|A typical ‘souvenir’ of an exposition with presiding clergy (1608), one of several made between 1578 and 1750.|
DESCRIPTIONS OF VARIOUS COPIES OF THE HOLY SHROUD part 1.
WHAT were the impressions on the Holy Shroud three, four and five hundred years ago ? " is the question which we must try to answer next.
Testimony gleaned from this far-off period is by no means to be despised. We have worked at our own investigations chiefly from photographs which we believe that we can interpret; but the men of the Middle Ages had this great advantage over us : they could examine the Shroud itself. There were other pretended Shrouds, to which were ascribed all the authenticity which we attribute to the relic of Turin. We must examine their pretensions. Good evidence is often obtained even from a bad witness. As a matter of fact, among the shrouds, so-called holy, known in the past, only one can be considered as a serious rival to the Holy Shroud of Turin, namely, the Holy Shroud of Besangon, which was destroyed, as we have seen, by ecclesiastical authority. The linen cloths, venerated at Cadouin, at Cahors, at Compiegne and other places bore no impression of any kind, and therefore need not be considered. Moreover they have been well and fairly dealt with by Monsieur Chevalier in his Etude Critique, already referred to. We will mention the false shroud of Xabregas, near Lisbon, in its proper place. It had a local reputation, founded on an absurd legend.
As to the Holy Faces, i.e. the so-called portraits of our Lord on handkerchiefs, napkins, or face-cloths, we can give no information. The two which are preserved at Rome have not been photographed, and the painted copies are of no interest. They are all positive paintings.
We will now set forth what is known of the Holy Shroud of Besançon, thereby proving that it was neither more nor less than an imperfect " replica " of the Holy Shroud of Turin.
In 1794 the French Convention ordered the Holy Shroud of Besan£on to be destroyed; but although the cloth no longer exists, we shall endeavour to give a full and sufficient idea of its appearance by the aid of certain precise descriptions of it and a few very faithful copies which have been preserved.
This particular Holy Shroud was a piece of cloth eight feet long and four feet wide, as set forth in the History of the Church of Besanfon by Dunod (vol. i. p. 412). On this cloth was plainly visible a picture or representation of Jesus Christ, which in its main lines corresponded with the front aspect of the impression on the Holy Shroud of Turin.
To arrive at the history of the Holy Shroud of Besangon, the information supplied by Chifflet (page 53) is insufficient. He assures us that the relic reached France between the years 1051 and 1253. He supports this assertion by a quotation from a record from the church of St. Iitienne, with which we are ourselves familiar : " Quin et ipse S. Leo IX Pontifex maximus, qui anno mxlviii Ecclesiam S. Stephani majus altare consecravit, in Diplomate, quod deinde Anno mli canonicis concessit, ait, vidisse se in altari basilicae S. Stephani condidisse pretissimum S. Stephani brachium, ictibus lapidandium Judaeorum quassatum ; nulla prorsus sacrosancti lintei facta mentione ; quod tamen si illic jam fuisset, et ipse oculis lustrasset, non videbatur omissurus. Statim vero post initium saeculi decimitertii, tangitur ritus ostentionis S. Sudarii, ex altari S. Stephani, die Paschae, in quodam Rituum codice, quern scriptum constat ante unionem Ecclesiarum S. Joannis et S. Stephani factum anno MCCLIII."
But this does not mean much. It is not a question here of a portrait of Christ ; besides, there is nothing to prove, in the old record quoted, that the reference is to a Shroud esteemed to be authentic. It is well known indeed that in many churches, at the Easter services, a piece of cloth, like a winding-sheet, was used in ceremonial, simply to bring the scene of the Passion more vividly before the multitude.
Nor can we attach greater importance to the statements of Monsieur Jules Gauthier, in his Notes Iconographiques sur le Sainte Suaire de Besanfon. He knows of no allusion to this Shroud before 1523.
There are in the Library of Besançon two dissertations in manuscript, written the one in favour of, the other in opposition to, the authenticity of the relic. We will make use of both. The first (urging its authenticity), was written at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and its writer seems to have had access at the time to documents which it would be necessary to examine anew, if the question had really to be gone into closely. He tells us how the Holy Shroud of Besançon was given to Count Otho de la Roche in 1205, as a recompense for his valour at the siege of Constantinople, the dukedoms of Athens and of Thebes being conferred upon him at the same time. Count Otho sent the precious relic to his father, Pontius de la Roche, who, after showing it to his friends and neighbours, solemnly deposited the sacred object in the hands of Amadeus archbishop of Besançon.
But, in the first place, it is unlikely that a simple French gentleman would have been made a present of so precious a relic as the actual Shroud of our Saviour, bearing His impression; (in Chapter II we set forth all that is known of this Byzantine piece of cloth, giving the testimony of the chronicler Robert de Clary, which directly contradicts the above story. See page 55).
In the second place, we shall see that a singular circumstance happened in the fourteenth century, which would lead us to think that the linen cloth known later as the Holy Shroud of Besancon was altogether different from that known in the thirteenth century.