749). We will do a separate entry on the “Image of Edessa.” The Image of Edessa was brought to Constantinople only in 944; there exists a sermon preached on the occasion by the archdeacon, Gregorios Referendarios. Another reason not to associate the shroud with the “Image of Edessa,” also known as the Holy Mandylion, is that this image also was looted during the sack of Constantinople but was sold to Louis IX (Saint Louis) of France and kept in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris along with other relics of the Passion of Christ. It was lost or destroyed during the French Revolution, but this testifies to the Shroud at Lirey- Chambéry-Turin existing separately from the Image of Edessa at Paris from 1390 (the point in time when we undisputedly have both relics) until 1789 when the Paris relic disappears. The existence of the “Image of Edessa” is recorded at the very end of the sixth century though there are stories going back to the fourth which may refer to it. All that is for a later entry. We are still left with the problem: even if Justinian’s coins from 692 refer to the Shroud at Constantinople—where was it for the approximately 660 years between the burial of Christ and Justinian’s coins? Frankly we don’t know. All we can say is that from the time that Constantine transferred his imperial capital to Constantinople, the city and its churches became a repository for a huge number of relics of Christ, Mary, and the Saints. There authenticity—at least form a historical perspective—cannot be proved. It should not surprise us that a burial cloth purported to be that of Jesus—authentic or not—eventually found its way to what was until the Sack of Constantinople, the greatest treasure house of Christian holy objects in the world. Is it the historical Shroud of Jesus? I don’t know; the Church doesn’t say, but as a dear friend of mine, Dot Pittman (God Rest her) used to say: “never let the truth spoil a good story.”