The Shroud of Oviedo: A Legendary Cloth Connected to the Death of Jesus
The Sudarium of Oviedo, also known as the Shroud of Oviedo is one of the most important relics of Christianity. It is believed to be a cloth which was wrapped around Jesus’ head after his death. The shroud is currently the greatest treasure in a cathedral of Oviedo, Spain.
The Shroud of Oviedo is located in the chapel of St. Michael, also known as the Holy chamber of Oviedo, which nowadays belongs to the city's cathedral. In the early medieval period it was a separate pre-Romanesque church located next to the Tower of San Miguel. The chamber, which was built in the times of the fall of the Visigothic kingdom, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1998. The chamber was built during the 9th century as a palace chapel for King Alfonso II of Asturias. It was destroyed in the 14th century and then replaced with the present day Gothic Cathedral of Oviedo.
The Cloth of Jesus Christ
The Sudarium of Oviedo is a piece of cloth measuring 84 x 53 cm (33 x 21 inches). According to the Bible (John 20:6-7), it's a piece which was wrapped around the head of Jesus.
Simon Peter, following him, also came up, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloth lying on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself.
The shroud is displayed to the public only three times a year. It is severely soiled and crumpled, with dark flecks which don’t form any image. Thousands of pilgrims arrive in Oviedo on Good Friday, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on September 14, and on its octave on September 21.
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The Sudarium of Oviedo. ( Mark Guscin )
The shroud of Oveido was mentioned for the first time in 570 AD by Antoninus of Piacenza, who wrote that it was located in the monastery of St Mark, in Jerusalem. The history of the shroud’s travels starts in Palestine in 614, when it was taken to Alexandria after the invasion by the Sassanid Persian King Khosrau II. When his army arrived to northern Egypt, the presbyter who took care of the shroud carried it from Alexandria to Spain. It then traveled through Cartagena, Seville, and in 657, arrived in Toledo. It finally reached Oviedo circa 840 AD. In March 14, 1075, King Alfonso VI, his sister, and Rodrigo Diaz Vivar (known as El Cid), opened the chest with the shroud and named it by an official act as "The Sacred Sudarium of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Science Doesn't Provide the Answer People Expect
Carbon 14 testing is the most popular method for dating ancient artifacts. The tests of the Sudarium were performed on three samples snipped from it in April 1988. The results suggest that the shroud dates between 1260 and 1390 AD. According to these results it is impossible that the shroud is an original that belonged to the times of Jesus - but there is much controversy over the dates provided.
Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style, from the Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily, c. 1131. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Even in scientific communities, the results of the tests are not believed to be reasonable. It seems that the shroud may have gotten dirty in a fire in 1532 – making the carbon testing completely useless. The cathedral was also bombed by terrorists in 1934, which could have influenced the date of the shroud as well. Carbon testing is convincing only if the samples don't contain dirt not connected with the times when it was made. It is a typical problem for dating ancient textiles. If the sample was not influenced by substances from other centuries, the result of the test is valid. Many researchers do not accept the results of the carbon 14 tests because the sample wasn't clean.
Searching for the Origins of the Shroud
The story of the shroud of Oviedo has as many enthusiasts as critics. Many people believe that this is a piece of textile which really covered the face of Jesus, but science is still looking for proof to confirm this. A Swiss pollen expert, Max Frei, tried to find botanical evidence. When he studied the shroud he found two species of pollen which were typical for the area of Palestine. He also found a pollen sample from the north of Africa, which is consistent with the legends about the travels of the cloth.
In 1994, during the First International Congress on the Shroud of Oviedo, researchers decided to test the blood and lymph samples which are still on the cloth. The results showed that the person who was covered with the cloth had an AB blood type. They also found that the pattern on the textile suggests that the cloth covered the face of a bearded man. Unfortunately, it was impossible to read something more from the artifact because there is no way to compare it with human remains or other artifacts which belonged to the man.
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The Shrouds which cover a Mystery
The Shroud of Oviedo is one of the most famous textiles apart from the Shroud of Turin, another legendary cloth connected with Jesus. It is unknown if the two textiles belonged to the same man, if they’re original, and if they are really connected with Jesus.
Perfect fit of Sudarium of Oviedo (right) to the face on the Shroud of Turin (left) The Shroud of Turin
Nonetheless, both of the shrouds continue to be strongly connected to Christianity. Over the centuries, the Sudarium of Oveido became a popular motif in Spanish and Portuguese literature and medieval songs and poems. Although, it is unknown if it original or not, it remains a popular reason for pilgrimages to Oviedo. Thus, the legend surrounding the Sudarium is what makes it one of the most important relics of the world.
Featured image: The ark that contains the Sudarium of Oviedo. Source: Public Domain
Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth, 1998.
Andrè Marion, Gerard Lucotte, Tunika z Argenteuil i Całun Turyński, 2008.