by Mark Guscin
Book Review by Arif Khan, UK
The Sudarium of Oviedo or the Shroud of Oviedo, is a blood-stained piece of cloth kept in the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The Sudarium (Latin for ‘sweat cloth’) is claimed by some to be the cloth wrapped around the head of Jesus Christas after the Crucifixion.
Mark Guscin is one of the few scholars to have written about the Sudarium of Oviedo in English. The renowned expert on the Shroud of Turin, Ian Wilson, gives Guscin high praise indeed in his book The Turin Shroud. In the book, co-authored with Barrie Schwortz, Wilson writes:
“[…] I have long shied from taking any interest in them [bloodstains on the Sudarium of Oviedo] – until a recent development. This was the emergence of a new, serious researcher on the subject, Mark Guscin.”
History of the Sudarium
The first section of the book explains the historical sources and references that exist for the Sudarium. Guscin clearly presents what we know about the Sudarium, starting with the Gospel of John. He pieces together the references that relate to two burial cloths of Jesusas; the implication being that one is the Turin Shroud and the other the Sudarium of Oviedo. Guscin clearly explains that two very different Greek words are used to describe the two cloths; one is sindone (burial Shroud) and the other sudario (face cloth). He cites historical references to support the fact of two different cloths being related to the burial of Jesusas.
Using historical and linguistic analysis, Guscin then explores the research that has been conducted on the Sudarium by a Valencia based group, EDICES (Equipo de Investigacion del Centro Espanol de Sindonolgia). The next two chapters cover in detail the findings about the Sudarium, and its points of alignment with the Shroud of Turin. These two chapters provide an excellent summary and the detailed information is complemented with photographs and diagrams that help to illustrate the material being presented.
One key achievement of this book is that it presents a comprehensive analysis of the Sudarium in a small number of pages. Guscin’s own research and reconstructions are also included, shedding more light on the events of the Crucifixion through forensic reconstruction.
Survival of the Crucifixion
There is no doubt that Guscin’s work regarding the Sudarium is extremely important. The book is packed with details and evidence about the cloth’s history, research on the cloth and an explanation of the relationship between the Sudarium and the Shroud.
Despite its scholasticism, the author has a clear agenda – to prove at every possible point that Jesus Christas died on the cross. The second paragraph of the Preface states:
“There are books that go even further and argue that while the Shroud is undoubtedly genuine, it also proves Jesus survived the crucifixion and therefore every institutional church will collapse because the resurrection never happened. We read of sinister plots in the Vatican, of cardinals in league with the radiocarbon laboratories, but all this would be better classified with second rate spy novels than with serious books about the Shroud.”
This attack on those that argue the Shroud proves Jesusas survived the Crucifixion, is clear and sustained in subsequent sections. No objective analysis is presented to refute this, and the author adopts a dismissive and patronising tone when discussing the possibility that Jesusas survived the Crucifixion.
In “Chapter Two – The Sudarium Speaks for Itself”, Guscin outlines his theory that the mix of blood and water on the Sudarium prove that Jesusas died of asphyxiation. While he is correct that crucifixion victims would often die of asphyxiation, he incorrectly links this to Jesusas having suffered a possible pulmonary oedema. Crucifixion was a slow and long lasting punishment, with victims usually spending several days on a cross. Both the Shroud and the Sudarium contain blood and water. Based on what we know about the Sudarium, this does suggest that Jesusas had oedema fluid in his lungs, yet in itself this is not proof of suffocation nor of death. Guscin’s statement that, “When a person dies in this way, his lungs are filled with the fluid from the oedema”, is not based upon any documented or observed case of crucifixion.
A fact often ignored by those arguing Jesusas died upon the cross is that the two other men crucified alongside Jesusas were still alive when Jesusas cried out and supposedly died. The flogging and scourging may not have been inflicted upon the two men on either side of Jesusas, but they certainly underwent the same crucifixion procedure as he did. It was necessary for their legs to be broken in order to hasten their death, but Jesus’as legs were not broken.
Coins on the Shroud
In “Chapter Three – The Sudarium Before the Shroud”, Guscin references the belief held by some that the ‘coins’ that would have been placed upon the eyes of Jesusas, can be seen on the Shroud image. Guscin argues:
“The presence of the coins would also prove that Jesus really died and that the people who buried him knew this. They did not put him in the tomb to heal him.”
Again, this narrative is disingenuous in relation to the events that took place. There are a list of anomalies about the ‘burial’ of Jesusas, none of which are addressed by Guscin. He uses this opportunity to again refute those scholars who argue that the Shroud proves Jesusas survived the Crucifixion and tries to discredit them:
“Rodney Hoare, in The Turin Shroud is Genuine, simply ignores the whole question, while in The Jesus Conspiracy, H Kersten and E R Gruber say that the coins are just an invention, people seeing things where they want to.”
There are many who have rejected the idea of coins being visible on the Shroud of Turin. For example Barrie Schwortz, arguably today’s leading authority on the Shroud, does not support the view of images of coins being present on the Shroud. I contacted Barrie on the matter of the coins recently and he confirmed that:
“I have not changed my position and do not believe we can read the tiny inscription on a small coin via the Shroud. As the late Don Lynn (STURP [Shroud of Turin Research Project] team member and NASA imaging scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) said, you cannot visually resolve an inscription smaller than the weave of the fabric itself. Also, it is my opinion that the Disciples of Jesus would not have put a pagan coin on the face of the man that they believed to be the prophesied Messiah. Although Lombatti is a rather vocal anti-Shroud skeptic, I have to agree with him in this case. There are still many pro-Shroud scholars who like the coin inscription theory and continue to promote it in their lectures. Unfortunately, none of the STURP imaging scientists or photographers ever agreed with it.”
Final Chapter – “The Shroud, Christianity, and the Modern World”
The final chapter of the book is dedicated to refuting claims that Jesusas survived the Crucifixion. Guscin quickly brushes aside The Jesus Conspiracy by Holger Kersten and Elmar Gruber, stating it is not a serious book and is “hardly worthy of consideration.” He then moves to The Turin Shroud is Genuine by Rodney Hoare, admitting that Hoare reached the same conclusion as Kersten and Gruber and that Hoare’s book is “much more serious and better put together.”
Guscin lays out the events of the Crucifixion; from the blood on the Shroud to the spear in the side of Jesusas, to the expertise of Romans at executions. He does not comment on the aloe and myrrh applied to Jesus’as body after he was taken down from the cross, or the short duration of Jesus’as Crucifixion, or how those men alongside Jesusas on the other crosses were still alive. He states boldly, yet without the evidence to support this view that, “All the sources indicate that Jesus died on the cross.”
Guscin appears to possibly concede on one point. He offers the explanation that the image on the Shroud could be of a living man, as the image could have been formed “at the exact time of the resurrection.”
Following this, Guscin attacks Hoare for trying to prove that Jesusas was a man. He summarises his position by stating, “Unfortunately for Hoare, the gospels also make it very clear that Jesus was God as well.”
Science and Religion
The conclusion of the book, however, is something all seekers of the truth can support, and is a reminder as to why studies of these cloths are relevant to our lives and beliefs:
“The tests on both the Shroud and the Sudarium show that science is not opposed to faith, and in no way contradicts it […]To study Christ in a serious historical way is the duty of every Christian, and any such study can only lead to the truth about him.”
The Oviedo Cloth is a book that provides a valuable contribution to the field of Shroud- related research. Whilst I do not agree with all the conclusions reached by the author, he has done a commendable job of collating the studies in this area alongside his own original research, and has presented this in a concise and accessible style for the layperson.
1.Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1998).
2.“Oviedo Cathedral”, Wikipedia, last modified October 16, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oviedo_Cathedral.
3.“Oviedo”, Wikipedia, last modified April 5, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oviedo.
4.“Spain”, Wikipedia, last modified March 29, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spain.
5.“Sudarim”, Wikipedia, last modified October 13, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudarium.
6.“Latin”, Wikipedia, last modified April 3, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin.
7.“Jesus”, Wikipedia, last modified April 4, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus.
8.Barrie Schwortz, e-mail message to author, March 26, 2015.