The Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is the best known religious relic throughout the world. The cloth bares an image of a crucified man. The proponents of the Shroud believe it to be the actual burial cloth used to cover the body of Jesus Christas over 2 thousand years ago, following his crucifixion. For Shroud sceptics the cloth is a medieval forgery, exposed by radio carbon dating in 1988, which concluded that it is dated between 1260 and 1390.

©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved
©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Literally hundreds of books, and thousands of papers and articles have been written on the Shroud of Turin. The Review of Religions magazine has covered the Shroud multiple times, most recently in 2010, to coincide with a visit of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaba, Fifth Successor to the Promised Messiahas and head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to the Shroud of Turin Exhibit in Turin, Italy.

Interestingly, there exists another cloth, closely related to the Shroud of Turin, that is far less famous but has an equally controversial claim; the Sudarium of Oviedo. The Sudarium independently supports the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin and has the potential to provide new evidence about what happened to Jesusas immediately after the crucifixion.

Sudarium of Oviedo

In the Gospel of John we read the following account of the discovery of the empty tomb following the crucifixion of Jesusas,

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself”.[1]

The Greek word soudarion and Latin sudarium, a ‘sweat-cloth’, is a cloth for wiping the sweat from the face. The Palestines in Greek-Roman times were generally provided with handkerchiefs in a fashion originating in Rome, where the name of these napkins became soudarion and the Latin sudarium. These handkerchiefs were frequently used to tie up small bundles of certain possessions such as money. As a rule, the dead had their faces covered with one or had it tied around the head.[2]

It is believed that the face cloth which was placed on the face of Jesusas following his crucifixion, is the famous Sudarium of Oviedo.

Far fewer books and articles exist covering this cloth and it has never had the level of mainstream media coverage as the Shroud. The Shroud of Turin has always attracted more attention due to the image formed upon the shroud of a crucified man. There is no image upon the Sudarium, and so to the naked eye it is a small cloth with some stains of blood and water. What makes the Sudarium so interesting, however, is the recent discovery that both the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin are physically linked.

Section 1 – The Link between the Shroud and the Sudarium

The Sudarium has resided in the Cathedral town of Oviedo, in Northern Spain since the 11th Century. The most detailed study of the cloth was conducted by a Valencia based group, EDICES (Equipo de Investigacion del Centro Espanol de Sindonolgia) over three days in 1989. Its findings were published in Spanish. The lack of material on the Sudarium in the English language is alluded to by scholar Mark Guscin. He states that his book, The Oviedo Cloth, is the first to provide detailed information on the Sudarium in English.[3]

There is no doubt that the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo were in direct contact with each other at one time. Without this evidence, the Sudarium would be just another relic with a grand claim that was impossible to either prove or disprove. In this case, however, there is a concrete link between the two cloths. There exists compelling evidence they were used at the same time, at the same event, and to cover the same body.

Blood Stains

The first documented evidence of the similar characteristics between the Sudarium and the Shroud come from Italian priest and Shroud scholar, Mons. Guilio Ricci. The results of Ricci’s investigations were published in his books L’Uomo della Sindone e Jesu (Milan 1965) and in La Sindone Contestata, Difesa, Spiegata (Rome 1992).[4] Ricci highlights the exact matches in a number of areas of the Shroud and Sudarium; the size and shape of the nose, the beard, the forehead and blood stains on the back of the neck.[5]

The apparent bloodstains on the forehead of the man of the Shroud, seen illuminated from underneath © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The apparent bloodstains on the forehead of the man of the Shroud, seen illuminated from underneath
©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved

One of the strongest pieces of evidence linking the two cloths comes from Shroud expert and researcher, Dr Alan Whanger. Dr Whanger used a technique known as ‘Polarised Image Overlay’ to compare the image on the Shroud of Turin with old paintings of Jesus Christas. He concluded that specific characteristics matched between the paintings of Jesusas from the 6th and 7th Century and the image on the Shroud of Turin, supporting the theory that the Shroud was around and known to hundreds of people at that time. Dr Whanger used this same technique to compare the blood stains on the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin with startling results:

The frontal stains on the Sudarium show seventy points of coincidence with the Shroud, and the rear side shows fifty.[6]

Contrast Enhanced Shroud of Turin Facial Image as it appears on a photographic negative
The nose measures 8cm on both the Shroud and the Sudarium
© 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved

We know that the Sudarium and the Shroud covered the same body as there exists 120 points upon the two cloths that match exactly.[7]

The Nose Area

Another interesting observation about the nose area is that both the Sudarium and the Shroud contain a “high concentration of ground particles and dust”.[8] Scholars have speculated that this was due to the Roman tradition where by the condemned man carried his own cross to the place of crucifixion. There is evidence from the Gospels[9] that Jesusas was struggling to carry the cross, and it is likely had stumbled and fallen during the journey to Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion. As he would have fallen he would not have been able to protect his face from the impact; resulting in injuries to the nose and face. This is one possible explanation for the extra dust and dirt in this area, evident on both the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

Finally, on the similarity of the nose area of both cloths, the length of the nose has been discovered to be the same – eight centimetres or a little over three inches.

Pollen

One technique that produced strong results corroborating the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin was the collection and classification of pollen samples by Dr Max Frei. Dr Frei was able to identify pollen specific to certain regions of the world and create a map of areas the Shroud of Turin had been in. Dr Frei performed this same analysis on the Sudarium of Oviedo. The results matched the history of the Sudarium, with samples found from Oviedo, Toledo, North Africa and Jerusalem.

This form of pollen analysis is performed initially by applying sticky tape to the cloth in question. When examining the Shroud of Turin, Dr Frei was given permission to apply twelve strips of sticky tape to different parts of the Shroud’s surface.[10] The samples were then analysed under an electron microscope and they were identified through expert classification.

Professor Avinoam Danin, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that an examination of pollen traces along with floral imprints suggested they could only have come from plants growing in a restricted area around Jerusalem, and could date back to the time of Jesusas.[11] Two pollen grains of this same species were also found on the Sudarium.

Aloe and Myrrh

Another specific observation linking the Sudarium with the events of Jesus’as crucifixion and burial, relates to the presence of aloes and myrrh. Felipe Montero, an expert in working with electron microscopes, has found residues of what is most probably aloes and myrrh on the Sudarium.[12]

Dr Max Frei obtaining pollen samples from the Shroud of Turin. Dr Frei performed this same analysis on the Sudarium of Oviedo © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Dr Max Frei obtaining pollen samples from the Shroud of Turin. Dr Frei performed this same analysis on the Sudarium of Oviedo
© 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The presence of aloes and myrrh is mentioned explicitly in the Gospel of John. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are reported to have tended to Jesus’as body by night with a mixture of aloes and myrrh.[13] The presence of these herbs on the Sudarium is interesting, as it suggests the cloth would have come in contact with the body of Jesusas while aloe and myrrh were present on it.

The presence of aloe and myrrh connect the Gospel narrative with both the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud has also been found to contain aloe and myrrh.[14] It is unlikely that elements such as aloe and myrrh would be added to the cloths by any relic forger. These items are only traceable using modern scientific techniques. Evidence of the aloe and myrrh supports the authenticity of each cloth in relation to the Gospel of John, and provides another point of similarity between the two cloths.

Section 2 – The Sudarium and the Crucifixion

If the Sudarium was indeed used to cover Jesus’as face and head after the crucifixion, it can provide vital evidence about the events that took place. Modern day forensic techniques and detailed experimentation have shed unique light on the events of Jesus’as crucifixion as recorded by the Sudarium of Oviedo.

In 1994, at an international congress in Oviedo, Dr Jose Villalain, professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Valencia, presented his conclusions from over 6 thousand experiments aimed at reproducing the stains on the Sudarium.[15] Dr Villalain used a specially constructed model head, with tubes so that liquid could come out through the nostrils. Dr Villalain concluded from his simulations that the cloth was first placed on the head when the body was tilted seventy degrees forward and twenty degrees to the right, with the right arm touching the head. Scholars such as Mark Guscin are of the opinion that this coincides with what we would expect if it was placed on the head of Jesusas while he was still on the cross. According to the cloths, the man underneath was in an upright position at this point. The body was then placed face downward, at which point blood and liquid came out of the nose. Dr Villalain states the body was left like this for one hour. According to Dr Villalain, there is evidence that as the body was carried to the tomb the Sudarium was held to the face of the man. Actual finger marks are visible on the cloth which corroborate this.

If both the Sudarium and Shroud of Turin are genuine then we can be sure that the Sudarium would have been removed from the head of Jesusas prior to the Shroud being placed on the body. This can be concluded from the fact that had the Sudarium remained, the image on the face area of the Shroud would not have formed.[16] The Sudarium would have been used to cover the face while in transit, and when in the tomb it would have been removed prior to the Shroud being used.

This is consistent with the New Testament account of the discovery of the empty tomb in the Gospel of John, where both cloths are mentioned.[17]

If the cloths are genuine then the discussion about the events of the crucifixion would move away from scriptural debates, to a forensic investigation of the Shroud and Sudarium. One key test to determine the authenticity of the cloths is carbon dating. Radio carbon dating determines the age of ancient objects by means of measuring the amount of carbon there is left in an object. This is now the most widely used method of age estimation in the field of archaeology. What can carbon teach us about the Shroud and the Sudarium?

Section 3 – Dating the Shroud & the Sudarium

The fact that the Shroud and the Sudarium were together at one time not only authenticates the Sudarium but also crucially proves the authenticity of the Shroud itself.

Ever since the carbon dating results hit the world’s media on October 13, 1988, stating the Shroud dated from 1260 – 1390 CE, there has been a major debate concerning the Shroud’s age.

Several scholars have written about why the carbon dating result for the Shroud is incorrect, the most convincing being by Raymond Rogers.[18] He argues that it is possible that it dated from the 1st Century.

The link between the Sudarium and the Shroud however, casts major doubt over the accuracy of the carbon dating result. The Sudarium is known to have existed hundreds of years prior to the 1260 – 1390 dating result attributed to the Shroud. There is documented evidence, surviving to this day in the Capitular Archives of the cathedral in Oviedo, of the Sudarium being seen by King Alfonso VI and several others on March 14, 1075.[19] The ark containing the cloth was officially opened on this day, and the event recorded. Even in 1075, it is stated that the ark had been in the church for a long time.[20]

References to a Sudarium exist from as early as the Gospels themselves, but proving the Sudarium of Oviedo was the same Sudarium is difficult. The existence of the cloth in 1075, however, is something attested to and officially recorded.

Given the proof that the Sudarium and the Shroud covered the same body, and the proof that the Sudarium was definitely in existence in 1075, the carbon dating results of the Shroud of Turin have again been thrown in to doubt.

Despite this strong evidence, it is not possible to definitively prove that both the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin dated from the 1st Century. However, it is possible to conclude that given the proven connection between the cloths, the carbon dating result for the Shroud of Turin is incorrect.

Once the carbon dating result for the Shroud is discarded, the case for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin outweighs claims that it is some form of fake. The strong similarities between the Sudarium and the Shroud, mean the Sudarium now has a high probability of also being authentic.

Does the Sudarium Prove Jesusas Survived the Crucifixion?

A key reason for this magazine taking an interest in the Shroud of Turin is that several scholars have argued it proves Jesusas survived the crucifixion, thus validating the belief and teaching of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas. There are Shroud researchers who have reached this exact same conclusion based upon their study of the Shroud of Turin.[21] Those that have argued this viewpoint draw attention to the large amounts of blood on the Shroud, and highlight that it would take an active heart to produce this. Others have stated that for an even formation of the image, the body would need to have been at a constant temperature, again requiring a living body. However, the scholars that hold this view concerning the Shroud are in a minority, and this is un-surprising given that it is a Catholic relic and the vast majority of those who have taken an interest in researching it come from a Christian background. Does the Sudarium shed any light on the question of Jesusas surviving the crucifixion?

The writings on the Sudarium are very limited, as the Sudarium has no dramatic image and the strong link between the Shroud and Sudarium has not been widely publicised to date. The key expert on the Sudarium is Mark Guscin. It is very clear that one of his motivations for writing his book, The Oviedo Cloth, was to refute claims by other scholars that Jesusas survived the crucifixion. He brings up the subject in the very opening of his book[22] and concludes on the same subject. The last chapter in his book is entitled The Shroud, Christianity and the Modern World, and aims at addressing all those who have questioned Orthodox Christian belief through study of the Shroud and claimed that Jesusas survived the crucifixion. Guscin passionately argues against this thesis at every opportunity in his book. What does the evidence show?

The reconstruction of events as presented by Guscin, include a whole hour when the body of Jesusas had been taken down from the cross, but not yet placed in the Shroud. The existence of blood on the Sudarium, followed by more blood on the Shroud itself in the same areas, indicates an active heart and an active flow of blood at the point when Jesusas was placed in the Shroud in the tomb. Guscin tries to address this item in his final chapter, arguing how blood can be found in meat at a butcher’s shop when it is cut. However, this does not explain the specific blood flows clearly shown on the Shroud of Turin. Any proponents of the theory that the Shroud shows Jesusas died upon the cross would need to explain how and why the Shroud was soaked in blood.

Conclusion

The Sudarium provides strong, independent evidence for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. If the Shroud is a fake, then the Sudarium must also be so. This makes the job of any potential forger close to impossible. The two cloths authenticate and validate each other and together they provide a strong case for being the original burial cloths of Jesusas.

The Sudarium of Oviedo is not commonly known or discussed. The books and research that does exist on the cloth come largely from those with Christian beliefs. The material currently written on the Sudarium follows a very orthodox, Christian narrative about the events of the crucifixion. Those scholars who are open to alternative theories or histories, have not yet studied and published works on the Sudarium.

Once the Sudarium is studied by a range of scholars, I expect to see more material to argue that the Sudarium supports the belief that Jesusas survived the crucifixion. When they do, I anticipate strong rebuttals of this belief as we now have for the Shroud of Turin. I hope that as more people learn about these two fascinating cloths, it will lead to more objective research and that those that perform this are brave enough to present their findings without religious bias or concern about their conclusions.

About the author: Arif Khan is a London based researcher and writer, most noted for his work as Editor of the Tomb of Jesus Website (www.tombofjesus.com).The website has become the online centre for Jesus in India studies since its launch in December 1999, bringing together research material from Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist sources in a rich multimedia experience. Arif appears in Paul Davids’ 2008 film, Jesus in India, providing analysis on a number of topics including the theory that Jesus survived the Crucifixion and the Lost Tribes of Israel in India. Arif is currently The Review of Religions Deputy Editor of the Christianity Section.

 

endnotes

1.John, 20:6-7.

2.“Sweat,” Bible Hub, http://biblehub.com/dictionary/s/sweat.htm.

3.Mark Guscin, “Foreward,” in The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998).

4.Janice Bennett, Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo – New Evidence for the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin (Ignatius Press, 2001), 17.

5.Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998), 28-32.

6.Ibid., 32.

7.Ibid., 32.

8.Ibid., 28.

9.Mark, 15:21.

10.Barrie Schwortz and Ian Wilson, The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., 2000), 81-83.

11.“Plants Shed Light on Turin Shroud,” BBC News, August 3, 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/411366.stm.

12.Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998), 56.

13.John, 19:39-40.

14.P. L. Baima Bollone and A. Gaglio, Shroud Spectrum International 13 (1984): 3-8.

15.Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998), 51-57.

16.Ibid., 34.

17.John, 20:6-7.

18.Arif Khan, “The Shroud of Turn,” The Review of Religions, August, 2010, http://reviewreligion.wpengine.com/2451/the-shroud-of-turin/.

19.Mark Guscin, The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998), 17.

20.Ibid., 18.

21.Arif Khan, “The Shroud of Turn,” The Review of Religions, August, 2010, http://reviewreligion.wpengine.com/2451/the-shroud-of-turin/.

22.Mark Guscin, “Preface,” in The Oviedo Cloth (Cambridge: The Luttenworth Press, 1998).

 

2 Comments

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  • If the Sudarium and Shroud match at 120 points, could they even have been on the face at the same time? Some theories for the formation of the negative image on the Shroud do not even need it to be in direct contact with the skin so it may be that the Sudarium was still present. That might also explain why the disciple was still looking for it in the tomb?

  • Thank you: another detailed and informative article. I wonder if Mary Magdalene’s non-recognition of Jesus after resurrection/resuscitation, mistaking him for the gardener, might be a clue to to his body having been bruised and beaten, possibly also still being somewhat dishevilled from his ordeal.