Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shroud of Turin I: the traceable history

The photographic negative
of the face on the Shroud
as taken by Secondo Pia in
Well we looked at Veronica’s veil, now let’s take a look at the “Shroud of Turin,” alleged to be the burial cloth of Christ.   Is it?  Who knows?  It is a mighty strange phenomenon! Scientists have examined it from every angle and under every discipline and have only conflicting theories and opinions.  But we won’t look at the scientific data, simply the historical narrative.  The history is problematic enough.  To begin with we can only be sure of its history for the last six-hundred and twenty years or so.  That isn’t very long and doesn’t help us explain the almost fourteen hundred years between its supposed use for the burial of Christ and its recorded history. 
     The history of the shroud can be traced with certainty only after 1390 when it’s presence in Lirey, a small village in the Champagne region of France, is attested by a letter to the Avignon claimant to the papacy, Clement VII,  in which the bishop of Troyes denied its authenticity as the burial cloth of Jesus.  The shroud belonged to the family of Geoffrey de Charny whose lands included the village of Lirey and who had established there a collegiate church with canons responsible for the custody of the relic.  This would have been a handsome income producer for Geoffrey and his family as a quarter of the revenues of such a church traditionally went to the Advowson—the patron who built (and owned) such a church.  The bishop claimed that the shroud was a forgery by a clever artist and that the artist hadconfessed to the fraud.  Strangely, under the circumstances, this did not stop Clement from granting indulgences to those who made the pilgrimage to Lirey and venerated the shroud though he did prohibit it being referred to as “the True Shroud” of Christ. 
      From Lirey its history is well recorded.  Geoffrey’s granddaughter Margaret married the Count de la Roche who  brought the relic to his castle at Montfort in the Franche-Comté and from there it went to the nearby town of Saint Hippolyte sur Doubs.  The canons of Lirey sued for possession but Margaret kept the relic and after her husband’s death took it on the road with her and exhibited it in various towns and cities of France.  There was a stiff trade in relics at the time and as I said, the shroud was a money maker. As she got older, Margaret was not cut out for carnie life and ended up retiring, selling the shroud and buying a castle with the proceeds.  The new owner was Anne of Cyprus, Duchess of Savoy, who build a collegiate church at the Savoy capital of Chambéry to hold the relic.  It was here at Chambéry that the shroud was damaged in 1532 when the chapel in which it was reposed caught fire and a drop of molten silver pierced the folded cloth within creating sixteen identical burn-holes where it went through the material.  The holes were patched by local Franciscan nuns.   During its time at Chambéry the Shroud was frequently sent out on tour through the Savoy lands in northern Italy and southern France.  Emmanuel Philibert (1528-1580), Duke of Savoy (and one time suitor of Elizabeth I of England) made Turin the capital of his Duchy in 1563 and fifteen years later moved the shroud there.  It has remained there since. The House of Savoy came to the Italian Throne in 1861.  Although the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the shroud was the possession of the House of Savoy, not the Italian government, and so it remained until 1983 when it was given by the once Royal Family to the Holy See.   Although it belongs to the Holy See it remains in the Cathedral of Turin.  This history is all able to be documented and, while it involves certain curious personalities, is not particularly interesting.   
      The more fascinating uestions is how did the shroud supposedly arrive in Lirey?  Well, let’s take it in stages as the history between 1204 and 1390 is a bit easier to reconstruct than the history previous to 1204.  Supposedly—and I say supposedly—the shroud was one of the many valuable relics held in the Greek Capital of Constantinople.  Remember that the Byzantine Empire was a strong and powerful empire that had for centuries ruled the eastern Mediterranean, including the Holy Land.  Especially in the reign of Justinian, (527-565) many holy objects were brought to Constantinople.   The Byzantines lost the Holy Land in 638-39, but still maintained rights of protection over the Christian shrines there.  In 1204 the Crusaders—Catholics from Western Europe—attacked and sacked the city during the fourth Crusade.  This act more than anything else, has permanently (and understandably) poisoned the Greek Orthodox attitude towards Catholicism.  The Italians went for the gold and jewels; the French—ever more pious than the Italians—went for the relics.  Well, that’s not true, at least not totally, but many of the most precious relics did end up in France.  It seems—and again, I say it seems—that Shroud of Christ  which had been reported to have been at Constantinople ended up in the hands of the Knights Templar.  There is no record of it with the Templars and this is what makes it sketchy. But then the Templars were not the sort of men for public display.  To the contrary they were the embodiment of discretion.  The Knights Templar are a fascinating group and we need to do some entries about them.  In 1307 Philip of France—who owed the Templars a huge amount of money—attacked them for heresy and immorality. (The immorality is far more interesting than the heresy; but then it always is.) Among the Templars put to death on the King’s orders was one Geoffrey of Charny, the Templar Preceptor of Normandy.  It is one of his descendents, Geoffrey of Charny whose widow has possession of the shroud in 1390. We don’t know for sure, but it seems that the Shroud found its way from Constantinople to the Templars and from the Templars to Lirey through the de Charny family. That is one theorym, anyway, and the most plausible.  Hmmm.  Now we have to find out how it made its way to Constantinople.  That is for the next episode.

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