Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

Margaret de Charny

Montfort castle ruins
Montfort castle ruins
 

During the early part of the 15th century, Margaret asked the canons of Lirey for permission to remove the shroud from the church so that she could relocate it to Montfort castle, where she and her second husband Humbert of Villersexel, the Count of La Roche, both resided. According to historical accounts, Margaret feared the shroud was under threat by the ongoing war and thought it better to keep it near her. After all, it was a family heirloom, once owned by her grandfather and she believed she had a right to protect it.

The church eventually gave permission for Margaret to take possession of the shroud, which she did in 1418. Margarets husband ensured the church that the cloth would be immediately returned once the threat had passed. Although the shroud was initially kept at the castle, it was eventually moved to St. Hippolyte and housed at the chapel des Buessarts, located on the banks of the Doubs River. According to Ian Wilsons The Blood and the Shroud, the cloth was displayed annually in the Pré du Seigneur meadow near the river, which attracted a small cult of shroud worshippers.

The Blood and the Shroud
The Blood and the Shroud

In 1438, Margarets husband, Count Humbert, was killed in battle. Five years after his death, at the end of the war, Margaret failed to fulfill the promise her husband had made to the church in Lirey concerning the return of the shroud. Nickell wrote that Margaret, instead took the cloth on tour, holding exhibitions in the diocese of Liège in Belgium, and as far as Geneva, Switzerland.

Some historians have said that Margaret fostered rumors that the shroud was authentic so she could better profit from the exhibitions. Other historians rebuffed the claim, arguing that historical evidence indicates she was upfront about the cloth not being authentic, but merely a representation of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether she marketed the shroud as the real thing or not, she earned a substantial amount of money from her tour and gained the attention of some in the upper class, including the Duke and Duchess of Savoy.

On several occasions, Duke Louis I and his wife Duchess Anne showed an intense interest in the cloth. In 1453 they offered to buy it. Margaret eventually accepted their offer, and was given a castle near Lyon, France, and a substantial amount of money. The Lirey canons were so enraged when they learned that Margaret had sold the shroud that they threatened to excommunicate her unless she returned the cloth or paid them compensation.

In 1460, Margaret died without ever fulfilling her obligation to the church. Following her death, the Lirey church made a last attempt to collect the money, this time from the Savoyfamily who were in possession of the shroud. According to an article by Ian Wilson, Highlights of the Undisputed History, the duke agreed to pay the church compensation in the form of an annual rent in exchange for keeping the shroud.

However, it lasted only as long as the duke. By the time he died in 1465 and passed the shroud down to his son, Duke Amadeus IX, the annual rent to the church had ceased. Most of the money meant for the Lirey church likely went instead into the building of a magnificent chapel specifically intended to house the shroud.

After all, the shrouds popularity had grown significantly. Not only did most people accept it as authentic, but many believed it had magical properties, a rumor instigated by the Savoy family. The shroud was now unofficially considered to be a holy relic, a view that would hold for centuries.

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