Tracing the historical trail is one of the most fascinating aspects of Shroud research. A challenging dilemma with the Shroud is that the historical trail is not continuous. There are gaps in its history as it traveled across countries and centuries. Piecing it together is like a grand jig saw puzzle.
Here is an example. There appears to be a cloth discovered in Edessa, Turkey in 525 AD that bore a face image that was declared "The True Likeness" of Christ, "Not made by human hands". Following this discovery, Byzantine images all began to conform to this True Likeness. That iconographic tradition still holds today in Eastern, Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. The cloth that was discovered in 525 was known as "The Image of Edessa". In later centuries it became known as "The Mandylion". The Legend of King Abgar tells the story of how it came to Edessa from Israel in the First century…but that's another story.
There are remarkable resemblance's between early Icon images and the image that is on the Shroud. Could these early artists have been looking at the Shroud image? Or was the Mandylion just another fabricated artwork that disappeared in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade? Critics have a legitimate claim because the documented history of the cloth does not begin in Western Europe until 1353 when if first appears in France. That date also coincides with the Carbon 14 date.
Yet the last Shroud Report told of the remarkable discovery of pollen from plants that only grow in Israel and flower images that indicate it was used in an actual burial. A dilemma indeed.
And now Dr. Garza-Valdez in his recently published book, "The DNA of God?" documents the existence of a bacterial "bio-plastic coating" covering the threads that could be responsible for an erroneous carbon date. Yet another dilemma.
Back to the historical trail. It is believed that the Mandylion was at first only known as a face image because of the way it was folded and presented to viewers. However, over the centuries there appears to be a growing awareness of a full body image and that it was the burial wrappings of Christ.
In the following references from ancient literature, pay special attention to how the descriptions of the Mandylion compare with the Shroud and also how it becomes understood that the cloth bore a full body image:
6th Century: "The divinely wrought image which the hands of men did not form."
8th Century: "The Lord (…) impressed an image of himself."
9th Century: "…the city of Edessa in which there was preserved a blood stained image of the Lord, not made by hands."
10th Century: "A moist secretion without pigment or painter's art."
10th Century: "The splendor has been impressed uniquely by the drops of agony sweat (…) These are truly the beauties that produced the coloring of Christ's imprint, which has been embellished further by the drops of blood sprinkled from his own side."
12th Century: "Abgar reigned as Toparch of Edessa. To him the Lord Jesus sent (…) a most precious cloth, which he wiped the sweat from his face, and on which shone the savior's features, miraculously reproduced. This displayed to those who gazed upon the likeness and proportions of the body of the Lord."
13th Century: "The story is passed down from the archives of ancient authority that the Lord prostrated himself with his entire body on the whitest linen and so by divine power there was impressed on the linen a most beautiful imprint of not only the face, but the entire body of the Lord."
All of these historical references are descriptions of the Mandylion. In 944 the cloth was taken from Edessa to Constantinople (now Istanbul). The cloth and all other relics and objects of wealth were stolen and brought to the West as booty. The Mandylion also disappeared. In 1203, a Crusader Knight named Robert de Clari claims to have seen the cloth there, "Where there was the Shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright so one could see the figure of our Lord on it." It was probably kept in a box that had a pulley system that raised the cloth up gradually as part of the liturgy so all could see.
After the Fourth Crusade, in 1205, the following letter was sent by Thoeodore of Epirus, a Greek Lord, to Pope Innocent III protesting the attack on the capital: "In April of last year, a crusading army, having falsely set out to liberate the Holy Land, instead laid waste the City of Constantine. During the sack, troops of Venice and France looted even the Holy Sanctuaries. The Venetians partitioned the treasures of gold, silver and ivory, while the French did the same with the relics of the saints and, most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before the resurrection."
When all the descriptions are analyzed, it becomes clear that the Mandylion was understood to be 1) a burial shroud 2) with a faint image 3) not made with artistic substances and 4) covered in blood including the side wound. Sound familiar? All of these references are earlier than the carbon 14 date of 1260 to 1390 and refer to the Mandylion, which has a known history to at least the sixth century.
It is believed that sometime after 1204, those who had come into possession of the Mandylion, because of its extreme value as the most holy of all relics of Christ, entrusted its care to the Knights Templars. The Templars were an international crusading order of knights known as warrior monks. They gained great wealth by offering protection and security of valuables while people left the country on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. By 1307, the Templars had amassed so much wealth and power, they were disbanded by the King of France and the Pope. Charges of heresy were brought against them during the French Inquisition. Their heresy was that they "worshipped" a mysterious idol.
One of the two leaders of the Templars burned at the stake in 1314 for heresy was Geoffrey de Charny. Is it mere coincidence that it is also a Geoffrey de Charny that reveals the Shroud for the first time in France in 1353? No ancestral relationship? Or another clue linking the Shroud and the Mandylion as the same cloth.
There is more evidence…but that's another story.