The Definitive Shroud of Turin FAQ

the shroud draws you in, doesn't let go, and reveals itself gradually

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How significant is the size of the Shroud to understanding its history?

Very important. The Turin Shroud is about fourteen feet long and three and a half feet wide. As a burial shroud it is long enough on which to lay the body of a man on his back with his feet at one end and his head near the middle. The cloth is long enough to bring it across the front of body and back down to his feet.  Its width is enough to cover him completely if his arms are not extended.

The earliest reference may be the Hymn of the Pearl, often attributed by scholars to Bardesane of Edessa, a Gnostic poet, perhaps as early as A.D. 216. This poems describes Jesus’ burial garment with two images, front and back. In the late 6th century, Evagrius Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History mentions that Edessa was protected by a “divinely wrought portrait” (acheiropoieton) sent by Jesus to Abgar, the king of Edessa.

A 6th century apocryphal text, the Acts of Thaddeus describes the “divinely wrought portrait”  as an large image-bearing cloth. It describes the cloth as a tetradiplon, meaning folded into fours doubled (a fold of eight layers). A fourteen-foot long cloth, thus folded, would be just about the right size for a portrait. Moreover, the Acts goes on to use the word sindon. This is important for it is the word sindon is used in the synoptic Gospels for burial shroud.

In A.D. 730, John of Damascus, a priest and monk who served as an advisor to the Muslim Caliph of Damascus, wrote his famous Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images.  He describes the same cloth as a himation.  An himation was a long rectangular cloth worn as sleeveless garment in ancient Greece and well into the middle Byzantine era. Similar to a toga, but shorter, it was often used as a garment in iconography of Christ or other biblical persons.

One of the illationes used in a late 7th century rite, The Mozarabic Rite speaks of an imaged cloth: “Peter ran with John to the tomb and saw the recent imprints of the dead and risen man on the linens.” Pope Stephen II, who reigned from 752 to 757, wrote that Christ had “spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvelous as it is to see . . . the glorious image of the Lord's face, and the length of his entire and most noble body, has been divinely transferred.”

On August 16, 944, the very day after the image-bearing cloth arrived in Constantinople from Edessa, Gregory Referendarius, the archdeacon of Constantinople’s great cathedral, Hagia Sophia, gave a sermon in which he described the cloth as having the likeness of a man with a side wound, a clear reference to a full body image.

There are many references to it after that that clearly support the case that a large, shroud-size cloth with an image believed to be that of Jesus, was brought from Edessa and was kept in Constantinople for about 250 years.

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