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March 31, 2012

Why the Shroud of Turin is a Forgery

The historical records for the Shroud of Turin can be separated into two time periods: before 1390 and from 1390 to the present. The period until 1390 is subject to debate and controversy among historians. Prior to the 14th century there are some allegedly congruent but controversial references such as the Pray Codex. It is often mentioned that the first certain historical record dates from 1353 or 1357. However the presence of the Turin Shroud in Lirey, France, is only undoubtedly attested in 1390 when Bishop Pierre d'Arcis wrote a memorandum where he charged that the Shroud was a forgery. He said an official of the church at Lirey had, "falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb, ..." Bishop d'Arcis went on to explain how a predecessor, Bishop Henri de Poitiers, had "discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, ..."

About 1900, a letter was found in a collection of documents owned by Ulysse Chevalier. The letter was written in 1389 by the Bishop of Troyes, Henri of Poitiers, Bishop to the Anti-Pope of Avignon, Clement the VII. The letter explained that an investigation had exposed the artist who had painted the Shroud and he had confessed. Many were disturbed that the cloth was being used for financial gain. The letter further pointed out:

“For many theologians and other wise persons declared that this could not be the real Shroud of our Lord, having the Savior’s likeness thus imprinted upon it, since the holy Gospel made no mention of any such imprint; while, if it had been true, it was quite unlikely that the holy evangelist would have omitted to record it, or that the fact should have remained hidden until the present time.”

The carbon 14 dating of the shroud to 1260-1390 A.D. brings us into the world of Francis of Assisi (who died in 1226), to his stigmata (the miraculous wounds on his hands, feet and side) and, especially, to the lay brotherhoods that his piety and his cult of self-mortification engendered. These Christians appreciated and understood Jesus' wounds in a very physical way.

Knowing both this and the shroud's carbon 14 dating of 1260 to 1390 A.D., it is worth returning, finally, to the place and time of the shroud's first appearance in historical documents. It is the year 1357, and the shroud is being exhibited publicly to pilgrims. It belongs to a French nobleman, Geofrey de Charnay, and is being displayed in his private chapel in Lirey, a village near Troyes, in northeastern France. The Bishop of Troyes, Henri of Poitiers, is upset because he believes the shroud is a fake; in fact, he has been told this by a man who claims to have painted it. Thirty years pass. It is now 1389, and Henri's successor, Pierre d'Archis, writes a long letter of protest about the shroud to Pope Clement VII. He recalls his predecessor's accusation and then goes on to state his own conviction "that the Shroud is a product of human handicraft ... a cloth cunningly painted by a man." He pleads with the Pope to end its public display. The Pope's written reply is cautious but clear; the shroud may still be displayed, but only on the condition that a priest be in attendance to announce to all present, in a loud and intelligible voice, without any trickery, that the aforesaid form or representation [the shroud] is not the true burial cloth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only a kind of painting or picture made as a form or representation of the burial cloth.

Read more here.