Could the Shroud of Turin have been displayed in the Byzantine Empire before the thirteenth-century? A pair of Italian scholars suggest so, basing their theory on micro-particles of gold found on the famous cloth.
The Shroud of Turin – which depicts a male figure – is a controversial linen cloth. Some Christians believe this was the real burial shroud of Jesus Christ, while most scholarly evidence points to it being created in the Middle Ages. Radiocarbon testing done on a corner piece of the Shroud shows that it was made between the years 1260 and 1390, but some believe the test pieces were medieval additions to the cloth.
Giulio Fantia and Claudio Furlan of the University of Padua report in the Journal of Cultural Heritage that they tested micro-particles of gold, which have been vacuumed up at various times from the Shroud, and compared them gold found in a set of 32 coins minted in the Byzantine Empire between the seventh and twelfth-centuries. Using Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence analysis they wanted to find any similarities between the micro-particles and the Byzantine coins. They write:
Among the 17 micro-particles coming from the Shroud, five of them are 100% pure gold and could be related to the golden environment in which the Shroud was exhibited before the Byzantine debasement of the XI century. Two of the micro-particles are composed of gold (93–96%) with metallic impurities of silver and copper and could be related to Byzantine coins struck in the period 1028–1078; four of them are composed of gold (70–89%) and could be related to coins struck in the period 1059–1180; one of them is composed of gold (32%) and could be related to a coin struck in 1143–1180 by Emperor Manuel I.
Moreover, the researchers found the nine of the seventeen fragments had electrum, which is an alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper. This alloy was used in the Byzantine Empire during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a period when their coins were being debased.
A hyperpyron, a form of Byzantine coinage, issued by Manuel. One side of the coin (left image) depicts Christ. The other side depicts Manuel (right image). Photo by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc
The article argues that if these gold micro-fragments are Byzantine, they would have contaminated the Shroud when it came into contact with coins, jewellery and other relics. They believe that the Shroud would have displayed and stored with items made of gold, or even that people could have rubbed actual coins onto cloth, leaving behind the gold dust.
They further speculate that the Shroud was in Constantinople until the city was sacked in the year 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. They note that Robert de Clari, a crusader knight, reported seeing a similar item in the city:
“Among these there was a church called St. Mary of the Blachernae, where the Shroud (Sydoines) was kept in which Our Lord was wrapped. Every Friday it was elevated all straight, so that it was possible to easily see the image of Our Lord.”
The cloth could have then been taken back to Europe as war booty, or was sent to the French king Louis IX in 1238 by the Latin Emperor of Constantinople along with other Christian relics. The earliest records we have about the Shroud come from fourteenth-century France. It was moved to the Cathedral of Turin in 1578, where it has been kept since.
The researchers conclude their paper by noting that “these results are compatible with the Shroud being present in the Byzantine Empire prior to 1204 A.D., as many other historical clues indicate.”
The article, “Do gold particles from the Turin Shroud indicate its presence in the Middle East during the Byzantine Empire?,” by Giulio Fantia and Claudio Furlan will appear in the Journal of Cultural Heritage. Click here to access the article from Elsevier.
Top Image: Shroud of Turin – photo by Giuseppe Enrie / Wikimedia Commons