The Definitive Shroud of Turin FAQ

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What of the appeal of the emperor Alexios to Robert of Flanders?

One of the most frequently cited references to a burial cloth of Christ (quite certainly, the very same cloth that was the Image of Edessa after it arrived in Constantinople) is a written appeal from the emperor Alexios Komnenos to Robert of Flanders asking for help to protect Constantinople’s valuable relics including the cloth found in the sepulcher after the resurrection. This letter, however, must be treated with caution and its significance as evidence held in check. It is the only one of several references where such caution is in order. Nonetheless, it warrants consideration.

In 1081, Constantinople found itself threatened on two sides. The Seljuk Turks were applying pressure in the east. In the west, Norman troops led by Robert Guiscard had conquered Palermo in Sicily and there were clear indications that he might move on other territories closer to the Byzantine capital. Faced with these threats and internal political problems caused by an empire in decline, the Byzantine army chose one of its own, Alexios Komnenos, as emperor.  While he did have some successes in reducing threats to the empire, the threats remained very real and he made appeals to Pope Urban II and others in Europe for help. These appeals are generally seen as significant reason for the Crusades. Here is an excerpt from the appeal to Robert of Flanders:

So, for the love of God and piety of all Greek Christians, we beg you to bring here whatever warriors true to Christ you can find in your lands, the powerful, the less powerful and the insignificant, to help me and the Greek Christians; just as you largely free Galicia and the other kingdoms of the West from pagan rule last year, now let your warriors try to free the kingdom of the Greeks for the salvation of their souls. Although I am Emperor I still do not know how to find any recourse or suitable way forward; I constantly flee the Turks and Petchenegs and stay in each city in turn until I know they are on their way. I would much rather bow down to your Latin shrines that those of pagans.

Therefore, you should make every effort to stop them capturing Constantinople, thus ensuring that you will gain the joy of glorious and ineffable mercy in Heaven. Given the immensely precious relics of the Lord to be found in Constantinople, better that you should have it than the pagans.

“Here is a list,” Alexios then wrote in the letter.  “The cloth found in the sepulcher after the resurrection,” was one of the items mentioned. It was one of many items in a long list. It is this list that gives us reason to be cautious.  It is probably a forgery but historically significant nonetheless.

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