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HOLY COUNTENANCE
from issue no. 04 - 2009

Clues to the Resurrection of Jesus

The Sudarium of Oviedo


According to one tradition the “Sudarium of the Lord” has been preserved in the ancient capital of Asturias since the eighth century. The scientific studies have recognized spots of blood compatible with those of the Shroud of Turin


by Lorenzo Bianchi


The Sudarium of Oviedo (Asturias, Spain). According to one tradition, it is the cloth with which Jesus’ face was covered during the deposition from the cross and removal to the tomb. The blood stains imprinted on it are compatible, in composition, blood group and geometric distribution, with those present on the Shroud of Turin

The Sudarium of Oviedo (Asturias, Spain). According to one tradition, it is the cloth with which Jesus’ face was covered during the deposition from the cross and removal to the tomb. The blood stains imprinted on it are compatible, in composition, blood group and geometric distribution, with those present on the Shroud of Turin

For several years now, scientific research on the Sudarium that is preserved in the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo (Asturias, northern Spain) has been in progress, even though most people aren’t aware of it. It is a rectangular piece of linen cloth, only partially regular, about 86 centimeters by 53, of the same composition as that of the Sudarium in terms of the size of the fiber, hand spinning and twisting, though the weaving, which has an orthogonal warp is different from that of the Sudarium which is herringbone. To the naked eye only spots of a light brown color, of varying intensity, which has turned out to be human blood, are visible on it; and microscopic analyses has shown further bloodstains (some dotlike), as well as grains of pollen and traces of aloe and myrrh. Historical sources traditionally associate the Sudarium with the passion of Jesus; it is exposed to the faithful three days a year: on Good Friday and the first and last day of the Jubilee of the Holy Cross, that is, on 14 September (the Feast of the Holy Cross) and 21 September (Feast of Saint Matthew).

History
The accounts that have come down to us derive mainly from the medieval reconstruction of its history done in the Liber Testamentorum by Pelagius, Bishop of Oviedo from 1101 to 1130 (the year he was deposed), who died in 1153. He claims that the Sudarium, from the tomb of Jesus, was preserved in Jerusalem along with other relics in a sarcophagus of cedar wood, which remained there until the time of the conquest of the city at the hands of the Persians under Cosroe II in 614, when a monk named Philip fled with it to Alexandria, in Egypt. When the Persians also reached there in 616, Philip brought the sarcophagus from North Africa to the Iberian peninsula, delivering it to St Fulgenzius, bishop of Ecija, who gave it to his brother St Leander, Bishop of Seville (Leander actually died around 600). St Isidore, who was also a brother of Leander and his successor, gave it to his student Saint Hildephonsus (607-667), who, when consecrated bishop of Toledo in 657, brought it with him to the capital of the Hispano-Visigothic kingdom .
To these accounts of Pelagius we can add a reference to “the sudarium of the tomb of Christ” in 570 by the pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza, who knew of its location in the cave of a monastery on the banks of the River Jordan, near Jericho (but he doesn’t say that he had seen it), while St Braulius, Bishop of Saragossa from 631 to 651, speaks of its finding (it is not clear where, but probably in Spain). Another pilgrim, however, the bishop Algulphus, says he saw the Sudarium in Jerusalem in 670.
Again according to Pelagius, for fear of the Arabs who had begun the invasion of Spain in 711, the Sudarium and other relics placed in a new sarcophagus made of ash were transferred from Toledo directly to Oviedo, in Asturias. Another tradition, perhaps more reliable, says that on this occasion the Sudarium and relics were hidden in a hermitage on Monsacro, a mountain ten kilometers from Oviedo. Only toward 840 did the King of Asturias Alfonso II the Chaste (791-842) bring them to Oviedo: for this he had the “Cámara Santa” (Holy Room) built in his palace, a chapel that since then houses the ark with the relics (the chapel is now incorporated within the Gothic Cathedral of San Salvador, built in the 14th century).
After a possible opening of the sarcophagus perhaps in the early decades of the 11th century, a document dated 14 March 1075 (of which there is a 13th century copy in the archive of the Cathedral of Oviedo), speaks of an examination on the previous day in the presence of the king of Castile and Leon Alfonso VI (1065-1109) and provides us with the first inventory of the contents, with the express mention of “de Sudario eius [Domini]”. A claim that also appears on the silver lining of the sarcophagus, ordered by the same Alfonso VI and made a few years after his death, as evidenced by the date engraved on the metal (1113).
A further survey of the content of the sarcophagus took place at the time of Bishop Diego Aponte de Quiñones (1585-1598) when King Philip II sent his envoy Ambrogio de Morales to provide a new inventory of the relics.
So the history of the Sudarium, going back essentially to a very late testimony (well into the 12th century), does not seem to have what reliability would require. Yet, against all expectation, scientific research has not contradicted but rather strengthened it.

The San Salvador Cathedral in Oviedo 
(14th century) which contains the “Cámara Santa” within which the sarcophagus containing relics that came to Oviedo in the 8th century is kept, including the “Sudarium of the tomb of Christ”

The San Salvador Cathedral in Oviedo (14th century) which contains the “Cámara Santa” within which the sarcophagus containing relics that came to Oviedo in the 8th century is kept, including the “Sudarium of the tomb of Christ”

Scientific studies
The first studies on the Sudarium, starting in 1965, are due to Monsignor Giulio Ricci who pointed out certain analogies with the Sudarium, which he had spent much time studying. The most recent examination of the Sudarium (the last international conference of studies on the Sudarium was held in Oviedo in April 2007), still being continued by the EDICES (Equipo de investigación del Centro español de Sindonología), initially established that the cloth had been placed over the face of a man already dead, folded, and tacked behind the head. A quadruple series of stains, mirror-like on both sides of the folded cloth, was found to consist of one part blood and six parts of edematous pulmonary fluid, a substance that accumulates in the lungs when death is caused by suffocation, such as occurs after crucifixion. The man whose blood is present on the Sudarium of Oviedo died therefore for the same causes as the man of the Shroud. Some stains overlie others in such a way as to make clear that the latter were already dry when the former occurred, and therefore the researchers deduced that the Sudarium was placed on the face of the deceased on at least two distinct occasions. Among the stains fingerprints also can be distinguished, located around the mouth and nose, left probably by those who were trying to stop a flow of blood from the nose after the cloth was wrapped around the head. In addition to stains of edematous fluid others of a different kind were recognized, including small dots of blood caused by small sharp objects, perhaps thorns.
But the most remarkable coincidence is that the stains on the Sudarium showed geometric correspondence with those of the Shroud, and are also a little larger than them. The imprint of the nose, measured both on the Shroud and the Sudarium, was found to have the same length of eight centimeters. Surveys conducted in 1985 and again in 1993 showed that the blood of the Sudarium of Oviedo belongs to group AB, common in the Middle East but rare in Europe, the same group as the blood on the Shroud. The DNA survey on the other hand produced no outcome, the result was too fragmented and so unusable, and the carbon 14 test, which gave a 7th century AD dating was, however, considered unreliable by the scientists themselves because of the excessive pollution of the samples.
The pollen found on the Sudarium, like those of the Shroud, examined in 1979 by the biologist Max Frei, suggest the Middle East and were found to be compatible with the flora of 1st century Palestine. In particular, Frei found traces of pollen from six different types of plants. Two were plants characteristic of Palestine: quercus calliprinos and tamarindus. The other pollens came from North Africa and Spain, unexpectedly confirming the itinerary of the Sudarium described by Bishop Pelagius. And finally again, the technique used in the processing of the flax, the material from which the object is made, also leads back to 1st century Palestine, again like the Shroud.
All the scientific findings therefore seem to lead to the conclusion that the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin were in contact with the same person. And this happened at close but separate moments; certainly the Sudarium before the Shroud, both because the larger stains suggest the blood was more fluid, and because on the Sudarium there is only blood but not the negative image which appears instead on the Shroud, where we know it was formed later than the bloodstains. Taking account of the results, it was hypothesized that the Sudarium of Oviedo may be the cloth that was used, according to Jewish custom, to cover the face of Jesus while being taken from the Cross to the tomb, but was removed from the face before this was covered with the Shroud; and that, precisely because it was soaked in blood, had to be left (according to Jewish burial rules) in the tomb. However, we cannot establish whether this is the sudarium that John saw and mentioned in the Gospel.
There is another item that shows notable geometric correspondences with the Shroud of Turin as well as the Sudarium of Oviedo; the Holy Coutenance of Manoppello.


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