Post-classical history


Against all Heresies

A map of butchery

Because of its unique properties, the Shroud of Turin was an object that could leave an indelible mark on the spirituality of a religious order such as the Templars: and that is exactly what happened.

The cloth’s most singular feature is that on one of its faces can be seen the image and imprint of an individual, corresponding and practically fused together: they return the outline of a man as if he had been wrapped in them. This is an adult but youthful person, drawn up in the rigor mortis that is typical of cadaveric muscle in the first few hours after death, and bears everywhere the marks of several traumas and violence. This man wrapped in the cloth, whoever he was, had been slaughtered. Beside the numerous wounds that cover the whole body surface, we know that his face was struck repeatedly and with great violence: his nose was broken to the extent of showing a discomposed fracture, and streaks of blood flowed from the wound and soaked the linen. The right side of the face is completely swollen.[1]

The print on the shroud is made mainly of blood, sweat, a mixture of aromatic oils, the traces of earth we already mentioned, and probably also bits of skin torn off during the tortures: all these substances have been left on the sheet by direct contact, that is when the body was shrouded. The blood is human AB group, as shown by a team of forensic medicinal experts led by Pier Luigi Baima Bollone, the Professor of Legal Medicine at the University of Turin; it contains a large amount of bilirubin, as happens in subjects who have suffered a violent death. The blood imprint near the face seems connected to the unusual phenomenon of “sweating blood”; it is a rare process that is found when a person suffers a tremendous emotional shock, which causes the skin’s blood vessels to dilate and cause a kind of haemorrhage in the sweat glands. Near the cranium can be seen the marks of 13 wounds inflicted by sharp objects of the same kind, arranged over the upper part of the head to form a kind of helm or head-cover, which caused several lines of coagulated blood. They are also present in the face area, where a curious flow stands out where the blood has taken; it shows an abundant flow, for it comes from a break in the frontal vein, while the unusual shape results from its coagulation over a forehead already contracted in furrows by atrocious suffering. Several analyses have found that the haemorrhages, which the sheet touched, come in part from wounds inflicted when the man was alive, and in part from when he was already dead. The rivulets of blood described took place mainly while the victim was still in a vertical position. Examination of the blood flow and of its characteristics seems to have proved that the man was placed in the sheet no more than two and a half hours after death.[2]

When ultra-violet light is shone on the cloth, it shows the person’s entire body covered with a large number of lacerated and contused wounds (save the ones to the face and to the area of the heart) inflict while the subject was naked; these wounds are placed with a certain symmetry in groups of sixes, as if an object with six spikes had been used to strike the man a great many times, possibly 120. In the shoulder-blade area, these wounds, after having been inflicted, have been further expanded and scratched as if a large and rigid object had been viciously rubbed over the back, causing lacerations of the skin near the bone protrusions. All these wounds and excoriations draw many stains of blood, as does the hole in the left wrist, placed to cover the right one which is unseen, and in the feet.

The holes near the wrists and feet, the contracted posture of the chest and of the thigh muscles, the rips left by a large and stiff support on the back, indicate that the man was executed by crucifixion, a form of capital punishment practiced in antiquity by several peoples including Assyrians, Celts and Romans.

It amounted to fastening a man to a pole by various means and waiting for him to die over a long time and after indescribable suffering; the tears on the back suggest that the condemned man had to bear for some time an object shaped like a patibulum, a large wooden beam that was anchored to the pole and served to fix the body so as to make it impossible for the victim to move. In the time of the Persian King Darius (522-485 a.C.) people were executed by impaling, but later it became common to nail the condemned man’s hands and feet to the wood: a passage of the book of Isaiah, who lived between VIII and VII centuries BC, and above all a verse in Psalm 22 (“They have pierced my hands and my feet) already seem to point to this practice of nailing, which was later (III century BC – I d.C.) to become a sadly common affair, as shown among other things by fragments from the excavations of Qumran.[3]

In June 1968, north of Jerusalem in the area called Giv’at ha-Mivtar, a family grave of impressive dimensions was found, holding the bones of nearly twenty persons; an ossuary held the remains of a man crucified at about thirty years of age. A nail was still driven into the bone of the heel, and it had not been possible to draw it out as he was taken down from the cross, because it had bent inwards.[4]

Under the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC) crucifixion became tragically commonplace, falling briefly into disuse in the reign of Herod the Great (39-4 BC) only to then be brought back by the Roman legate Publius Quintilius Varus. Romans practised this kind of execution very early, reserving it for public or solemn executions of persons who did not enjoy the protection of Roman citizenship, major public enemies who had committed extremely serious crimes or had placed public order at risk; the case of the revolt of slaves led by Spartacus had become famous – after the revolt, it had been decided to inflict an exemplary punishment on the rebels, and the crosses on which they had died had lined miles upon miles of Via Appia. According to the Greek historians Polybius and Plutarch, it was reserved for those convicted of crimes against the State; Cicero and Livy say that Romans regarded it as the most cruel and disgraceful of penalties. The enormous agonies suffered by the condemned excited the same ugly pleasure that drove the Roman people to gladiator games, and when these public shows also featured some crucifixions, the advertising mentioned it as if it was a special treat to get the public in, no different from distributions of fruit and money. Crucifixion was chosen when political enemies had to be got rid of, because it added appalling suffering to the insult of an infamous death, and the history of the Jewish people includes many cases of this kind, cases in which it was desired to make punishment spectacular by turning it into a ghastly mass display. In 162 BC, high priest Alkimos had 60 devout Jews who opposed him crucified in a single day, while King Alexander Iannaeus in 88 BC had as many as 800 Pharisees killed. No more than 13 years later, 80 other people suffered the same fate under charges of sorcery.[5]

In crucifixion by nailing of limbs, the condemned man tended to die by asphyxia, for the body weight pushed the ribcage downward and only allowed him to breathe in, while breathing out demanded motions that caused intolerable pain. The presence of the several secondary wounds informs us that it was a crucifixion carried out in the Roman fashion, that is by having the actual execution follow an additional form of torture, flagellation: the victim was struck with the flagrum, a whip with a wooden handle and leather strips at whose ends were sticks of bone or wood with points at both ends. Violently enough handled, these stings were literally able to rip skin off. No known description of Roman usage, on the other hand, can be connected with the two other outrages suffered by this individual: whatever it was that caused the multiple wounds over the cranium, and the wound between the fifth and sixth rib on the right of the chest, was caused by a pointed and cutting weapon. That wound may be connected with the fact that the condemned man did not have his legs broken, a Jewish practice meant to hasten the convict’s death and be able to bury them before the end of the day according to a precept in Deuteronomy. Such alterations to normal practice could be explained by the Gospel account: the trial of Jesus of Nazareth took place in a unique socio-political context, and for that reason his burial too did not follow the usual practice.[6]

The “belt of blood” and the “sign of Jonas”

The most glaring of all the blood marks can be found on the right side of the chest, near the fifth space between the ribs. It was caused by a large wound, 4.5 cm long and 1.5 cm broad, with straight and slightly spread margins, typical of a wound inflicted by a pointed weapon used for cutting. The big blood flow that followed it and soaked the cloth went down the side and ended up colouring the whole breadth of the back, creating a horizontal stripe; this glaring red-brown streak is even more visible to the eye when the back imprint of the Shroud is looked at; because of its shape and the impression it makes, the specialists called it “the belt of blood”. The abundance of the blood flow suggests that the wound caused a break in the lung or in the upper right ventricle of the heart; furthermore it was found that this blood has broken down into its two components, that is the serum and the blood particles (red globules), which never happens except after death. The wound that ripped the chest open was made when the man was already a corpse.[7]

Modern historians are in the habit of looking at the Shroud with the eyes of science, that is in the light of the countless chemical and physical analyses carried out more or less ceaselessly on it since the early nineteen hundreds; but we have to take a step back and try to understand how men from the Middle Ages saw it. From the tear in the ribs, just where the spear had struck, Jesus according to the gospel of John, the signs of a huge haemorrhage were visible. The blood had flowed down the side, drenching the cloth all the breadth of the thorax, from side to side. Deep red on the ivory white of the linen, this sign leapt to the eye, glaring, awesome.

To those who used to listen to the story of the Passion, as the Templars did, the belt of blood must have held an immense fascination. Could this “belt”, red with blood, be something which the Templars tried to represent with the little strand they bore on their bodies every day? Their belts had once been consecrated by touching the stone of the Sepulchre that had received the body of Jesus and seen his resurrection. And the shroud, too, according to tradition, had shrouded Jesus’ body and had “experienced” his rise from death, but with something extra: a bit of his blood still rested on the material. For a mediaeval man, this was priceless: later on, the Franciscan theologian Francesco della Rovere, later to be Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), pointed to the Shroud of Turin, in his treatiseDe Corpore et Sanguine Christi, would point exactly to the Shroud of Turin as the relic of the Lord’s true blood.[8]

As we mentioned, in St. Bernard’s time the Templars’ belt had a merely symbolic value, representing the vow of chastity; then during the twelve hundreds, this meaning was as though forgotten and replaced with a loftier, almost theological one: the belt is consecrated through contact with relics and material places that have witnessed the earthly life of Jesus, it is therefore impregnated with a special sacred power and gives the monks who wear it a material contact with the human dimension of Christ. I am certain (as I have already said) that the special night ceremonies the Templars carried out by the Holy Sepulchre were vigils of prayer during which the dignitaries consecrated by contact the linen strands that would then be given to all future order members, a guarantee of protection against the enemies of body and soul. I would not be surprised at all if one day new documents were to show that the great reputation enjoyed by the Templar dignitaries in their time as profound experts in relics also depended on the fact that benefactors of the order often asked them to consecrate certain objects – rings, handkerchiefs and so on – during those same liturgies at the Sepulchre, to make them in turn relics as precious as Templar strands. We know for certain that the King of France, Louis IX the Saint, had exactly that done, and who knows how many others did.[9]

By coming into contact with stone that had been present at the resurrection of Christ, the belt somehow absorbed its potency, and was itself a guarantee of resurrection for the Templar willing to live and die according to the spirit of the Order. In 1187 Jerusalem was lost, and we can only guess at what a terrible blow this was to Templar morale. Then, one day, along comes this unbelievable piece of cloth, with the marks of a man who had been literally butchered exactly as Jesus had been, according to the Gospels. The most authoritative tradition describes it as the true winding-sheet of Christ. What can be seen on that sheet is not only terribly realistic, it is even embarrassing: indeed, it forces Christians to reflect.

Mediaeval man interpreted some things in a much clearer way than we can today. The corpse that was wrapped in the Shroud was wholly stiff, its neck collapsed on its chest, the fingers extended, the muscles at full tension. Such rigor mortis occurs between one to three hours following death, and becomes complete by about ten to 12, and fades away after 36 to 48, because natural decomposition begins to set in.[10]

Mediaeval men were aware of such matters as it was part of their life. The bodies of their beloved dead were often exhibited on a bed in the house and stayed there, surrounded by lit candles, for many hours, under the eyes of relatives who honoured the dead with long vigils of prayer which neighbours also attended. Bodies of Popes and other important figures were exhibited in the churches for several days, so that everyone was able to give them a last farewell. And then there was the sad and ghastly sight of battlefields, where unburied corpses could stay for indeterminate amounts of time, touched by jackal thieves, and by the poor in search of something however useful, before some merciful passer-by saw them somehow buried. Mediaeval man would know at first sight that that man had been inside the Shroud only for a definite time, that is no more than two or three days; for the mark had been made before rigor mortis had begun to pass off and flesh to naturally dissolve. Their minds must have gone straight to the words of the Gospels: “For it is written that the Christ was to suffer first, and be raised from the dead on the third day”.[11]

In the language of Scripture, this was called the “sign of Jonah”, with reference to the episode of Jonah who had spent three days inside the belly of a whale. Jesus had used this comparison to announce his death and coming resurrection, and in Christian art the symbolic tale of Jonah coming out of the mouth of the sea monster had always been widely popular, since it allowed the artist’s fantasy to run wild. It was also an excellent way to inculcate the mystery of the resurrection to simple and unlettered people.[12]

The Templars belonged to a religious order and followed the liturgies of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre: their daily lives were timed by a fixed cycle of hours during which they listened to readings of the Old Testament and the gospels. They knew perfectly what the “Sign of Jonah” was, and its exact meaning; if they saw the image on the shroud, the unbelievable realism of that tense and tormented body must have roused emotions beyond what we can guess. Even in Constantinople, the sight of the ribs must have roused profound emotion and astonishment, as shown by the words of Gregory the Referendarius, who first saw the image in 944 when the mandylion was taken from its holder and subjected to in-depth investigation to ensure it was the right item to take to the capital; to the Templars, if anything, the shock was even stronger, because the order had been established for the armed defence of Christians, and in its own specific ideology lay the idea that the Templar who died to save the weaker was imitating the sufferings of Christ. During the Cyprus trial, a layman appeared in defence of the Templars and explained it all with exemplary clarity to the commissioner bishops, remembering the sacrifice made by Grand Master Guillaume de Beaujeu, who had practically let himself be killed to cover the retreat of others: “he preferred to die to defend the Catholic faith, and chose to pour his blood for Christ against the enemies of the faith just as Christ did for our redemption”.[13]

About one-quarter of the length of the Shroud, there is another series of holes that also seem arranged to mirror each other on both sides, because they also come from a burn that took place while the sheet was folded. They are four holes, three in a row and one further on the side. Already in the past it had been noticed that a shroud with this exact kind of holes is represented in a miniature of the striking Pray manuscript, a codex made between 1192 and 1195 in a Benedictine Abbey, well known among scholars for containing the first written testimonies of the Hungarian language. A recent study by Marcel Alonso, Éric de Bazelaire and Thierry Castex has brought out the fact that the miniature of the three Marys visiting the sepulchre tells the story rather oddly: the angel shows the women the shroud that had covered Jesus’ face, fallen to one side, while the larger shroud is still found stretched out on the stone where the body had lain. In typical XII century fashion, the artist shows the shroud cloth with an upper face in fishbone weave, and on which can be noticed four holes in the very same shape they bear in the Turin cloth; on the back, there is a white lining decorated with many red Greek crosses like those which were the badge and the pride of the Templars.[14] It’s an interesting clue that suggests that in Constantinople too they attached a lining to the Shroud to increase its consistency, like they were to do in the 1500s in Chambéry; but nobody says that that motif in closely drawn red crosses should necessarily be connected with the order of the Temple. In fact, it was a symbolic decoration widely used in Constantinople: a lovely icon from the 1300s which represents Christ as Supreme Pontiff, shows his sumptuous liturgical dress studded with crosses just like those in the Pray codex miniature, and many other Saints’ figures in Byzantine icons with that typical design of many closely drawn crosses. More than any direct contact with the Templars, what these ornamental motifs in the Pray codex confirm is that in 1192-1195 the Shroud was still in the possession of the Emperor of Byzantium; but that does not make the idea of any connection with the Templar Order wholly absurd. The Templars had a special funerary custom, which allowed the monk who had lived with honour the privilege of being buried in a linen shroud on which was woven a red woollen cloth cross, the Greek cross patent that was the badge and honour of the order. It was a local and uncommon habit, since in Western monasticism monks were generally buried in the usual habit of their order.[15]

We don’t know at present whether the abbey where the Pray codex was made had any special link with the Temple, but it is certain that the Templars had several establishments in the area; furthermore, they were familiar with the Byzantine court, since some of their dignitaries had been employed by Byzantine emperors in delicate diplomatic missions.[16]

At any rate, the miniatures of the Pray codex represent a first-rate avenue of research in the early history of the Shroud. They represent the burial of Christ with unusual realism for the period: Joseph of Arimathea takes an already stiff corpse down from the cross, places it naked on the shroud, and cannot compose the hands over the pubis properly because they were still spread out in the cross posture. This corresponds exactly to what may be seen of the man of the Shroud; considering the stiffness of the muscle, to place the hands one over the other they must in all likelihood have bound his wrists together.[17]

Another major fact is that the Jesus of the Pray codex has hands whose thumbs cannot be seen. This is alien to the whole tradition of Christian iconography, and can only be derived from the Shroud, in which the thumb, exactly, is folded inward – hence invisible – by the damage caused to the median nerve by the nail. This surprising detail, together with the fishbone weave and the four holes in a pattern, means that the author of the miniatures was not meaning to draw any kind of shroud, but intended to make an exact depiction of the Shroud of Turin, an individual and extremely famous object, unique and with unmistakeable details. The Pray miniature, in short, contains an identikit of the Shroud as it appeared in the eleventh century to pilgrims – one of whom was probably the ancient miniaturist – who had the privilege to see it exhibited in Constantinople on the occasion of very solemn ceremonies, garnished with a precious lining bearing the signs of high priesthood according to Byzantine religious culture. It should be noted that the King of Hungary, Béla III, had married the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180). These are facts of overwhelming historical importance: the Pray code is much older than the age suggested by a 1988 radio-carbon test on the Shroud. It seems clear that something went wrong with that test, possibly a simple lack of essential data.

To finish with, we do not currently have any certain information on the moment the Templars took possession of the Shroud, nor do we know precisely when it passed into other hands; most likely, the politically-demanded forced dissolution of the order in 1312, and then the death of the last Grand Master at the stake, forced it into the hands of other guardians. There are on the other hand no doubts that the Shroud, thanks to its unique properties, left ineffaceable traces on the Templars’ spirituality and liturgical uses: traces already pointed out by Ian Wilson in 1978, and which led to similar beliefs by Malcolm Barber and Francesco Tommasi, two great scholars in Templar history. Systematic investigations into the Templar trial in recent years have done nothing but confirm their intuitions. And maybe they allow us to say a little more still.


The Shroud’s cloth carries traces of aloe and myrrh, substances used in antiquity to help the preservation of dead bodies: they could be bound together to form an oily anointing substance, or else used as powders to spread over the corpse. According to some investigators, these substances had a basic role in the mechanism that allowed the forming of the strange image. The traces of humus already mentioned can be found near the heels, typical of a body that had walked without shoes, and near the right knee, where the image also shows a noticeable swelling, as if the person had fallen and hit the ground viciously; since the same humus has also been found near the tip of the nose, it has been deduced that the victim must have tumbled down without a chance of covering his face with his hands.[18] This is also a detail that must make historians reflect. None of the four gospels speaks of Jesus falling during the climb to Golgotha; but in the special liturgy of the Via Crucis, celebrated during Holy Week, it is remembered that Jesus fell to earth under the weight of the Cross no less than three times. The glaring swelling visible on the man in the Shroud’s knee and face could give great credibility to the notion of several falls to the ground, and this might even suggest that the Holy Week liturgy had been affected by the examination of this astonishing object, taken in the past for an undoubtedly genuine relic. From what we know, the Via Crucis was born in Syria-Palestine from a very ancient local tradition first given fixed shape by St. Petronius in the fifth century. Later, during the Crusades, the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem played a major part in popular devotion: a special staged pilgrimage in the places of Jerusalem where the Passion had taken place. Later still, towards the end of the Middle Ages, this liturgy was greatly encouraged by Franciscan and Carmelite friars. All its “stations” recall facts mentioned in the Gospels, except for three: Jesus’ meeting with his mother, the merciful gesture of Veronica in drying his bleeding face, and the three falls. These are believed to actually come from the popular religious tradition of Jerusalem, a wealth of traditions probably handed down in the local Christian community from father to son.[19]

The two images – front and back – present in the Shroud, are found exactly above this big mark left by blood, sweat and other substances such as myrrh and aloe; it was formed after all these compounds had entered and soaked the cloth. As pointed out earlier, it has the singular feature of being visible only if the observer stands at a distance from two to nine metres from the unfolded sheet: any closer or farther off, and the human eye can only see featureless bloodstains. What is seen is the outline of a tall adult male, presumably 170-180 cm, with a long lean figure, and well-defined muscles, possibly in part because of the cadaveric rigidity already discussed. The subject must have been between 30 and 40; to judge from the lack of fat in his physique, he did not eat much and was used to manual labour. His neck is wholly collapsed forwards, with his chin touching his sternum, his chest has stiffened while being flexed forwards, and his legs also seem slightly folded; his arms are stretched along his sides, while forearms and hands, one over the other, are joined to cover the pubes. Neither hand’s imprint shows the thumb, and this (as I mentioned) is probably to do with the wound in the centre of the wrist: the object that pierced it also damaged the median nerve, and the finger reflexively bent completely towards the inside of the hand. The feet are also slightly superimposed, and the right foot seems almost crushed against the cloth, as if cadaveric rigidity had set in as the man found himself with this foot attached for the whole of its length to a hard and vertical surface. The man wore a moustache and a middle-length beard that seems to be parted in the middle and was in part torn off; his long hair reached to his shoulder and joined along the axis of his back in a sort of pigtail, while on the side of the face it appears slightly lifted rather than falling straight down, just as if it had been corrected by some support.[20]

In May 1898, Secondo Pia, a Turin lawyer, took some photographs of the Shroud, and the result was an absolute shock: it became evident, for the first time, that the sheet acted like a photographic negative. That pale, indistinct, yellowish image perceived by the naked eye, is changed by photography into a clear, hyper-realistic picture, full of striking detail. The image is indelible, it has not been painted on and it is not due to any kind of dye. There is no trace of brushstrokes. The sepia colour is due to the fact that the thin surface linen fibres have yellowed thanks to a process of oxidation, dehydration and conjugation of the cellulose molecules that make up linen threads; the phenomenon only affected the fibre itself to an infinitesimal depth (125 micron), leaving the rest untouched, so that the image cannot be seen from the back of the cloth. In about a century of studies, hundreds of analyses and experiments had been carried out, among them many intended to duplicate the image through various techniques. Scientists started very early to try and produce new “Shrouds” by various devices, managing only to produce copies that have, at most, a few of the original’s very strange properties. These attempts are praiseworthy and indeed very useful so long as they are carried out scientifically, for they allow us to discard fruitless procedures and channel energies towards more profitable directions; alas, it often happens that they are exploited for cheap and tawdry commercial ends, nothing less than swindles at the expense of a passionate public without the scientific education to defend itself from fraudsters. From time to time some occasional writer will emerge out of nowhere, fabricate a dirty rag, and write a book of sensational revelations accompanied by much advertising.[21]

One of these mystifications even claimed to prove that the Shroud bore the image of the last Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay. This barely deserves my time to mention it; the reader’s intelligence can judge it for itself. Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake on a small island in the Seine, in Paris, at sunset on 18 March 1314. His body was reduced to ashes, and we know from an eyewitness that the commoners of Paris fought to take away some of the ashes from that pyre, which they regarded as the mighty relics of a saint. And another thing: when he died, Jacques de Molay was about 64, at a time when old age began at 60, and had spent his last seven years in the horrors of Philip the Fair’s dungeons. The man whose imprint was left in the shroud was indubitably young and strong, no more than 40.[22]

The advances of IT have recently allowed new directions to such studies, making possible kinds of images that were once not so much as conceivable. It has been discovered that the Shroud is not even a photograph. Unlike photographs, the image contains three-dimensional information within itself. It is a kind of optical projection, reminiscent of holography in some ways. It is certain that the image has been formed after the end of the flow of blood, so that the Shroud carries no image beneath the bloodstains. The new frontier of research points in the direction of certain theories that seem particularly probable. The most studied concerns the effect of a very strong and very short (a few hundredths of a second) burst of radiation, capable of leaving an impression on the cloth and oxidize its fibres without however burning them; that model would explain many things that otherwise find no reason to exist, for instance that the intensity of the image was derived by the distance it was from the body. Many hypotheses have been made over time about the formation of the very strange image of that man; the fact remains however that no scientist has thus far managed to reproduce an object with the same features as the Shroud. The phenomenon remains unknown. The various attempts to explain, though scientifically very important, remain purely theoretical models.

New hypotheses have also recently been opened concerning the controversial radio-carbon dating. The physicist Christopher Bronk Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit – that is, one of the three labs that had been given the task of dating the shroud – has said the carbon dating test should be re-evaluated. In an interesting recent interview with the BBC, he has clarified how far technology has progressed since the start of the test on the Shroud, and today the method seems far more trustworthy than before. The procedure is based on measuring the amount of carbon left on an archaeological find to be dated. Carbon is an element found in every organic matter, and diverse varieties of it exist; the most widespread in living matter (equal to 98.89%) is made of atoms whose nucleus is made of six protons and six neutrons, but there are also different types such as carbon 13 (whose nucleus bears six protons and seven neutrons) and, exactly, carbon 14, whose nucleus is made of six protons and eight neutrons. Both carbon 13 and carbon 14 are isotopes of the most widespread kind, and C14 is unstable, that is naturally radioactive: as time goes on, it slowly disintegrates, and during this process it lets out an electron and a neuter particle (neutrino). C14 is found in the atmosphere, and all living beings continuously absorb it; when the organism dies, absorption ceases and its remains start slowly losing the radio-carbon which is no longer being reintegrated. Looking at the speed of decay of C14 over time, and if it is possible to measure how much C14 is left in a certain find, then it is possible to work how long ago the organism from which that find comes from died: for instance, it is theoretically possible to go back to the period when the fibre used to make a cotton cloth was harvested. But though its working principle is quite simple in and of itself, its measurement turns out to be extremely complex. With the old method we had to measure the atoms decayed in a given period of time, making sure not to include into the measurement other atomic decays that are present but have nothing to do with the test (for instance, background radiation in the environment). There is a second method to make the count, but neither is wholly foolproof; indeed, every measurement has a built-in margin of doubt, and many possible interferences may alter the result.[23] It is very rare that an archaeological find remains free from contact with the world after it has been made; in general, objects come into contact with people or substances just because they are used. Our fathers had an excellent habit of recycling objects several times over, practically until they utterly wore out. Even the very rich never threw anything away: a mediaeval lady’s dress would be inherited by her daughter, and eventually perhaps presented to a church that got a priest’s liturgical vestments out of it. When it really was too worn for any use, it was cut up for household rags; and when the rags were beyond use, they were still used to make paper.

That cotton cloth we used as an example may have passed through any amount of incarnations: worn, dyed with vegetable or animal dyes, used to clean the household, to make the stopper of an amphora of oil proof against leaks, maybe even as swaddling clouts for a new-born baby: each of which brought it into contact with other living beings or other organic material, and each time it might have absorbed C14 of alien origin. In actual fact, radio-carbon is only one of many scientific methods used to try and date a find; it is neither better nor worse than the others, and indeed in some situations it proves wholly unsuitable. Experts in the field know famous tales of C14 dating with absurd, even ludicrous results; for instance, the prehistoric site at Jarmo was tested four times and had four different results, starting with 4,700 BC, then 10,000 BC, again 7,000 BC and finally 6,000 BC. Some primitive caribou bone tools from Old Crown, Alaska, were carbon-dated, and turned out to be from 27,000 years ago; the experts, unhappy with the result because the archaeological exam suggested a much more recent date, went into the matter in more depth – and found that the dating came from material from the external part of the bone, and testing again the internal, possibly less contaminated, part, the result was a much more modest 1,350 years earlier. No doubt the most amusing case was the one that struck the laboratory at Tucson, Arizona: a helmet from a Viking tomb – a well-researched kind of site whose dating and typology can be generally guessed with some accuracy – whose every other aspect asked to have it dated to the 10th century AD, but the radio-carbon test informed the scientists that the cow whose horns decorated the helmet was yet to be born! These are of course paradoxical cases, which are however very useful to scientists, because they show how easy it is to go monumentally off the trail even when you are using the finest technology available. You may carry out the test in the most textbook fashion, but the absence of essential data can totally compromise the result.[24]

Doubts had been gathering over the Shroud’s C-14 dating almost from the moment the results were published. Some denounced the whole procedure as approximate and lacking in scientific rigour. Even scientists outside the fray had noticed that the approach had been, to say the least, unusual: no notes or minutes had been taken during the collection of samples, which laboratories always do because all kinds of unexpected things can happen during the work and must later be taken into consideration; the specific weight of the samples taken (300 mg) was nearly double the Shroud’s average specific weight for that surface (161 mg), whereas, it being the same cloth, it should have been more or less identical; finally, more samples had been taken behind closed doors and without notifying the scientific community, and in fact in following years the results of exams carried out on threads and fragments of the Shroud, which according to the agreements should not even have existed, have kept popping up here and there. Besides the genuine professional rivalries between the laboratories concerned, who were keen to be awarded the examination, other interests appear to have come into play. The controversy surrounding the tests eventually turned into something akin to a thriller rather than a scientific test; it is therefore not surprising that several books were written about this incredible story.[25]

Today the international scientific community is inclined to believe that if there were any errors, they were due to a technology still too unripe to hope to date such a complex object. Much of the Shroud’s history is still unknown, we have no idea what contaminations it may have suffered; to know the manipulations suffered by a find proves vitally important to carry out a reliable test. It is not a hard concept to understand: an analysis of urine which uses a contaminated test tube is not valid. We only know the detail of the Shroud’s history for the last 650 years or so: so many imponderables lurk in its past that radio-carbon testing seems still inappropriate, and we seriously risk cutting it away piece by piece before any really reliable test is developed. A significant example is the presence of a bioplastic coating on the linen fibres, due to the activity of a bacterium, which contaminated the sample and might well have “rejuvenated” the linen with extra helpings of C14 that had nothing to do with the Shroud. The bioplastic coating was only discovered years after the 1988 test, and obviously the test did not take into account its presence, and the contamination it carried.[26]

How many other contaminating agents could be present in the cloth even today, with us still knowing nothing of them?

The continuous progress of science leads us to hope that in a few years new dating techniques may be developed, more refined and above all, less destructive. They are badly needed: every square millimetre of Shroud that is destroyed is a loss of great value as it cannot be examined by our successors, who will surely have measuring tools which are more advanced than ours.

Meanwhile the hair area is being investigated with particular care: thanks to it, it is thought that the idea that the image was formed by contact should be excluded. The hair would then have looked crushed, whereas it is soft and flowing, as if free from any pressure.

Mysterious traces of writing

In 1978 the chemist Piero Ugolotti was examining a negative of the Shroud drawn from some photos taken some ten years earlier. He noticed some marks that decidedly leapt to the eye: they were not like stains, or if they were, they seemed to have a curiously neat geometry, all orientated in the same way, closely reminiscent of alphabetic characters, and what is more they appeared to be arranged in groups. In short, they looked very much like written words.

The history of writings on the Shroud began that day 30 years ago, and is still taking place: in this book I shall only give a brief notice, otherwise the argument would take us too far along the paths of Syria-Palestine in the days of the Second Temple, within Roman-age Judaism, and we shall be forced to deal with issues too distant from the story of the Templars. At any rate, the presence of this writing, and in particular some of them in Jewish characters, is not without importance even for the purposes of our argument, since it may help us to understand why the Templars ever chose to keep the Shroud secret in the crucial historical moment when it reached them.

Piero Ugolotti had managed to clearly distinguish the outlines of some Greek and Latin letters, but even though he was an educated person, he did not want to risk trying to read them alone and preferred to entrust it to a specialist: Aldo Marastoni, teacher of ancient literature at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, who had edited important editions of Seneca and other Latin authors for the prestigious Bibliotheca Teubneriana of the Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin.[27] Marastoni identified the letters at once, but he also saw other things that captured his interest; so he asked for new negatives from the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia di Torino, the most illustrious and respected institute of Shroud studies. Having obtained the negatives, the two set to work: these traces of writing can only be seen thanks to the contrast of clear and dark tones in the photo, so it is necessary to develop it several times and make several photocopies to make the letters stand out as much as possible. The result was electrifying: on the Shroud were traces of Greek, Latin and even Hebraic writing. These are not characters written directly on the sheet, but on a different object, that had been partially transferred to the cloth: looking directly at the Shroud – which, we remember, behaves like a negative – almost nothing could be distinguished, while on the negatives (which return the realistic image of a man as if it were the positive or photograph itself), the characters become recognisable.

As was natural, considering the context, imagination went straight to the words of the Gospels: Pilate had had a placard placed on the cross of Jesus which spelled out the reason for his conviction, the famous titulus crucis. The three synoptic texts (Mark, Matthew and Luke) mention the fact briefly, quoting only the actual cause why the heads of the Sanhedrin and the scribes had denounced Jesus to the Roman procurator, presenting him as a rebel leader who had proclaimed himself “the King of the Jews”; the gospel of John on the other hand gives a longer and more detailed account:

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. (John 19, 19-20).

But immediately after the understandable early rush of enthusiasm, the situation struck Marastoni as very strange, maybe even disappointing: in effect, what can be read on the Shroud does not answer the Gospel description, because essential details reported by the Gospel of John are missing, while alien items with nothing to do with the Gospels are present. Above the right eyebrow (left in the negative), Marastoni points out the presence of at leas three characters in square Jewish writing: a taw, a waw or iod, then a mark that seems to him a zade (corresponding to the sound ds) in the form used only at the end of a word, then another rather confused character that appeared as if it could be the soph pasu, an interpunction comparable to a modern full stop. He takes them for parts of some word in Hebraic or Aramaic, which, however, does not coincide with the description of the writings stuck on Jesus’ cross according to the Gospels. In the centre of the forehead, he reads the sequence of Greek characters IBEP, and in particular the group IB, which seems to him repeated immediately close by, parallel, but slightly shifted rightwards. Marastoni immediately thinks that the sequence might be the remnant of the name TIBEPIOS written in Greek, a name popular among Romans since the Etruscan age and used by several Emperors, of whom the first, the adopted son of Augustus, reigned just in the years when the Gospels place the death of Jesus (14-37 d.C.). The discovery recalls another that took place in 1979 thanks to Francis L. Filas SJ, a theologian from the St. Ignatius University of Loyola, Chicago: within the print of the right eye socket a small circle can be noticed, and within that, a few tiny letters. The sequence identified after a series of enlargements is UCAI, and forms an arch around a curious form not unlike shepherd’s crook carried by bishops. Filas carried out patient research and found that those marks correspond to a particular coin coined by Pontius Pilate during his governorship of Judaea, from 26 to 36 AD. The legend on this coin bears a strange grammatical error, which is anything but unusual in Roman provinces; here Greek was spoken by the people, being a kind of universal language everyone knew, but it was full of incorrect grammar and dialect forms that made it quite unlike the language spoken in Athens.[28]The Greek text TIBEPIOU KAICAPOS (“Tiberius Caesar”) came out wrong, written as TIBEPIOU CAICAPOS. The sequence UCAI corresponds to the central part of this legend.[29]

Marastoni feels that these signs were written on some object placed on the convict’s head. It may have been a mitra infamiae, a kind of crude and light hood, made for instance with material or papyrus, on which outrageous sentences were written for the exact purpose of humiliating the convict; the slight shifts of this hood might have caused the double imprint of the characters IB on the forehead, which otherwise needs explaining. The professor also saw two more Latin texts that ran vertically along the left cheek (right on the negative) parallel to each other. The biggest one showed a series of letters that seemed to him to form the sequence NEAZARE, with the Z written in reverse, and the other written, in smaller characters, INNECE, what is left of the Latin expression in necem(“to death”); even further down, in the lower quarter, he saw again a Latin capital T, and just under the chin a strange sign that seems made from two capital N’s joined together. Meanwhile an IT expert, Aldo Tamburelli, tried to subject the Shroud to a recently designed test, and had thus discovered another surprising feature of the picture, the fact that it is three-dimensional: even though it behaves like a photograph, the image does not come from a procedure like that of photography, because photographs are two-dimensional.

Marastoni got in touch with Tamburelli and wished to verify whether the writing was still visible on the three-dimensional elaboration of the Shroud: the result was not only positive, but thanks to IT applications, the characters could be read much better.[30]

The term NEAZARE seems right away a very likely deformation of an original NAZAPENOS found both in Mark and in Luke; it is the adjective for Jesus’ geographical origin, “inhabitant of Nazareth”.[31] The group INNECE also seems highly pertinent in the context: it is Latin, it means “to death”, and it is clear that the Shroud covered, exactly, a victim of the death penalty. Finally, Marastoni noticed another piece of writing in the negatives of some photographs taken in 1931, quite clear and articulate this time: it is a little above the knee, it is built around a cross, and to judge by its lines it seemed traced with a quill and ink on some different support (such as papyrus or parchment) that touched the linen. The fragments of the words it was made of (ISSIE, ESY, SNCT, I SERE, STR) were immediately identified by the professor of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart with a Latin prayer (Iesu sanctissime Miserere nostri, “Most Holy Jesus, have mercy on us”): the form of the letters is rudimentary Gothic, and its presence corresponds quite well to the widespread mediaeval usage of placing notes written on paper or parchment with prayer formulas over relics, to make them into relics as well, by virtue of the belief that they could soak up the same spiritual power through contact. Considering the age suggested by the shape of the letters, as far as they can be estimated, this prayer-bearing paper might well have been made by none other than the Templars.


In 1994, Marcel Alonso and Éric de Bazelaire, two members of the Centre International d’Études sur le Linceul de Turin in Paris, decided to start over again on the matter of the writings, and see whether the technologies developed in the meantime could offer any extra contribution. They also decided to go to specialists, and took the problem to the scientists of the Institut d’Optique Théorique d’Orsay, near Paris, a greatly respected research centre where some physicists who specialise in treating images work, among other things, on the identification of writing in palimpsests and other unreadable texts.[32]

A team of experts in signal analysis was assembled, led by André Marion, a researcher of the Cnrs and professor in the Institut d’Optique; over seven months, between May and December 1994, they studied the most suitable procedure to deal with the problem, then in January 1995 André Marion and his colleague Anne-Laure Courage presented the results of their long work to a conference. All around the face of the executed man who had left his image on the linen of the Shroud there were at least five separate words in Greek and Latin, to which must be added, at least three series of single characters.[33] Along the left side of the face (right on the negative) two parallel vertical sequences were identified, one in Latin characters INNECE (inside and near the cheekbone) and the other in Greek, NAZAPENOS (more outside). These are the same words seen by Marastoni, but the second is corrected: the computer does not make it NEAZARE but NAZAPENOS, and both its N’s seem made in the same funny way, as two Ns bound together, which Marastoni had already identified inside INNECE and as an isolated mark beneath the chin, which was also confirmed. But there was more: still in the same area, a little further down beneath the isolated sign of the two joint N’s, a sentence could be read which Marastoni had not read, and which seemed utterly to the point: it is the group HSOY, immediately recognised as the central part of the word (I)HSOY(S). It is the Greek name of Jesus, and together with the other Greek word, says nothing but “Jesus of Nazareth”.

Vertically along the left cheekbone two more words, also in parallel, could be read, the one outside in larger characters, the other inside in smaller but in fine relief: the first showed the group in Greek characters: S, separated by some blank space as if it were the ending of a word, then a sequence of three signs of which KI seemed quite clear while the last is dubious and might make one think of an A. The smaller writing still in Greek, said PEZ, and had the singular quality of appearing clear over the negative while the others appeared dark, so it must have been made with a different ink or material. As for the isolated clusters, Marion and Courage picked out, above the head, nearly at the centre but shifted somewhat to the right side, a sequence which seemed to them to be formed by the characters IC (which in Latin stand for i and k, in Greek i and s); near NAZAPENOS they could see the cluster ARE a second time, and the two items of writing are one above the other, as if the same text had been attached twice to the linen at different times, leaving two distinct marks at almost the same point. Further outside and with the same orientation, they also read a cluster of four signs, of which the first three (in Greek characters, A.A) are clear, while the last (which seems to the French scientists like an U or maybe a rounded M) was covered by some sort of stain; finally, still near the word NAZAPENOS, but further below and orientated upside-down, the signs SB appeared.

At this point we have to attempt to interpret. Marion and Courage had submitted the writings to some experts in disciplines to do with ancient and mediaeval history, a real roster of famous names working at the Sorbonne and other prestigious institutions.[34]The two parallel writings, HSOY(S) and NAZAPENOS hardly seemed to give great problems: they were nothing tougher than the Greek for the name Jesus of Nazareth, with a small variant as compared to the standard Gospel spelling, that is the vowel Eta (that is H) instead of Epsilon (that is E), and thus ended up being NAZAPHNOS. The confusion between these two vowels was a very common feature of the Roman-age Middle East, and is so widespread in written Greek of that period that epigraphic catalogues hardly even mention it among the peculiarities. The sequence INNECE offers no difficulties either, given that the context involves an executed man; while the identification of the remaining clusters (several fragments of words) seemed tougher and less obvious. As for the purpose these words were meant to serve, on the other hand, the two physicists received no agreed opinion, for theories were many. One of the most interesting suggests that these words were written on a reliquary or on some kind of container: they were a kind of caption, whose traces were inadvertently transferred on to the sheet. Most recently, another signals analysis expert, the Frenchman Thierry Castex, has applied the same method perfected by Marion and Courage, and managed to identify new traces of Hebraic characters in the area under the chin, which he was kind enough to send to me for a second opinion; this is the first time that, with his permission, they are mentioned in print. Among the visible marks it seems possible to distinguish the charactersmem, sade andaleph, corresponding to the root ms, which is found in both Hebraic and Aramaic and means “to find”; there is also a second sequence of two marks that might be nw or ky, given their similar shapes and the objective difficulties in reading. The whole might then benw ms’ (“we have found”) or else ky ms’, “because found”.[35] It seems rather an interesting question: those words, torn off from a longer sentence, correspond exactly to a passage of the Gospel according to Luke to do with the trial of Jesus. To be precise, it is Luke 23.2, when the High Priest and the Sanhedrin deliver Jesus to Pontius Pilate, with a precise charge: “We found this man subverting the nation, forbidding to pay tax to Caesar, and saying that he himself was Christ, a king”. Besides, a 1989 study by Roberto Messina and Carlo Orecchia had pointed out more Hebrew characters in the area of the forehead.[36]

Byzantine tradition has no trace of these strange scattered writings on the Shroud, and to the question whether they might be the Templars’ work, the answer must be, no: only the small area with the inscribed prayer Most holy Jesus, have mercy on us, corresponds to their time. The experts consulted by Marion and Courage agree that nearly all the Greek and Latin passages were carried out long before the foundation of the Order of the Temple, indeed that they seem to go back to the early Christian age, to about the first to third centuries AD. These were devotional writings made by some believer to clarify who was that man whose image was left, or maybe scrolls with some legal value – that is, documents to be kept – as a hypothesis of Grégoire Kaplan’s once suggested.[37]

The trace of Hebraic writing leads us to think that they were carried out in Syria-Palestine (or Qumran?) at a very early age. Everything rejects the suggestion that they might have anything to do with the Templars. It may be that the Temple brothers noticed their existence, as will be said below: and if so, that will have encouraged them to keep the Shroud strictly to themselves.

The trail of the “Jewish question”

In the view of many experts who have long studied the Shroud of Turin, the image is growing less vivid as time goes on, on account of the natural degradation due to the effects of light, and in past centuries it could be seen more neatly; in effect, some ancient representations of the Shroud show the imprint in a much more intense tint of sepia, although we cannot exclude that the painters may have reinforced their colour to make the idea stand out better. When starting their research, André Marion’s team of physicists chose to work from certain negatives shot by Enrie in 1931, both because the analogue photographs of the time carried an enormous amount of information, and because there is a suspicion that the image may then have been noticeably more intense than today, and so much richer in detail. The hints of writing may be recognised just because of the contrast of tone against tone, because they are like so many ivory-coloured stains in the shape of letters against the light sepia background of the image. In order to see them today we have to make use of photographic negatives, which play up contrasts greatly; but if the scientists are right and the image was once darker, maybe some writings could be seen with the naked eye, too. This is not a matter of small importance, if we take into account the social history of the Middle Ages; the words in Greek and Latin would not have been an issue, but the same absolutely could not be said for the Jewish characters.

Relationships between the Jews and political power in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages were variable. After the edict of Milan of 313 AD, Constantine vigorously promoted the growth of Christianity, and certainly did not favour the Jews, but decades later, when the whole empire was essentially Christian, Theodosius I (379-395 AD) issued a series of decrees for the protection of this minority, which was by then no threat to his religious policy. In the West, the Popes often protected them: especially Gregory I the Great, who designed a clear and permanent strategy to defend them from their enemies, by which must be meant essentially the local authorities and the local populace. We have no less than six letters from this Pontiff condemning acts of violence and chicanery against Jews, and we know that the communities scattered in the countries of the Christian world would often turn to the Rabbi who led the Roman community to intercede with the Pope, so that the latter could help as a political mediator with kings and emperors. The most famous of these letters, titled Sicut Iudaeis, was later repeated in following centuries by many Popes: its basic concept had already been stated by Emperor Theodosius I, and yet it was extremely difficult for it to enter the mind of the commons: “There is no law to forbid the Jewish religion”.[38]

From the beginning to the end of the Middle Ages, Europe was shaken by frequent bouts of anti-Semitism, acts of hard-to-imagine violence arising spontaneously among the public because of a widespread hostility born of intolerance, which rulers, be they popes, emperors or kings, always tried to uproot, for it was a threat to public order. It was however in the lower Middle Ages that the question took alarming proportions. tarting from about 1150, and even more in the 1200s and 1300s, waves of anti-Semitism followed each other, causing slaughter. A spectre rose from the dim past, the spectre of a very ancient popular tale: Jews kept a Christian boy hostage for one whole year, fed him abundantly to fatten him up; then, when he was properly plump and ready, had killed him and eaten his flesh during one of their sacrilegious ritual banquets. This macabre fable was already doing the rounds of the Roman empire in the days of the pagan philosopher Celsus (II century AD) it was used indifferently against Christians and Jews by the pagan populace, who felt disgust at oriental usages of theirs such as circumcision. When it came back into fashion a thousand years later, it found particularly fertile ground, and spread with devastating effect. In 1144, the body of a boy murdered by an unknown person was found in Norwich; the local Jews were immediately blamed, and wiped out. Some 20 years later, a rumour swept Gloucester that a youth called Harald had been first barbarously tortured and then even crucified by Jews. From then on, cases multiply as in the beginning of an epidemic: in Bury St. Edmunds, Bristol and Winchester in the last years of the 12th century, then in the first of the 1200s in Lincoln, Stanford and London. From England, the legend crossed over to France, spreading its vicious spell everywhere: it was as though any tragic and not very clear event had necessarily to be the fault of the Jews. As early as 1171 the evidence of one of these “ritual murders” had been thought to have been found in Pontoise. The victim was buried in Paris, in the church of the Holy Innocents; rumours spread that the young man had performed many miracles, and many people took to making pilgrimages to the tomb of this boy, seen as a martyr of “Jewish perfidy”. Even a special rite was written to honour him. In the same year, Thibaut, Count of Blois, had no less than 32 Jews burned at the stake on account of this legend, and the local community; while on the other hand his neighbour Thibaut IV, Count of Flanders, like King Louis VII of France and Emperor Henry VI, all proclaimed officially that the tale had no real basis, and tried to uproot it – alas, with no success. During the 1200s, the dark legend spread the length and breadth of Europe, and was easily believed by a credulous populace. Its hold on the imagination was so strong that it developed a new and hideous feature: Jews needed human blood to make the unleavened bread they ate during their Paschal rites.[39]

In 1235 there was a notorious case in the German city of Fulda. The Jews were charged with the murder of a miller’s five sons, and were subjected to torture so horrendous as to force them to “confess” that the unleavened Easter bread was really made by using human blood. The result was another mass murder. The episode resonated so widely that it reached, and concerned, the Emperor Frederick II. A man of immense learning, and amazingly broad-minded for his age, Frederick was very familiar with Oriental customs. Having been brought up in Sicily, where Muslims still lived, he had spent time incognito as a child with a Muslim family who took him and hid him to protect him from his enemies. The Emperor was very skeptical on the matter; since however the legend had such a firm hold of the mind of the commons, he decided to nominate an expert commission made up of Jews who had converted to Catholicism to make an accurate and in-depth study of the problem. Obviously the experts proved that the Old Testament forbids absolutely the eating of blood, even that of animals killed for food. Frederick II thought he would solve the problem for good by associating the persecutors of Jews with those guilty of lese-majesty, the most serious and most terribly punished of all crimes. And yet in the same year the communities of Lauda and Pforzheim had carried out more slaughters; Pope Gregory IX had to issue a new version of the BullSicut Iudaeis in which he ordered the Bishops of France to severely punish Christians who made themselves guilty of violence against the Jewish population or their property.

Just in those years, one of the most violent persecutions burst out, and it is thought that as many as 2,500-3,000 Jewish persons were murdered by the crusaders who were taking part in the Sixth Crusade, including women and children, while hundreds more were baptized by force. This may have been the moment of highest tension: exacerbated by the spread of heresy and religious contestation, the Church started to condemn traditional Jewish books such as the Talmud, which was not properly a sacred text but contained some disrespectful passages about Jesus which had come from popular literature. Hate of Jews fed on the notion that Jews deliberately profaned the Eucharist. The rumour had spread that Christian wet-nurses hired by rich Jews to feed their babies, who took Communion on Easter day, were forced to throw their milk into the toilet for three days afterward to stop the Eucharist contaminating the little new-born Jew through the milk. There were more than 50 accounts of profaning Jews who had taken consecrated hosts by deceit and had suddenly seen them turn to flesh and blood in their hands.

By the mid-twelve hundreds, Pope Innocent IV allowed himself to be conditioned enough by these notions to approve the decree of expulsion passed by the archbishop of Vienne against the Jews in his diocese; this was in fact a very rare case, since the Popes kept publishing Bulls in defence of the Jewish population, which the public regularly ignored, because the prejudice was so rooted in the popular mind as to be invincible. By the end of the century, expulsions became mass phenomena: in 1290 it was the turn of the Jews of England, then in 1306 those of France, by order of Philip the Fair. Between 1298 and 1337, Germany saw a simply monstrous wave of anti-Jewish mania: 150 local communities were destroyed because of this chit-chat about desecrated Hosts, and historians calculate that these horrors resulted in the murder of between 20,000 and 100,000 Jews.[40]

This was the climate in which the Templars, in all likelihood, gained possession of the Shroud. Most Templar monks were rather on the ignorant side, but some of the leaders were well educated. Traces of writing surely could not be noticed by pilgrims rushing by in front of the relic and kept at a safe distance, but maybe a careful, precise and prolonged exam could still perceive them. If any of the brothers had realised that the sheet carried Jewish writing, as is not at all impossible, we would have an even better reason why the Temple leadership chose to keep utterly silent about the relic. And the order simply could not afford to lose it; for certain reasons, it regarded it as a necessary bulwark against an evil that was affecting the whole of Christianity. An evil with most ancient roots, that had been finding a few victims even in the Temple.

Keep the path of Peter

In 1143 abbot Erwin of Steinfeld informed St. Bernard of Clairvaux that members of a peculiar heretical sect had been arrested in the neighbourhood of Cologne: they declared themselves member of an ancient Church which had remained hidden since the days of the martyrs, which had survived in Greece and other countries under the leadership of some “Apostles” and bishops. From the second half of the 12th century to the end of the 13th, Christian society was shaken to its foundations by the unprecedented proliferation of a movement of religious dissent which not only challenged a number of fundamental dogmas and the Church’s tradition, but associated theological protest with forceful accusations against the corruption of the clergy and vigorous political demands.[41] In this shaky climate, the relics and objects to do with Jesus’ earthly life were to the Church something like a saving anchor, something that could help Christians not to drift off after the latest faddish doctrine. It was a matter of staying within the beaten track, the track that had once been opened by the Apostles.

Shortly before his death, the old fisherman from Bethsaida in Galilee, Shimon a.k.a. Peter, had dictated to his disciples a letter which they then composed and dispatched to every Christian community that could be reached, like an actual encyclical. The letter expressed certain serious concerns of his and recommended that Christians should stay away from some recent theories that gave a merely intellectual and spiritual portrayal of Jesus, as if here were no more than the symbol of the complete renewal of mankind at large. Modern historians call this religious current docetism, from Greek dokèin (“to seem”), because their teaching was based on the idea that Jesus had no more than the external appearance of a man. Their fault was placing too much emphasis on personal interpretation. Peter was not widely read, but those novels and sophisticated interpretations that were becoming so fashionable in Christian thought, no, he did not like them at all. For a start, they had their root not in Jewish religion but in neo-Platonic philosophy, that is the thought of pagan Greeks; what is more, they left the impression of extolling the spiritual face of Jesus to try to hide away the human face, as though being human were a weakness, something to be ashamed of. Above all, they were myths. Having followed him for three years, having seen in person the trial, the death, and the events that had followed, he kept a very concrete memory of him, and would not let the new generations imagine him as something like an abstract concept. His reaction against these new directions, so far as we know, was immediate and unreserved condemnation: Christianity meant to recognise that the Messiah of Israel was one and the same with the historical person Jesus of Nazareth, and since the Docetists refused the human being Jesus, in Peter’s eyes, they were simply not Christian. f we want to place a modern label on it, the religion of Peter, like that of Paul and John, was a historical religion, in the sense that everything was born from certain fundamental facts precisely located in time and space. There had been one strong man who had done certain things, and the soles of his feet had left their prints on the earth of Jerusalem.

In the writing that Christian tradition handed down as the Second Epistle of Peter, the old fisherman warned against the dangers that could arise when the claim was made to interpret the Gospels in too free and personal a manner. Against all personal constructs in the matter of Jesus, Peter raised a simple and immediate truth, that is, what he had seen:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty [...]. knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of private interpretation.[42]

Eighty years after his death, things had gone far beyond, and many independent churches had spread, to which the human part of Jesus, the body, was not just secondary but negative, to be discarded. They tended to feel that it was impossible that the Spirit of God, of whom the celestial Christ had been forged, could remain caged in a human body that fell sick and died; so Christian thinking was tending to suppose that the Spirit had at some point taken possession of this mortal detritus in order purely to communicate with human beings, teach them the way of knowledge, only to then rid himself as soon as possible of this embarrassing physical carrier, before it was undone by crucifixion. These churches called themselves Gnostic, from the Greek word gnosis, knowledge, because according to their religious views, the salvation of man depended not from Jesus’ sacrifice, which had never really taken place, but from his preaching alone, thanks to which men came to the knowledge of God. Docetic and Gnostic currents would strongly separate the earthly Jesus from the heavenly Christ, as if they were two separate and irreconcilable entities. The mortal Jesus, the Jesus of Nazareth, was an empty and irrelevant container of no importance, the temporary abode of the spiritual Christ; to some sects, he was just another man, to others not even a man of flesh and bone, but some sort of ectoplasm. To both, at any rate, the Resurrection had never happened, because the heavenly Christ could neither suffer nor die; there had been no sacrifice to redeem mankind, and the Eucharist was a meaningless ritual and so should not be celebrated. God had sent this celestial Messenger of his among men under the false appearance of a mortal man, of a commonplace individual, so that he could preach to mankind and so redeem it from their false opinions; the physical baggage of the Messenger was nothing but a kind of visual delusion needed so that people could see him, but of no real consistency. Certain extremist Gnostic groups went as far as to say that it had actually been Simon of Cyrene who had been crucified: for at the right moment God had as though dazzled the soldiers, to force them to get the wrong man.[43]

Apart from these exaggerations, the Gnostic movement had its own fascinating theology which exalted the spiritual greatness of the Christ and celebrated the way in which the human soul, through his mediation, carried out a great path of ascesis till it came to contemplate the face of God. From the end of the first century till the age of Constantine, even Catholic Christianity was more than once attracted by this intellectual and spiritual vision of Jesus, which underplayed the value of his human nature and interpreted every bit of the gospels allegorically. Several representatives of these views moved constantly on the edge of orthodoxy, such as the theologian Valentinus, who had lived in Rome during the reign of Hadrian, of whom we are left a fragment of great religious poetry:

When the Father, the sole good being, tuns to it his glance, the heart is sanctified and shines with light; and so he is made blessed who has such a heart, for he will see God.[44]

Already from the end of the first century, Christians felt this kind of idea very keenly, and their attraction was reinforced by the fact that Gnostics lived exemplary ascetic lives. Valentinus had a special intuition, and he seemed to somehow have set into motion that theological debate which was later to ripen into the dogma of the Trinity. The beauty of his religious thought, joined as it was with an overwhelming power of eloquence, had let much of the clergy of Rome to propose him as a future Pope; something, however, had gone wrong, and in the another candidate, of no great theological gift, but who had given an impressive witness of faith in his daily life, had been elected instead. The reasons for this choice must be found in a peculiarity of Gnostic thought already denounced by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who had a major role in the Christian community in the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD): Gnostics neglect to help the poor, the sick, widows and orphans. That was the inevitable result of their theological apparatus: if flesh is nothing but sin and corruption, why cure the sick? If life is nothing but incarceration and exile, why help the poor live longer? In short, their exaggerated ascetic ideal made Gnostics pretty nearly inhuman. Jesus, on the other hand, had been very clear: following his path meant helping anyone who needed help, whatever the cost. The primitive Church had been, before it had been anything else, a group of religious volunteers made up of people who held their goods in common to feed the poor and care for the sick; there was no doubt that this was the will of Jesus, since this happened when he was still with the Apostles and had guided them. These sects interpreted the message of Christ as though it were pretty much a school of philosophy, and ignored charity to the needy. Even if they were pure of any stain, Gnostics ended up betraying the essence of Christianity.[45]

Disappointment at missing the Papacy caused Valentinus the theologian to develop a violent resentment against the Roman clergy; it seems that he left the capital for the East, and that he started to write works widely different from what he had previously published, expounding aggressively Gnostic theories against the human body of Christ, which he had perhaps already worked out without ever making them public before. Peter’s vision, which had handed down a cult of Jesus as the Christ announced by the prophets and still a man of flesh and bone, ended up prevailing, and Gnostic doctrines were refuted; Gnosis however did not altogether vanish, for its roots were deep both in the East and in the West. Modern historians have trouble seeing the differences between one sect and another, because notices are few and as often as not they come from contemporary Christian intellectuals, who had it in for those doctrines because of the confusion they sowed among the public: some leaders of major Gnostic schools had circulated heavily-edited versions of the gospels, or even gospels of their own writing and devising. The text of John, peculiarly full as it is of symbolic expressions, was their favourite target.[46]

There were great differences between one Gnostic school and another, although in the end they all went back to a common idea that basically denied the humanity of Christ. To the writers of the early Church, Gnosticism was like the hundred-headed hydra, a monster with ancient roots and yet everlastingly capable of turning up again with a new face.[47]


Constantine had decided to legalise the Christian cult both out of personal sympathy and out of political calculation, but obviously he wished for a united and peaceful church, a solid organism that could serve his projects; he therefore outlawed dissident sects. Gnosis survived; especially in north Africa and some areas of the Middle East, it came back into favour in the time of the Manichees, one of whose members, in his youth, had been none other than St. Augustine of Hippo. During the Byzantine age, enclaves survived in various patches of the Empire’s vast hinterlands; then the current picked up strength again inside the larger iconoclast movement, that intended to destroy icons because they bore the human image of Christ and it wished instead to worship only the gospels, which bore his word. In the centuries VIII and IX, several Byzantine emperors found themselves having to fight the Paulicians, so called because they followed the Gnostic doctrines of Paul of Samosata: Michael I (811-813), Leo V (813-820), Theodora (842-856), who outlawed Icon-smashing, and finally Basilius I, who defeated them in the year 871. Because these dissenters were excellent soldiers, they had been settled in Thrace and Macedonia as a border shield to the Imperial territories; there the movement grew again and spread widely into Bulgaria, into the Balkans and in certain regions of Russia. By the middle of the 10th century, they had taken the name of Bogomils, from the name of their spiritual head Bogumil, which meant “Dear to God”.

Like a returning wave, this stream of thought in which religious dissent tended to marry political protest during the 11th century, had reached the capital once again: in the time of the imperial house of the Komnenoi, Gnostic-derived heresy grew powerful, and merciless measures of repression were adopted. Anna Komnena, daughter of the Emperor Alexius I and author of a famous Chronicle, tells that in the year 1117 a kind of conspiracy was discovered, organised by the leaders of these Gnostic churches, whose reach had come as far as the verge of the Imperial throne and lurked among the most trusted officials. To deliver a really exemplary lesson, Alexius condemned them to be burned at the stake, but he had two different burning pits prepared: one overlooked by a Cross, the other not. The Cross was the mark of true faith, and to accept it meant to accept the real humanity of Jesus, his real and freely willed sacrifice, and all its beneficent effects for the salvation of human kind. Some of the heretics chose to die under the Cross; the Emperor took this for a sign of conversion on the point of death and granted them amnesty.[48]

In the 11th century, some members of the Gnostic Bogomil movement crossed over into Western Europe, taking their teaching with them, and it took hold very swiftly, especially in southern France, northern Italy and Germany. The Midi, that is the whole central and southern area of modern France, became the home of a swift-growing Gnostic church. In the year 1167 they even held a general council of this new independent church at Saint-Félix-de-Caraman in Languedoc; they called themselves the Cathars, from the Greek katharòs, meaning “pure”. Several Catholic bishops adhered to it, going over to its particular creed and taking all their faithful with them, and a kind of union was agreed between the Western and Eastern Cathars; the leader of a Greek church, calledNiketas, and who wore the significant title of papas, took part in the council.[49] A dangerous doctrinal confusion had also reached into the hierarchies of the Catholic Church; a theologian of the level of Pope Innocent III found himself forced to write a crop of letters and treatises addressed, not to ordinary people, but to bishops whose ideas seemed to be tottering on matters as central and basic as sacraments. At the same time, Innocent III expended a great deal of energy to underline the significance of the cult of relics, especially those that related to the life of Christ. Just as it had happened to the Byzantine Emperors Romanus I and Constantine VII when they found themselves facing the heretics, he had understood an important point: these objects may well be poor things tied to popular devotion, but to tradition they represented the concrete evidence that Jesus had really lived as a human being, had suffered the Passion and had died. In the face of those who preached that the Celestial Christ had been a pure spirit, a concept, an abstract being, even relics of the most everyday things, even the milk of the Virgin, served as fundamental evidence for ordinary people, evidence that heretics considered not true.

As I already tried to explain, the truth of a relic is something our mental attitude cannot take in as the old world used to: the men of the Middle Ages, from the professor at the Sorbonne to the last beggar, perceived it with very great strength, and that cannot simply be ascribed to their stupidity. It is true that any amount of fakes circulated, and we know the famous quotation ascribed to Erasmus or Calvin, that one could load a whole ship with the wood from the relics of the true Cross of Christ scattered around Christendom. No doubt they were right, but mostly about the shocking abuse made of these objects in their time, to collect alms from pilgrims; and something of the kind was also violently denounced by a 12th century churchman, the Cistercian Abbot Guibert de Nogent. Both Guibert and Calvin or Erasmus were however neglecting a matter of some relevance to modern historians: if for instance the Emperor of Constantinople wished to make a gift to some church a piece of the True Cross, he would not hack off a large chunk, but rather shave of a minute part, often a bare sliver. The value of relics was spiritual, and did not depend on weight. The only thing that mattered was whether that wood had been drenched in the blood of Christ; whether it was a tiny fragment or the wholepatibulum arm, it was still a witness of the Passion. Of course one could not exhibit to the prayers of the faithful some thin wooden fibre, impossible to see once it was sealed within the reliquary; so the holy fibre would be placed within a larger piece of wood, trying to select the same kind of material from which the original fragment had been taken. The more recent wood carrier became itself sacred by contact, and the sliver once inserted in it would be lost and become all but impossible to distinguish; but in all this there was no intent to deceive or defraud. Most relics of the Cross circulating in the Middle Ages were at least authentic in this sense, that is derived from an authentic lift of material from the greater relic that tradition said St. Helena had retrieved in Jerusalem.

The study of relics is a very fascinating chapter in the history of culture, so long as it is done with sufficient respect. For it is a matter of cultural processes that today’s historian must be able to record without claiming to eviscerate them in the light of a realism that is both too recent in origin and too distant to properly judge. Besides, the modern world may well be said to have something that looks very much like the ancient hunger for relics: it is the curiosity towards the so-called “historical Jesus”, that is all the research that aims to reconstruct the human and terrestrial figure of Jesus of Nazareth in the most realistic manner possible. Born from Positivism, from relativism and also from a certain faddish 1900s scepticism, the culture of the early third millennium claims to be able to separate the historical man, a Galilean subject of Herod Antipas and of Tiberius Caesar, from the mysteries bound with his person which have made him the centre of a new religion. To do so, the Gospels are sometimes sliced like hams, dismantled and recomposed in different ways because it is hoped to be able to get back to the “actual words” spoken by Jesus.[50] I am not able to assess the sense of this on a theological level, but certainly as historical method it has none. A man who proposed to go to a conference on Dante and propose to move the Paolo and Francesca episode from Canto V of Hell to Canto V of Paradise would end up covered in obloquy. A historian finds such an idea unacceptable: it is like a crazed restorer intending to destroy a painting by Giulio Romano with acid because he is certain he shall find, hidden behind it, a sketch by Giulio’s master Raphael. At any rate, even if it shows itself in paradoxical and laughable forms, the modern desire to reach the Jesus of history so as nearly to be able to look him in the face is actually very similar to mediaeval man’s morbid affection for all the remains of his terrestrial passage.

Himself a lover of relics and certain that they were a mighty weapon against heresies, Innocent III wrote a hymn to celebrate the Veronica, a famous image of the Face of Jesus kept in Rome. Its tradition was tied up with the mandylion’s: the Veronica was also anacheropita image, that is, a miraculous portrait not made by man. It was said to have been miraculously made when a compassionate woman had approached Jesus on the way to Golgotha, to clean his face, dripping with blood and sweat.[51] The Templars knew that this Pontiff loved, or rather itched, to collect Christ’s relics, because of their meaning, and Popes who followed were just as eager. A famous case that may give a feeling for the times was that of the miracle in Bolsena cathedral, in 1263. A German priest who was going on pilgrimage to Rome was saying Mass on the altar of St. Christina, but at the back of his mind (like many priests of his time, perhaps) he felt a doubt about the Host being really the body of Christ. Suddenly he saw blood coming out of the bread, and dripping down to stain the corporal. The event, of course, made an enormous amount of noise, and Pope Urbanus IV ordered its memory to be celebrated with the feast of Corpus Domini.[52]

The order of the Temple owed everything to papal favour; what is more, as we already mentioned, its own statutes said in so many words that the Roman Pontiff was its lord and master. Once he had learned that the Templars kept such a relic, there is every likelihood that the reigning Pope would have let the Grand Master understand that he wanted it in the Roman Curia. The Templars could not have said no; and it was probably also to ward off such a prospect that it was decided that it was best to keep silent.

In southern France, at the same time, a lethal association was arising between the Cathar religious ideal, followed by many with sincerity, and political opposition to the King. Philip II Augustus was working to unify the territory of his kingdom politically, so as to make it a stronger monarchy, and this obviously implied that the great southern fief-holders would lose their autonomy.[53] Besides, the north, the langue d’oil, was a very different culture from the south. The connection between ecclesiastic and political autonomy became very strongly felt, and was amplified by the unworthy lifestyle often enjoyed by Catholic hierarchs, as opposed to the exemplary austerity of Cathar bishops. The idea itself of heresy was recklessly broadened: to protest a bishop’s authority, or to refuse to pay tithe, was counted as disobedience to the Catholic Church and evidence of support for the heretics.[54]

The opposition was thus animated by a certain reforming spirit that gave it a potent moral charisma and drove many people to Cathar churches. At first it was attempted to end the conflict with religious weapons alone, thanks in part to the fervid preaching activity of St. Dominic de Guzman; but this could not ward off the disaster. On 5 January 1208, the Papal legate Peter of Castelnau was murdered by a subject of the Count of Toulouse and his murder went unpunished: the murderer was tied to the Cathars, his lord seemed to be protecting him, and the whole matter was very suspicious. Whatever the truth, this crime was the spark that exploded the gunpowder store. Philip II Augustus promoted a true civil war that caused the massacre of thousands upon thousands of Frenchmen and the military conquest of Provence and above all of Languedoc. It was called the Albigensian crusade because one of the most tragic events of repression took place in a town called Albi, and because political propaganda demanded that this butchery be misrepresented as a crusade. The operation achieved its political goal, but did not manage at all to uproot the Cathar church of the Midi, which went on existing for over a century there and elsewhere: according to Raniero Sacconi, born and raised in a Cathar family but who later converted and joined the Dominicans, in 1251 the spread of this parallel church was stunning. It was still flourishing in the later twelve hundreds; the last leader of whom we hear, by name Guillaume Bélibaste, died at the stake in 1321.[55]

Curiously and surely not by chance, the area of Catharism’s highest popularity agrees with that where we find the most numerous testimonies of these simulacra of the Face of Christ among the Templars.

Between Provence and Languedoc

We know that at the time of the sack of Constantinople, when the Shroud vanished from the imperial collection, a small group of Templars were present in the Byzantine capital. Their leader was called Jacopo Barozzi, a knight from one of Venice’s most prominent families, who at the time held the important office of Preceptor of the Temple for the province of Lombardy (meaning most of northern Italy). What they were doing there is not quite clear, and the only certain thing is that they were there under orders from the Grand Master. In fact, these Templars took no part in the sacking of the city, nor would they have been allowed to; for on the one hand Innocent III had excommunicated all those who had been guilty of aggression against other Christians, and on the other the Templar regulations themselves ordered that anyone who had been guilty of violence against other Christians was to be expelled from the Order, immediately and irrevocably.[56]

The Temple units were in fact already in the Holy Land, and had already committed themselves to the military operations which, according to the agreed plans, were to precede the re-taking of Jerusalem; that is, strengthening the Christian positions in northern Syria. This little group, led by the Preceptor of Lombardy, left Venice together with the remaining Crusader army because, in all likelihood, the Venetian Templar house had given the French barons a massive cash loan to help them at last to leave, since the debt they had made with the Republic prevented the host from moving out. Immediately after the conquest of Constantinople, the new Latin Emperor, Baudouin de Courtenay, was to charge Barozzi with the most delicate and serious of diplomatic missions: go to the Pope and beg him to remove the sentence of excommunication from the leaders of the Crusade. On this occasion the new Emperor gifted the Temple with a small fortune in money, precious objects shining with gems, and even two fragments of the True Cross: wealth that was to repay the Order for the expenditure it had previously suffered.[57]

Was it Preceptor Jacopo Barozzi who passed the shroud from the imperial Byzantine collection to the Temple? The idea does not seem acceptable, because known sources do not support it; if anything, the horror of the sack and the indignity of the trade in relics that followed were what allowed the Templars to see the relic from close up and assess its awe-inspiring peculiarities. The evidence that has come down to us does not place the Holy Face in the hands of the Order any earlier than several decades later, in 1266, near the tower of Saphed in Palestine, when the Sultan Baibars snatched it from the order and was greatly astonished to find a bas-relief of a man’s face in the grand hall of the mansion, where the knights had used to hold their chapter, and obviously could not guess at the man’s identity.[58] More or less at the same time, these simulacra started appearing in the mansions of southern France, especially in Provence; for some particular reason, the cult there spread sooner and faster than anywhere else.[59] The following decades witnessed a kind of explosion of copies, which meant that by the last quarter of the 13th century they could be found practically in every country where the Temple was present.[60] In Paris, the presence of the “idol” is continuously documented from 1298 to 1307, during the last general chapter that the Templars were able to hold only a few months before their arrest. In Cyprus, too, it seems to appear somewhat late.[61]

Provence may have been early, as compared with the rest of France, in the spread of the cult, on account of its strategic position, since Marseille was the main port of embarkation to Outremer; but there may also have been other reasons, issues connected with specific persons. A rumour that went around the order said that the unworthy acts practised in the Order’s rituals (errores) had been introduced in the days when Thomas Bérard was Grand Master and Roncelin de Fos was Preceptor of Provence.[62] The Masters of this province seem to have had a privileged role in the spread of the cult; there are in fact no less than 19 witness statements that tie the idol continuously to the Preceptors of Provence and to their lieutenants[63] in the second half of the XIII century: Roncelin de Fos,[64] Pons de Brozet,[65] Guy Audémar,[66] and Bernard de La Roche.[67]

The sources ascribe the introduction to the cult precisely to Roncelin de Fos, and in a significant date: it is 1266, the year when the fortress of Saphed was taken from the Templars, and when the Sultan found that curious image of the Face carved into the chapterhouse wall. It is not hard to imagine that that same hall might also have kept another simulacrum of that same Face, taken to the West when the fortress fell into Muslim hands.

On Roncelin de Fos, unfortunately, we currently have very little information. Following Anne Marie Bulst-Thiele’s very valuable study of the Templar Grand Masters, we find that Roncelin de Fos had a long career in the Order, which coincides with the period in which Thomas Bérard became Grand Master. In 1252-1255 and 1262-1266, Roncelin held the office of Master of England to which he added, in the periods 1248-1250, 1254-1256, 1260-1278 that of Master of Provence.[68] The man may however have been more important in the Order than even his list of offices would seem to warrant; a document dated 1252 makes him, together with his kinsman Geoffroy de Fos, a member of the private company of Grand Master Thomas Bérard, that is of a narrow roster of dignitaries chosen by the leader as his most trusted collaborators.[69]

The Grand Master’s companions who had to be noble; helped him closely in all most delicate situations, and in important matters such as lending Order funds could not be tackled by the Grand Master without their agreement.[70] In general, the rules describe these persons as being always close to the person of the Grand Master, so close indeed that in some cases it becomes necessary to specify which kinds of honours and privileges were an exclusive prerogative which the Grand Master was not allowed to share with his companions.[71] Belonging to the narrow circle of the Grand Master’s companions, and the full confidence from the latter which this honour implies, surely allowed Roncelin de Fos the opportunity of taking part in the most confidential matters; and it seems that de Fos was the first to take the cult of the Shroud-type Face to the West. As a companion of the Grand Master, he certainly had access to plenty of information unknown to the ordinary brothers. In his dossier of charges, Philip the Fair specified that knowledge of the mysterious “idol” was an elite matter open only to the very highest ranks. If we remove what is there only to support basically groundless charges, we must notice that something of this statement is true.

From the sources, it seems that the cult did not cross the geographical boundaries of Templar Provence, at least in its early times. Outside Provence, we must go as far as 1270 for a sporadic apparition in Paris, and 1271 to see it represented on the seals of German Preceptors; on the other hand, documents show that the area under the command of Roncelin de Fos knew these simulacra early and widely. The three statements that refer directly to de Fos cover a long chronological arch, reaching probably to the end of his life; after him, his successor Pons de Brozet “inherited” the cult and forced its transmission to some brothers, as did the last Templars to hold this post. Concerning the physical presence of the figure, there is no evidence that it was ever kept in a single place: on the contrary, some witnesses said that it was entrusted to certain individuals, rather than being tied to one or more mansions. One of the persons mentioned as having a personal guardianship of the “idol” is none other than the Provencal officer Pons de Brozet.[72]

There is an important clue in the first statement that refers to the central mansion of the Paris Temple.[73] As already mentioned, the sergeant who had been shown the “idol” wondered at the fact that he had never seen it again after his ceremony of admission. Now, considering that he had been admitted a long time before (1270) and that the presence of the “idol” is only proved in Paris for the continuous period from 1298 to 1307, it seems that showings depended not on the place but on people, that is, those who celebrated the ceremony of admission. It may have been mostly a matter of confidence, of trust in the man’s moral fibre. The brothers were shown the idol at the start of their lives as Templars, the ceremony that made them order members; it is as if there were a purpose to place the new Templar forthwith under the protection of the order’s great patron, who would then perpetuate his protection through the power of the strand consecrated by contact.

Amaury de La Roche

The last person we hear of having a personal connection with the “idol” is a figure of primary importance in the Temple of the mid-twelve hundreds; in some ways, at least on the international stage, he may have had more influence than the Grand Master himself. Amaury de La Roche belonged to a senior family of the French nobility, which had already given the Temple a Preceptor of France in the first half of the 13th century[74]; older by a generation than the Templar dignitaries tried by Philip the Fair, he had reached in 1261 a very prestigious rank among the Templars – Commander of Outremer, that is commander in chief over the whole Eastern sector. It was the third hierarchic rank in the whole order, and entitled him to counter-sign decrees issued by the Grand Master. The following year he still had that rank, but had added another of greater delicacy and importance: just like Roncelin de Fos exactly ten years earlier, in an act of 1262 Amaury de La Roche is mentioned as compaignon of the Master, Thomas Bérard.[75]

In 1264 the Grand Master summoned him back to France, saying in so many words that the situation in Occident called for his presence; the following year, the King of France set out on a kind of diplomatic campaign because he saw Amaury as a valuable man and absolutely did not want to lose the opportunity to have him as an ally. By the Popes’ gift, the Order of the Temple had always been free to select its own leaders by vote and without any kind of outside interference. Templar statutes only allowed one exception, that is, where a Pope, for reasons of higher necessity, were to interfere and make his desires felt. Louis IX made use of this exception, and strongly pressured Pope Urbanus IV to favour Amaury de La Roche’s candidacy as Preceptor of France, a role which would have involved a great deal of cooperation with the Crown in many ways. The Pope had a hard time imposing his interference on the Templar assembly, which did not view this interference from the King of France as fair; on the other hand, the sovereign would not yield, he kept insisting, extolling Amaury as a person and underlining that that man was bound to him by a very old friendship. The Pope did not wish to displease a man of Louis IX’s calibre: a just King, a faithful husband, of exemplary devotion, it certainly was not easy to say no. Besides, considering his wisdom, it was not hard to imagine that the choice of Amaury would have been a very sound step. In the end, Urbanus Urbano IV thought to seek for help from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, a religious and moral authority to whom the Templars were closely bound. Grand Master Thomas may well not have wanted to lose that man because he felt his need in the East; but in practice, the greatest powers in contemporary Christian society had aligned around the request to make Amaury de La Roche Preceptor of France: so he was forced to yield. The situation was to repeat itself later: Pope Urbanus’ successor, Clemens IV, pressured the Grand Master no less than twice to place Amaury at Charles of Anjou’s disposal, by giving him oversight of the Templar houses of the Kingdom of Naples.[76]

Although his specific duties were from then on focused on Western territories, Amaury de La Roche seems to have had, thanks to Louis IX’s confidence, a role above his rank. Sources show him taking personal charge of Oriental issues, above all the new crusade that dominated the king’s thoughts: in 1267 the Patriarch of Jerusalem turned to him, rather than to the Grand Master, to lament the persecution of the Palestine Christians at the hands of the Sultan of Egypt, and asked him to intercede with the Pope, King Louis, and Charles of Anjou, to intervene swiftly.[77] Amaury went on the Eighth Crusade with the French King, and took part in the siege of Tunis[78]; it seems likely that the King’s death in 1270 interrupted his rise in the Temple, for according to the last notice that still mentions him as living, a reception he held in Paris in 1287, he was still Master of France.[79]

This man’s life intersects at many points with the story of the Shroud as it has been reconstructed so far. He had the full confidence of Louis IX, who set up a whole policy of searching to take to France the most important relics of Jesus left in Constantinople, and had a container of fantastic value, the sublime jewel that is the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris, built especially for them: the True Cross, the Spear, the Sponge used to give drink to the crucified Jesus, and other priceless objects, were solemnly transported to France in a transit intended to have every chrism of legality, by writing out the appropriate documents.[80] Considering his functions, no doubt Amaury assisted Louis IX at some crucial moments, supervised the examinations to have the certainty that the right relics were being sent, and then organised the security measures during transport.

The sources of the Templar trials, alone, do not allow us to establish this important Templar’s parentage with certainty, and we have to be content with knowing that he was of the house of La Roche, a noble family who had taken part in the Fourth Crusade and established its own fiefdom near Athens. And it was near Athens, according to a document dated 1205 which reached us thanks to a copy made by the Archbishop of Monreale (Sicily), Monsignor Benedetto D’Acquisto, the nobleman Othon de La Roche had decided to keep the most precious object in the booty he had taken from the sack of Constantinople, that is the Shroud of Jesus Christ. The document is a letter written to Pope Innocent III by Theodoros Angelos, a brother of Michael, despot of Epirus and member of the deposed and exiled Byzantine imperial family, demanding from the Pope at least the return of the most sacred objects.[81]

The diplomatic form of the letter certainly seems to be genuine, a Latin translation from a Greek original: the Byzantine imperial chancellery produced their official documents in Greek, but attached to them Latin translations, and probably the unknown scribe only copied out the latter. No expert until now has challenged its authenticity, and it seems to agree in form with other Byzantine documents of the time, at least to judge by such formulas as calling the Roman Pontiff “Pope of Old Rome”, or the heading scheme which specialists call illi-ille.[82] In this context, I would like to mention an interesting fact that might have to do exactly with the presence of the Shroud in the region of Athens. The accurate catalogue of churches in the Empire of Constantinople drawn up by Raymond Janin states that in the neighbourhood of Daphni, on the ancient sacred way that once took pilgrims to the famous temple of Apollo, stood an abbey dedicated to the Mother of God. In a letter of 1209, Pope Innocent III strangely calls this “the church of the Blachernae”, that is the very same name of the famous basilica in Constantinople where the crusader Robert de Clari saw the Shroud exhibited just before the sack. The abbey was settled by Cistercian monks from the French town of Bellevaux, which had ties with the La Roche family; and Janin, who has made a detailed study of the history of very many Byzantine religious foundations, could find no explanation for this novel naming of Blachernae, which had nothing what so ever to do with the history of that monastery and seemed to appear out of nowhere on the morrow after the great sack.[83] It would not be surprising if the church of Daphni had been so renamed just by virtue of the unique object it came to hold, which made it somehow a new basilica of the Blachernae.

The last La Roche duke of Athens, also called Othon, died without heirs on 5 October 1308, and was buried in the monastery of Daphni; in all likelihood, the long since Shroud had left his family’s possession.[84]

In 1261 the Latin Empire of Constantinople ceased to exist, Greek emperors recovered the throne, and the establishment of fiefdoms also had to be reorganised. In those years, and to be precise from 1260 to 1265, Amaury was the commander of the Temple throughout the whole East, and had therefore great military, political and economic powers. The Fourth Lateran Council had forbidden the trade in relics under pains of excommunication, so the Shroud could never have been sold. After the sack of Constantinople, several precious reliquaries containing tiny fragments of the shroud of Christ had been sold across Europe, and even King Louis IX the Saint had procured one for his treasury at the Sainte-Chapelle; although these were only fragments, these were objects that drew people’s devotion and curiosity mightily. It is easy to imagine what would have happened if the existence of the sheet had been made widely known – one of the most famous and celebrated relics in all Christendom. Excommunication could have been avoided by making it a free-will gift or some kind of disguised purchase, but the conveyance had at any rate to be carried out as discreetly as possible.[85] There would have been nothing strange about it if the Order of the Temple, as greedy of relics for Jesus Christ as anyone, had come forward to make an offer to the troubled La Roche family through one of their own kinsmen, offering to take this object as pawn for a monumental sum of money – a sum the La Roche would never have been able to return.

The Templars never exhibited the Shroud to the faithful, never got alms from it, never used it to profit from indulgences, indeed they kept it hidden from most of their own members.

Why, then, did they wish to hold and keep this strange object?

A new Sepulchre

As I explained earlier, there is reason to believe, from the complex information at our disposal, that the Templars may have endowed their little linen string with a new, spiritual meaning, when the Order came into contact with the Shroud and discovered its singular properties, especially the awe-striking “belt of blood”. The little belts worn by every member of the Order, which had been in the past consecrated thanks to contact with the stone of the Holy Sepulchre, were now consecrated through contact with the Shroud after Jerusalem was lost. The Shroud came to be, in a sense, a “new Sepulchre”, but as compared with the grave inside the magnificent basilica of Anastasis, it had a much greater power over the imagination; and this power seemed to the Templars to be of vital importance in a truly difficult historical moment.

Between 1198 and 1202, as the French barons were working on the organisation of the new Crusade, Innocent III set up a series of reforming policies to raise the fortunes of Temple and Hospital: after the catastrophic defeat at Hattin by Saladin, the two military orders were on their knees, both because of the loss of fighting men and goods, and because of the immense blow to their image in the eyes of the West, who saw them as the bulwark of Christianity in the Holy Land. The Pope intended to make it easier to join the two orders, and so encourage many lay knights and replenish the ranks of the Templars and Hospitallers. His first step was to broaden certain privileges actually already granted by Innocent II in 1139, especially to allow Templar cemeteries to bury such faithful as wished to be laid to rest there; then came the permission to admit excommunicates into the Temple, a very bold decision that wholly reversed the clearly stated purpose of St. Bernard of Clairvaux at the beginning. Bernard had long fought to stem the spread of Cathar heresy in the Midi, and his preaching had resulted in many conversions, which however had not lasted long. When drafting the Templar rule, the Abbot of Clairvaux was stern: admission to the Temple was totally forbidden to excommunicates, and Templars had no right to accept even alms from such persons as had been placed outside the Catholic communion.[86]

In 1206 this rule was abrogated, and the Temple was opened to these knights, who made up a kind of reserve of energies which could not be exploited because they had been placed outside Christian society. Innocent III had decided that the emergency of the times was enough to justify such an alteration of St. Bernard’s precepts, and that in the end one could follow the same rationale seen in his time by Pope Urbanus II when he had called for the first Crusade in 1095: in many countries in Europe, these excommunicated knights lived at the margins of society, eking out a living by enlisting as mercenaries with some mighty lord who employed them to raid his enemies; or indeed they would turn into true bandits, bloodily assaulting peasants and churches. Offering them absolution if they took vows as Templar or Hospitaller brothers meant giving them a second chance: they could save their souls by serving God and the defence of Jerusalem, and what is more they could be turned into a strong resource for the Christian army.

This is a typical instance of a reform carried out with
the best intentions and yet ending up doing serious damage. Innocent III was fully within his rights in
rewriting Templar statutes; a principle contained
precisely in their statutes declared that the Pope was the master of the order and their lord after Jesus Christ.[87] Pontiffs did not in actual fact ever meddle in Order affairs, and the interference mentioned a few pages ago to have Amaury de La Roche made Preceptor of France is probably the only notable case of this kind; at any rate, and to judge by the tone of the Papal missive, it seems that it had been the Templars themselves who had suggested this reform. The move was completed when another pontifical letter was issued, sanctioning that the privileges bestowed on knights intending to become Templars were extended automatically to their whole family. In 1213, Innocent III was to complain about excessively broad interpretations of the Papal will, but it is a fact that the way his letter had been drafted all but encouraged that kind of reading. [88]

Within certain limits, the Temple had become a kind of free port, a privileged pathway to redemption, as well as good for sheltering from persecution. When you consider how widespread the Cathar heresy was in southern France, and the climate that was created early in the Albigensian Crusade, it is obvious that many families with Cathar connections could not take the opportunity offered by this amnesty fast enough; to be legally protected against the Inquisition, but also against the hard men from the north who were taking advantage of theological conflicts to strike at their political and economic interests. Many passages in ancient sources show that the atmosphere had become nightmarish, and had brought about absurd situations. For instance, it had become quite dangerous to call on the Holy Spirit, for it was known that Cathars recognised only one sacrament, the transmission of the Holy Spirit by laying-on of hands. In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly underlines the power and sacredness of the Spirit for Christians, but still they preferred not to so much as mention him at all, as if he did not exist; even in the most intimate moments there was someone who listened, made guesses, and then laid information before the authorities. A knight’s wife from Cestayrols near Albi was declared a suspect because, in the agony of childbirth, she had cried out: “Holy Spirit of God, help me!” In 1254, a man from Montgey in Tarn, gravely ill, called on the Holy Spirit to be healed, but his brother made him shut up lest he attracted the interest of inquisitors.[89]

We cannot currently make firm estimates, but it seems more than likely that some sons from aristocratic families with Cathar connections were made Templars and so extended the mantle of papal protection; and it may be that not every one of these men changed their religious ideas, when you consider that they had entered the Temple to stay alive. Unorthodox talk or behaviour from this or that Templar leader may have roused some scandal among the laity and in any case did the Order’s public image, already damaged by widespread envy at their many privileges, no good.

The file of Philip the Fair’s charges against the arrested Templars of France includes an accusation that the priests of the Order would not consecrate the Host during Mass; a charge that makes no sense if taken in a general manner, for many ordinary folks went to Mass in Templar churches and such an oddity in the liturgy would never have gone unnoticed. It is however possible that Nogaret’s hired spies had picked up sporadic matter from Heaven knows where, isolated and very rare rumours which however must have looked from the prosecution’s viewpoint like manna from heaven.

Cathars, in fact, did not celebrate the Eucharist, because according to their doctrine the body of Christ had nothing important about it; it was simply a kind of empty shell; nor had there ever been a real sacrifice of Christ that it should be right to renew or to commemorate by celebrating a sacrament. The Christ, the heavenly messenger of God, could not in their view die at all, for his nature was not compounded of the vile, useless mortal detritus that forms men; death may have welcomed the man Jesus, the physical carrier in which the Christ had dwelled for a while, and whom to the Cathars had no importance at all. In effect, during the trial some testimonies were collected which pointed in that direction: during a ceremony of admission, a preceptor said to the new-made Templar that God had never died.

It is probably this kind of broken-off reports of hearsay that led an Oriental scholar such as Hammer-Purgstall to write things like Baphometus Revelatus: reading the few sources then available on the trial, he may have guessed at the connection between the charges made against the Templars and those against the Cathars. Then the cultural fashions of his time, the deforming pressure of Metternich’s interests, and for that matter a highly questionable method of research, led him to exercise his fantasy till he imagined a whole Templar order turning its back en masse on Catholicism and secretly reviving dark and extremely ancient rites.

Today, an overall examination of all the sources on the trial allows us to know that this was at best a tiny phenomenon, limited in time and restricted to the French Midi, where repression against heresy was most intense and above all most bitterly political. The Templars of Italy, of Spain, of Germany, of Scotland and England, of the Slav countries, of Syria-Palestine and Armenia, so far as we can tell, were wholly untouched. It was only south France that saw a momentary and extremely limited spread of heterodox ideas on the Christ, tied to a precise historical moment and to Innocent III’s amnesty: a negligible phenomenon, a tiny spark which however Nogaret was in time to use to start a forest fire.

Thomas and the wound

Curiously, the area where the heretical contamination was broadest was also the one where the cult of Christ’s Shroud was most strongly rooted in the Temple. If the Templars had the opportunity to keep the precious object, it is clear that they wished to keep it for the same reasons that had led Constantine VII to make it the most venerated relic in Constantinople: it was a deadly weapon against the spread of heresies, a far stronger antidote than the preachers’ sermons or even the fires of the Inquisition. No learned debates could have controlled mediaeval men, often illiterate but endowed with an intuition we cannot fully understand today. The Cathars said that the Christ had no true human body or blood; once properly unfolded, the sheet of the Shroud shows the tormented body of the Passion just as the Gospels describe it. Above all, one could see the blood, a lot of blood, scattered everywhere. By the tear among the ribs, indeed, the flow was of stunning size, and the mind could not but go back to the words of the Gospels. In the Last Supper, Jesus had said: “This is my blood for the new and everlasting Covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.[90]

That outpoured blood was still there for everyone to see, soaked through the linen of the Shroud. It could be seen, touched, kissed. It was the best remedy against all heresies. Two centuries later, Martin Luther would write: “The Cross alone is our theology.” It is a sentence distant in time, but it embodies excellently what the Shroud meant for the Templars. One testimony given in the Poitiers trial before the Pope seems to show exactly this dynamic: brother Pons de Brozet, Preceptor of Provence, welcomed a young recruit into the Temple in 1288, and after the obligatory liturgy of the admission ceremony, shows him, first the face above the altar, then a cross. Then he tells him that he should not believe in the Cross, but in that Face, because God never died, and makes him adore and kiss the Face “as relics are kissed”. Pons de Brozet is one of the dignitaries who had the personal keeping of the Shroud; if we visualise the scene with the Shroud folded in the container-reliquary that only showed the face, then everything starts to make sense: the miraculous image that shows how Jesus was not in the Sepulchre for more than three days, the image that bears the sign of Jonas, that shows the Resurrection. Heretics preached that the man Jesus had died, that that was the natural end of man, and that flesh could not rise again. But a Templar does not have to listen to such false alternative doctrines, must never believe that everything ended with the crucifixion. The crucifixion was only the beginning: the idol, the mysterious image that bears the marks of Resurrection, is its evidence.[91]

Another important fact must be noted. The bloodstains left on the Shroud correspond to dense flows, some of which – especially those to the face, the nail wounds, and the hit to the ribs – come from broken veins and are the remains of a very abundant flow. Today, however, nothing is left of the large, solid coagulations that the linen once bore, as if the stuff had lost, after unknown events, most of that thickened, solidified blood that originally stood in solid masses in relief on the sheet, like the crusts of so many wounds. In Constantinople, dispersed in the capital’s over one thousand churches, there were many reliquaries claiming to contain a part of the Holy Blood of Jesus, and many of them were taken to Europe by crusaders after the sack of 1204. This vast movement of the relics of the Blood excited intensely the imaginative faculties of mediaeval man, because it was intimately connected with the mystery of the Eucharist; and it could have influenced the transformation of the legends of the Holy Grail, which in the most ancient versions is nothing more than a miraculous dish described in some Celtic sagas. However, just in the years that follow the Fourth Crusade, it begins to be celebrated as the Cup of the Last Supper, or else as the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have collected the blood coming from the side of the crucified Jesus.[92] In any case, these reliquaries of the Blood were small ampoules made of crystal or rock crystal that contained minute amounts of dried blood. Considering their Byzantine origin, everything suggests that that dried blood had been scraped from the crusts once present on the Shroud; in that sense, those relics were true, that is, they contained the blood from an object believed to be the true Shroud of Christ, certified by the authority of the Emperor of Constantinople. If that was the case, we are not surprised to hear of people spending astronomical sums to have them.[93]

If the order of the Temple suffered a certain contamination from heretics, it is not strange that it should think of gaining a powerful medicine of faith to fight its war in a quiet, private, invisible way. The Order’s high dignitaries carried out delicate diplomatic missions for the Emperors of Byzantium, they knew well the imperial palace of Constantinople, with its hall of wonders. Concerned at the spread of Cathar thought, that had shot through a large part of Christian society and of the Catholic Church, the Order of the Temple thought that the disbelief of some of its own members could be cured in the simple, effective way that had once conquered St. Thomas. The Apostle had declared that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he had first seen and touched the open wound in his side; so too Templars fallen into doubt would have been saved by the ability to see with their own eyes the signs of Christ’s humanity imprinted in that amazing relic. To see and also to touch, as we said: according to the sources, the Templars used to worship the Shroud with a liturgy that included kissing the wounds on the feet.[94]

In the light of these thoughts it no longer seems so strange that the investigators who led the Languedoc enquiry came down so hard on issues of heresy and sorcery, in such an excessive way as to have no comparison elsewhere: maybe in those territories there had been whispers of scandal, hearsay or even only unorthodox behaviours, which had roused the shadow of suspicion. Even if it had been only one case or two, one or two cases would have been enough in that territory.

It is curious that many modern believers tend to look on the Shroud of Turin as evidence that Jesus actually did rise; the Templars, on the other hand, if they kept it at all as the evidence suggests, sought in it an utterly different truth. That Jesus had risen they had never doubted; what they needed was the evidence that the Christ had indeed died. The Templar leaders’ choice to keep the existence and cult of the Shroud secret proved in time a tragic mistake. Although it is unfair to write history from the point of view of 20-20 hindsight and to start imagining what might have happened if-if-if, some facts are absolutely evident: the Shroud’s identity, and its charisma, were more than enough to protect the Order of the Temple from any attempt to charge them for crimes against religion. Had the world known with certainty what the mysterious Templar idol really was, had they seen it and seen the veneration with which it was treated, the black legend of Baphomet would never have been born and all of Philip the Fair’s other charges would have shrunk to the level of backstairs courtier chit-chat.

At present the sources we have do not allow us to understand when exactly the Shroud came into the Temple’s possession, and when it left it to pass to other guardians: the one thing we do know is that it stayed
within the order for some time and that it left indelible traces in its spirituality. Some authors, such as Dubarle, Zaccone, Raffard de Brienne and Alessandro Piana, believe that after the sack of Constantinople the sheet passed directly into the hands of the house of La Roche, and I also share this idea so far as the available sources are concerned; historian Willy Müller on the other hand believes that the Shroud was kept in Germany for some time and had something to do with the Emperor Frederick II, and on his side it must be said that the Shroud’s face has left very clear traces in the German Templar tradition, which placed it on the verso of the seal of the Preceptors of Germany. All these reconstructions cannot really be said to contradict each other; they are only the distinct stages in a long journey of which, in the end, we still know very little.[95]

In fact, the history of the Shroud remains open to hypotheses until the mid-fourteenth century, when it becomes the object of so many written accounts as to leave no space for doubt; for the previous centuries, Ian Wilson’s reconstruction is indubitably the one that shows the highest degree of likelihood and probability. At any rate, whether or not it was the same as the celebrated mandylion, the presence of the Shroud in the imperial collection in Constantinople is certified by various sources. In 1200/1201 the city was in chaos due to the coup that had overthrown the Emperor Isaac II Angelos;
a riot shook the imperial palace, and the custodian of relics, the historian Nicholas Mesarites, had to face down the rioters to prevent their profaning the chapel of Pharos. He managed to calm the soldiers down by appealing to the extreme sacredness of the place: the objects collected within made up a new Jerusalem, something that kept the earth in touch with the heavens, and had to stay outside any political issue. Nicholas describes the Shroud unmistakably, as a funeral sheet where the image of Jesus was outlined as a shape without border lines. “It is made of linen, a humble and simple material, and still has the smell of myrrh. It cannot perish, because it covered the dead body, with ill defined borders, naked, covered with myrrh after the Passion”.[96]

That the linen could still carry the smell of the funeral perfumes in the 12th century is not as surprising as it sounds: in the 1500s, some excavations in Rome opened up imperial age graves, more than a thousand years old, and found several mummified corpses. The excavators’ accounts remark on the clearly perceivable smell of funeral perfumes.[97]

That was the last description of the Shroud in the imperial chapel at Byzantium.

[1] Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza, p. 99.

[2] Baima Bollone and Gaglio, Applicazioni di tecniche, pp. 169-174; Baima Bollone, Jorio and Massaro, La determinazione del gruppo, pp. 175-178 e Id., Ulteriori ricerche, pp. 9-13; Id., Gli ultimi giorni, pp. 95-97; Heller and Adler, Blood on the Shroud, pp. 2742-2744; Adler, Aspetti chimico-fisici, pp. 165-184.

[3] Ps. 22, 17-19; Puech, Notes, pp. 103-124.

[4] Naveh, The Ossuary Inscriptions, pp. 33-37; Tzaferis, Jewish Tombs, pp. 18-32; Puech, Notes, p. 120 e nota 33.

[5] Radermakers, Croce, pp. 378-379; de Fraine e Haudebert, Crocifissione, col. 379; Sabbatini Tumolesi, Gladiatorum Paria, for instance p.107, nota 79.

[6] Blinzler, Il processo di Gesù; Brown, La morte del Messia, pp.1354-1357; Martini, La condanna a morte di Gesù, pp. 543-557; Miglietta, Il processo a Gesù, pp. 767-784; Id., Riflessioni, pp. 147-184; Fabbrini, La deposizione di Gesù, pp. 97-178.

[7] Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza, pp. 99-100.

[8] Savio, Pellegrinaggio di san Carlo, p. 436.

[9] Tommasi, I Templari e il culto delle reliquie, p. 202.

[10] Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza, pp. 101-103.

[11] Luke 24, 46 (Nestle-Aland, p. 753).

[12] John 2, 1-11; Mt 12, 38-42; Dulaey, I simboli cristiani, pp. 70-91.

[13] Schottmüller, II, p. 156.

[14] Villanueva, Viage literario, V, pp. 207-221

[15] Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Reg. Aven. 48, c. 441v, edited by Schottmüller, II, pp. 57-58; Curzon, Règle, § 469; Tréffort, L’Eglise carolingienne et la mort, pp. 67-70, 74.

[16] Barber, The New Knighthood, pp. 244-245.

[17] Berkovits, Illuminierte Handschriften, pp. 19-20; Bazelaire, Alonso and Castex, Nouvelle interpretation, pp. 8-23.

[18] Pellicori and Evans, The Shroud, pp. 34-43.

[19] Brandys, Via Crucis, coll. 1348-1350; Berre, Via Crucis, pp. 1310-1311.

[20] Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza, pp. 94-96.

[21] I chose not to quote by name this sort of book, because their science-fiction taste is out of keeping with the guiding principles of this text. Broad and scholarly treatments of the issue include Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza; Barberis-Savarino, Sindone, radiodatazione; Marinelli and Petrosillo, La sindone, storia di un enigma; Zaccone,Sulle tracce della sindone.

[22] Demurger, Jacques de Molay, pp. 19-24.

[23] Marion e Courage, La sacra sindone, pp. 104-108.

[24] Ibid. pp. 108-123.

[25] Among the most up to date are Emanuela Marinelli, La Sindone, and Marco Tosatti, Inchiesta sulla sindone, both published in 2009.

[26] Adler, Updating, pp. 223-228; Gove et al., A Problematic Source, pp. 504-507.

[27]Papini Stati Silvae, recensuit Aldus Marastoni.

[28] See for instance Teodorsson, The Phonology, pp. 197-199; Milani, pp. 221-229.

[29] Baima Bollone, Sindone e scienza, pp. 132-137.

[30] Tamburelli, La sindone e l’informatica, pp. 240-254; Id., Studio della sindone, pp. 1135-1149; Marastoni, Le scritte, fig. 4.

[31] Schaeder, Nazarhnóς, coll. 833-848; Eusebio di Cesarea, Onomasticon, 138, 24 ss..

[32] Marion and Courage, Nouvelles découvertes, foreword by Christian Imbert (Director in chief, Institut d’Optique e dell’École Superieure d’Optique d’Orsay), pp. 7-10.

[33] Marion, Discovery of Inscriptions, pp. 2308-2313; Marion and Courage, Nouvelles découvertes, pp. 218-226.

[34] Marion and Courage, Nouvelles découvertes, pp. 11-12.

[35] I am grateful to Émile Puech and to Simone Venturini for helping me with this reading. To be correct, I wish to underline that both scholars received photographs of simple Hebraic writings and identified them without having any idea that they were signs found on the Turin shroud. This procedure was required to receive unpolluted views, free from any conditioning that might arise from the history of this famous object: for during my research, I found out personally that the radio-carbon affair has had a disastrously polluting effect on the cultural landscape, creating a prejudice so powerful as to darken the finest, most objective scholarly minds

[36] Messina and Orecchia, La scritta in caratteri ebraici, pp. 83-88.

[37] Kaplan, Le Linceul de Turin, pp. 19-22.

[38] Simonsohn, The Apostolic See, pp. 39-40.

[39] Ibid, pp. 48-50.

[40] Ibid., pp. 51-60.

[41] Vauchez, Contestazioni, pp. 442-455, at pp. 447-448.

[42] Second letter of Peter, 1, 20-3, 17.

[43] Simonetti, Note di cristologia gnostica, pp. 529-553; si veda estesamente Testi gnostici in lingua greca e latina.

[44] Clemente Alessandrino, Stromata, II 114, 3-6.

[45] Luke 8, 2-3; At 6, 1-6; Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Christians of Smyrna, VI, 1-2

[46] Dubois, Valentin, coll. 146-156; Mercati, Anthimi Nicomediensis, pp. 87-98; Janssens, Héracléon, pp. 101-151; Blanc, Le Commentaire d’Héracléon, pp. 81-124; Brown, Giovanni, pp. LXVII-LXXI; Peretto, L’inno cristologico, pp. 257-274.

[47] Grossi, Lo gnosticismo e i Padri della Chiesa, pp. 69-80; Segalla, Vangeli canonici e vangeli gnostici, pp. 47-68; Gianotto, Gli scritti di Nag Hammadi, pp. 36-46; Filoramo, La gnosi ieri e oggi, pp. 21-35.

[48] Mayer, Pauliciani, coll. 996-997; Di Fonzo, Bogomili, coll. 1759-1760; Carile, Potere e simbologia, pp. 432-433; Kazhdan, Bisanzio e la sua civiltà, pp. 97-99; Patlagean, Contestazioni, pp. 434-442.

[49] Patlagean, Contestazioni, p. 436; Vauchez, Contestazioni, pp.449-450.

[50] Further reading on these tendencies: Brown, Giovanni, pp. XXII-XLIII; Segalla, La verità storica dei Vangeli, pp. 195-234.

[51] Mattheu Paris, Historia maior, c. 290, in Potthast, Regesta Pontificum, I, p. 450; Spadafora, Veronica, coll. 1044-1048; Pfeiffer, Le voile de sainte Véronique, pp. 127-131; Paschalis Schlömer, Le «sindon» et la «Véronique», pp. 151-164.

[52] Pesci, Bolsena, coll. 1817-1819.

[53] Meschini, Note sull’assegnazione della viscontea, pp. 635-655 (with a rich and well up to date bibliography).

[54] Chiffoleau, Vie et mort de l’hérésie, pp. 73-99; Griffe, Le catharisme, pp. 215-236; Becamel, Le catharisme, pp. 237-251.

[55] Da Milano, Albigesi, coll. 708-712; D’Amato, Sacconi, Raniero, coll. 1530-1531; Duvernoy, Le catharisme en Languedoc, pp. 27-56; Henriet, Du nouveau sur l’Inquisition, pp. 159-173; Dossat, Les cathares d’après les documents, pp. 72-77.

[56] Curzon, La Règle, § 226.

[57] Frale, La quarta crociata e il ruolo dei Templari, pp. 447-484.

[58] Defremery, Mémoires d’Histoire Orientale, pp. 363-364; Riant, Études sur les derniers temps, pp. 388-389; Barber, The Templars and the Turin Shroud, p. 222.

[59] Among the earliest mentions, it appears in Saint-Gilles in 1266, in Valence in 1268, in Richarenches in 1272, in Albon in 1278, in Avignon in 1280, and so on; cf. Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, pp. 250, 251, 255, ecc.

[60] In Germany in 1271, on the German preceptors’ seals, in Bulst-Thiele, Sacrae Domus, pp. 272-274; in Portugal in 1274 and in Puglia nel 1292 (Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, pp. 256 e 254).

[61] In Gastina (Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, p. 259) and in Limassol (Michelet, Le Procès II, 290).

[62] Michelet, Procès, II, pp. 398-400.

[63] Ripert du Puy: 1290 e 1291 (Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, pp. 246 e 249).

[64] In 1266 (ibid. p. 250) and 1271 (p. 1251); before 1268 (p.262); undated (Finke, II, p. 324).

[65] 1288: Schottmüller, II, p. 29, and Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, p. 270; 1289: Finke, II, p. 321; undated, Finke, II, p. 319 e Schottmüller, II, p. 50; 1290 or 1291: Schottmüller, II, p. 67.

[66] 1288 (Schottmüller, II, p. 28); 1298 (Schottmüller, II, p. 70); 1300 or 1301 (Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, p. 245); undated (Finke, II, p. 323); 1300 (Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, p. 253).

[67] 1291: Frale, L’interrogatorio ai Templari, p. 265; 1305: ibid. p. 247.

[68] Bulst-Thiele, Sacrae domus, p. 235, nota 11.

[69] Delaville Le Roulx, Documents concernant les Templiers, pp. 26-30: the source suggests that the bond between the two de Fos and the Grand Master was close (frere Recelins de Fox, frere Jofroiz de Foz compagnon dou Maistre).

[70] Curzon, La Règle, § 82.

[71] Ibid., §§ 86, 152, 368..

[72] Finke, II, p. 319.

[73] Michelet, Le Procès, II, 191.

[74] Olivier de La Roche (1226-1227): Paris, Archives Nationales, Layettes du Trésor des Chartes, II, p. 117, n. 1914, quoted in Trudon des Ormes, Liste des maisons, p. 57. I thank Luigi Boneschi for the suggestions and materials he has offered me on the subject of this dignitary.

[75] Platelle, Luigi IX, coll. 320-338; Curzon, Le Régle, §§ 77-119; Bulst-Thiele, Sacrae domus, p. 245, act of May 31, 1261; Delaville Le Roulx, Documents concernant les Templiers, p. 34.

[76] Guiraud, Registres d’Urbain IV, t. II, nn. 760, 761, 773; Registres de Clément IV, nn. 855, 1253, 1263; Runciman, Storia delle crociate, II, pp. 902-933.

[77] Servois, Emprunts de Saint Louis, pp. 290-293.

[78] Duchesne, Historiae Francorum scriptores coaetanei, V, pp. 390-391.

[79] Michelet, Les Procès II, pp. 401.

[80] Riant, Exuviae, pp. 22-23, 52. .

[81] Rinaldi, Un documento, pp. 109-113.

[82] Pieralli, La corrispondenza diplomatica, for instance pp. 41, 43, 45-46. It must be borne in mind that this is a private letter, and thus much freer in form than one would expect from an official document of the imperial chancellery.

[83] Janin, Les Églises, pp. 310-311; Fedalto, La Chiesa latina in Oriente, I, p. 299.

[84] Rodd, The Princes of Achaia, II, p. 119.

[85] Riant, Exuviae, p. 7.

[86] Curzon, La Règle, § 13.

[87] Ibid., § 475.

[88] Frale, La quarta crociata e il ruolo dei Templari, pp. 454-466.

[89] For instance Mt, 12, 28; Mc, 3, 29, etc. Dossat, Les cathares d’après l’Inquisition, pp. 81-82.

[90] Mt, 26, 27-28.

[91] Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Reg. Aven. 48, f. 441r; Schottmüller, II, p. 29.

[92] About the legend’s development, see Scavone, British King Lucius, pp. 101-142; Loomis, The Grail, pp. 165-248.

[93] Riant, Exuviae, for example X, 48, 61, 96, 107, 113, 124, 149, ecc.

[94] Paris, Archives Nationales, J 413 n. 25, unnumbered folios (f. 9); Finke, II, pp. 323-324.

[95] Raffard de Brienne, Les duc d’Athènes et le Linceul, pp. 171-176; Dubarle, Le Linceul de Turín, pp. 173-176; Zaccone, Le manuscrit 826, pp. 214-216. Müller, Festliche Begegnungen, I, pp. 2-241.

[96] Nikolaos Mesarites, Die Palast-revolution, p. 30, cit. in Wilson, Holy Faces, pp. 154-155, note 30.

[97] Chioffi, Mummificazione e imbalsamazione, p. 63

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