Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

The Emergence of the Shroud

Shroud of Turin showing face
Shroud of Turin showing face

During the mid 1350s pilgrims by the thousands flocked to Lirey, France, to catch a rare glimpse of what was believed by many to be the sacred burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Pilgrims were convinced that the adored object of worship was authentic because the linen bore a faintly visible front and posterior image of a crucified and tortured man resembling a medieval representation of Jesus. The famed knight Geoffroy de Charny owned the famous linen cloth, which he proudly exhibited at the local church, Our Lady of Lirey.

Although Geoffroys shroud was accepted as genuine by most, some were highly skeptical of its origin and validity. One of the earlier and more vocal skeptics of the shrouds authenticity was a man named Pierre dArcis, the Bishop of Troyes. Based on evidence collected during an investigation initially launched by the previous bishop Henri de Portiers and then taken up by his successor dArcis, there was reason for them to believe that the shroud was a fake.

In a letter to the Pope written in 1389, dArcis stated that Geoffroy falsely and deceitfully... procured for his church a certain cloth which had been cunningly painted, and pretended that it was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb. It was suggested that the shroud was the centerpiece of an elaborate marketing campaign launched by Geoffroy, and intended to drive up the sales of accompanying souvenirs he sold to the masses for a substantial profit. According to dArcis, the shroud was the work of human skill, and the identity of the person who forged the shroud had been established, although his name was never mentioned.

The allegations were the first known mention of fraud concerning the shroud. At the time it was written Geoffroy had already been dead for thirty-three years. The reason dArcis pursued the matter well after the knights death was because by the 1380s the shroud was being exhibited for profit by Geoffroys son, who bore the same name.

Inquest on the Shroud of Turin
Inquest on the Shroud of Turin

According to Joe Nickells book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, Geoffroy II went to great lengths to circumvent dArcis in an attempt to get consent to display the shroud. Nickell wrote that Geoffroy II deliberately went over the bishops head by appealing to the cardinal for permission, which was eventually granted. Moreover, he reported that Geoffroy II downplayed his claims made at earlier exhibitions that the shroud was authentic.

Despite dArcis appeals to King Charles VI of France and Pope Clement VII, Geoffroy II was granted permission to exhibit the shroud. However, the pope instituted restrictions that included prohibiting Geoffroy II from displaying the shroud as a holy relic. He decreed that every time it was displayed in public, the exhibitor had to inform onlookers that the shroud was not the actual burial garment of Jesus, and contained only an artistic rendition of his face.

Likeness of King Charles VI
Likeness of King Charles VI

Geoffroy II obeyed the limitations and continued to display the shroud to thousands of pilgrims who congregated to see the mystifying cloth. Following Geoffroy IIs death, it was handed down to his granddaughter, Margaret. She ensured the shrouds place in history by fostering rumors that the shroud was indeed genuine. Most believed that, although the church never recognized the cloth as sacred.

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