In addition to a walking cane, I carry an iPad with me everywhere I go. I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms or at a table in a restaurant waiting for my wife who is outside on the phone with one of the kids or on a bench in the dog park waiting on the dog. I keep a special folder on my iPad. It contains articles, comments and whatnots that I want to reread soon. I call the folder “Treasures.” There are comments by Louis, DaveB, Hugh and Yannick; quotations I came across in today’s papers; even a recipe for Low Country BBQ Sauce. I already put the following guest posting into the folder because I will want to reread it later today, maybe a couple of times. And then I’ll want to think some more about it.

Arculfus’ Shroud –an alternative to the Wilson’s Mandylion
theory about the early history of the Shroud of Turin.


imageAs we all know, the most popular reconstruction of the Shroud of Turin’s early history, up to 1204 when it was seen in Constantinople by the crusader knight Robert de Clari, is the one suggested by Ian Wilson in his 1978 book The Shroud of Turin, and subsequent. Wilson proposed (although there are claims that this had been suggested before by some other authors, nevertheless, we will be further calling it the ‘Wilson hypothesis’), that the Shroud of Turin is identical with the Mandylion, the ‘not-made by human hands’ image of Jesus face (and in later versions the whole body), which miraculously cured the king Abgar V of Osroene, contemporary of Jesus. According to Wilson hypothesis, the Shroud was folded in 8 layers (tetradiplon), in a way that only face could be seen. The Mandylion was brought from Edessa to Constantinople in 944, when its true nature was found.

The Wilson hypothesis became a standard one, and widely accepted in Shroud scholarship, despite some reluctance from Byzantinists and other art/Church historians, usually not interested (not to say ignorant) in Shroud affairs. Nevertheless, there are still some inside Shroud circles, who contest it, from various reasons. For them, I want to present a possible alternative hypothesis to Wilson’s, although I still prefer the former (with some minor modifications), arguments for which I find much stronger, actually on the verge of being proven. The other hypothesis was actually quite popular about 50 years ago, only later to be abandoned in favour of Wilson’s. It identifies the Shroud of Turin with the burial cloth that Frankish bishop Arculfus de Perigeux saw in Jerusalem circa 670 AD. This theory has been described in Pietro Savio’s 1957 book Ricerche storiche sulla Santa Sindone, which is unavailable to me –I have the summary of it in the Stanisław Waliszewski’s book Całun Turyński Dzisiaj.1

The basis of the story is the relation of Arculfus reported to the Adamnan, the Abbot of the Monastery of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides, where Arculfus landed after the storm during his voyage back from the Holy Land. We can quote it here via Rev. James Rose Macpherson translation from 1895:2


As to the sacred napkin which was placed upon the head(31) of the Lord in the Sepulchre, we learn from the narrative of the sainted Arculf, who inspected it with his own eyes.

The whole people of Jerusalem bear witness to the truth of the narrative we now write. For on the testimony of several faithful citizens of Jerusalem, the sainted Arculf learned this statement which they very often repeated to him as he listened attentively : A certain trustworthy believing Jew, immediately after the Resurrection of the Lord, stole from His Sepulchre the sacred linen cloth and hid it in his house for many days; but, by the favour of the Lord Himself, it was found after the lapse of many years, and was brought to the notice of the whole people about three years(32) before [this statement was made to Arculf].(33) That happy, faithful thief, when at the point of death, sent for his two sons, and, showing them the Lord’s napkin, which he had at first abstracted furtively, offered it to them, saying: `My boys, the choice is now given to you. Therefore let each of you say which he rather wishes to choose, so that I may know without doubt to which of you, according to his own choice, I shall bequeathe all the substance I have, and to which only this sacred napkin of the Lord.’ On hearing this, the one who wished to obtain all his sire’s wealth, received it from his father, according to a promise made to him under the will. Marvellous to say, from that day all his riches and all his patrimony, on account of which he sold the Lord’s napkin, began to decrease, and all that he had was lost by various misfortunes and came to nothing. While the other blessed son of the above-named blessed thief, who chose the Lord’s napkin in preference to all his patrimony, from the day when he received it from the hand of his dying sire, became, by the gift of God, more and more rich in earthly substance, and was by no means deprived of heavenly treasure. And thus this napkin of the Lord was faithfully handed down as an heirloom by the successive heirs of this thrice blessed man to their believing sons in regular succession, even to the fifth generation. But many years having now passed, believing heirs of that kindred failed, after the fifth generation, and the sacred linen cloth came into the hands of unbelieving Jews, who, while unworthy of such an office, yet embraced it honourably and, by the gift of the Divine bounty, were greatly enriched with very diverse riches. But an accurate narrative about the Lord’s napkin having spread among the people, the believing Jews began to contend bravely with the unbelieving Jews about the sacred linen cloth, desiring with all their might to obtain possession of it, and the strife that arose divided the common people of Jerusalem into two parties, the faithful believers and the faithless unbelievers.

Upon this, Mavias,(34) the King of the Saracens, was appealed to by both parties to adjudicate between them, and he said to the unbelieving Jews who were persistently retaining the Lord’s napkin;(35) `Give the sacred linen cloth which you have into my hand.’ In obedience to the king’s command, they bring it from its casket and place it in his bosom. Receiving it with great reverence, the king ordered a great fire to be made in the square before all the people, and while it was burning fiercely, he rose, and going up to the fire, addressed both.contending parties in a loud voice : `Now let Christ, the Saviour of the world, who suffered for the human race, upon whose head this napkin, which I now hold in my bosom, and as to which you are now contending, was placed in the Sepulchre, judge between you by the flame of fire, so that you may know to which of these two contending hosts this great gift may most worthily be entrusted.’Saying this, he threw the sacred napkin of the Lord into the flames, but the fire could in no way touch it, for, rising whole and untouched from the fire, it began to fly on high, like a bird with out-spread wings, and looking down from a great height on the two contending parties, placed opposite one another as if they were two armies in battle array, it flew round in mid air for some moments; then slowly descending, under the guidance of God, it inclined towards the party of the Christians, who meanwhile prayed earnestly to Christ, the judge, and finally it settled in their bosom. Raising their hands to heaven, and bending the knee with great gladness, they give thanks to God and receive the Lord’s napkin with great honour, a gift to be venerated as sent to them from heaven; they render praises in their hymns to Christ, who gave it, and they cover it up in another linen cloth and put it away in a casket of the church.

Our brother Arculf saw it one day taken out of the casket, and amid the multitude of the people that kissed it, he himself kissed it in an assembly of the church; it measures about eight feet(36) in length.(37) As to it let what has been said suffice.


Arculf saw also in that city of Jerusalem another linen cloth of larger size, which, as is said, St. Mary wove, and which, on that account, is held in great reverence in the Church and by all the people. In this linen cloth the forms of the twelve Apostles are woven, and the likeness of the Lord Himself is figured; one side of the linen cloth is of red colour, while the opposite side is green.(38)


30C. places this chapter at the end of the first Book.

31C. adds, ‘and the body.’

32`Three hundred’ is suggested by various editors.

33C. reads, instead of next three sentences, ‘And when he was at the point of death, he said to his two sons: My sons, who of you would wish faithfully to receive the napkin of the Lord? On hearing this, the one who had received his sire’s wealth according to his will, received the napkin that has been spoken of, and sold it to his own brother.

34L. ‘Mavius;’ others, `Majuvias,’ `Navias ;’ C., `Nauvias.’ Muavia, the founder of the Omeyyad dynasty, Caliph of Syria, A.D. 658; sole Caliph, 661; died, 680.

35`In the sight of the Christian Jews who were present,’ V:, R.,P. 12943.

36`Cubits’ in some MSS.

37On the margin of C. there is added in the handwriting of the fifteenth century: `But afterwards it came into the possession of the Bishop of Anicia, who had made a voyage in the districts beyond the sea; and he, dying there, gave it to one who was his priest. This priest also died as he was crossing the sea, leaving the precious gift to a cleric who served him. He, when he was in the country of Petragora, where he was born, placed the napkin of the Lord in a church which was recommended to him, near Caduinum. And not long after he had left the church one day, a fire broke out in a [the nearest] farm and also in that church, and burned whatever it found; but it did not touch the casket in which the napkin was preserved, and which was near the altar. On hearing this, some of the brothers, who were lately staying at Caduinum, hastened thither, and when they had found the casket, they broke it by force, and, taking the “barletum,” where the napkin of the Lord was, they brought it with them very quickly and deposited it in their own monastery about the year of the Lord 1512. But the cleric, not finding the treasure, went on to Caduinum, and when he could not recover it, he put on the monk’s habit, and as long as lie lived, he guarded there what he had formerly possessed.’

38Of the colour of green herbs,’ B., P. 12943.

The term Rev. Macpherson translates as ‘napkin’ is actually a sudarium, the term used to describe several burial clothes of Jesus, sometimes used synonymously with sindon , the word usually translated as ‘shroud’ (there are examples for interchangeability of them). I have discussed this extensively (as well as the whole topic of the relics of the burial cloths of Jesus venerated through centuries) in an article written in Polish.3 In the same article I have discussed some aspects of the hypothesis that Arculfus’ Shroud and the Shroud of Turin are the same, here I want to present some of them. There were several arguments why this hypothesis was largely abandoned, however reviewing them, I found they were rather weak. One could build quite a good case for Arculfus’ Shroud being the Turin one, following some of the assumptions, which are not so hard to accept.

But first let’s analyse the Arculfus story and its context. Although legendary to high degree, we can trace some historical seeds in it. Arculfus relates that the cloth was stolen by some Jewish Christian shortly after the Resurrection, then it was passed through the generations, until descendants of the thief returned to Judaism. Forgetting moralizing tales about two sons, this is plausible –but with the reservation that the Shroud had to be revealed in the 6th century, or earlier to became a model of various icons of the Christ, including famous Pantocrator of Sinai. Next, Arculfus claims that the cloth was in possession of the Jews about three years before his visit in Jerusalem –also there is nothing impossible in that. We know that during the Persian invasion in 614 AD, Jews revolted against Byzantine rule, captured Jerusalem, slained its Christian population and devastated it churches. The cloth could have been captured by the Jewish rebels during that time. Then the conflict between Christians and Jews arose, which was resolved by fire ordeal on order of Mavias, the King of the Saracens. As the footnote 34 informs us, this is historical person. As for the fire ordeal itself, and the miracle which allegedly happened then, we cannot address that issue, it is up to each person whether this story is believable or not. Anyway, in the end the cloth was stored inside the Basilica of The Holy Sepulchre –we can be certain there was some alleged burial cloth of Jesus in Jerusalem circa 670 AD. Following the Commemoratorium de Casis Dei vel monasterii, written about 880 AD, a Shroud was guarded, by a guardian, in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.4

Now the question arise whether this cloth could be our Shroud of Turin. Two objections are usually raised:

1. The Arculfus’ Shroud is too short –it is only 8 feet (circa 240-250 cm) long, while the Shroud of Turin is 437 cm, or 14 feet, 3 inches long.

2. There is no mention of an image upon it.

One can provide several answers to those objections. For the first objection, Savio assumed that it was the Shroud of Turin folded in two, its original had to be 4.8-5 m, and then it was systematically shortened by cutting pieces of it for relics. This version is no longer possible to maintain, after Ian Dickinson’s work we know the length of the Shroud of Turin is almost perfectly 8 Assyrian cubits long, thus there was no shortening –it is hard to imagine that pieces were cut in the that accidently the Shroud became almost exactly 8 cubits long. However, there is much better explanation. Let’s quote the key fragment of Arculfus’ relation: it measures about eight feet(36) in length.

And the Rev. Macpherson’s footnote:

36`Cubits’ in some MSS.

That’s it! We cannot be sure of the Arculfus’ Shroud length –and it can correspond exactly to the length of the Shroud of Turin.

Now the second, much more serious object, lack of mention of the image upon it. However, with one simple assumption, it can be also resolved easily.

It is very easy to make the images on the Shroud of Turin non-visible. Just to recall that the Shroud of Turin has the backing cloth. And so had Arculfus’ Shroud:

they cover it up in another linen cloth and put it away in a casket of the church.

The difference is that in case of the current Shroud of Turin, the backing cloth is attached to the back side of the cloth, where no images of the body are visible to the naked eye, but for the Arculfus’ Shroud (assuming it was the same cloth) it could be exactly opposite –the front side, with the images could have been covered, and hidden from the sight. For what purpose? One must remember one thing, for the Jews, who possessed the cloth for some generations, as well as for the Muslims, which ruled over the Holy Land during those days, and were settling the dispute about the linen, there is a strict prohibition for creating and worshipping graven images. The religious objections might have been stronger than the beauty of the relic. On the other hand, in the next Chapter XII Arculfus mentions another cloth on which the forms of the twelve Apostles are woven, and the likeness of the Lord Himself is figured –and this caused problem for nobody.

Assuming the Arculfus’ Shroud is the Shroud of Turin, what would have been its later history? Leaving aside the very interesting matter of Charlemagne’s relics, it was most probably transferred to Constantinople at some date –Savio suggested around 1050. Then it became part of Imperial collection, was noticed by Robert de Clari etc. According to Savio it was transferred from Constantinople to France circa 1247 by Philippe de Toucy, baili of the Latin Empire, and ancestor of Jeanne de Toucy, first wife of Geoffrey de Charny.

At the end a few words should be spoken about relation between the Shroud and the Mandylion. Waliszewski, while preferring Savio’s reconstruction of the Shroud early history over Wilson’s, does not rule out the possibility that the Shroud was transferred to Edessa at some point of its history (but basing on Arculfus relation, several generations after Resurrection, probably during the reing of Abgar VIII/IX circa 200 AD), where it was found in the 6th century, but according to him, the Shroud was returned to Jerusalem, to its “proper” place. Thus, the Mandylion was nothing, but merely a copy of the Shroud. Truly, I find this hardly believable –for Byzantine Empereros, Constantinople would have been of course much more ”proper” place. But the history of the Shroud is so complex, and full of surprises, that even scenarios identifying the Arculfus’ Shroud with the Mandylion are possible.

Concluding, the Arculfus’ Shroud hypothesis, despite some drawbacks, and unanswered questions, is quite possible alternative to the Wilson’s theory. The main problem is that the arguments for the latter are much stronger –and much more plausible, in my opinion.



1 Stanisław Waliszewski, Całun Turyński Dzisiaj, WAM, Kraków 1987, part 1 of the book, called Na tropach historii. Waliszewski mentions briefly Wilson’s ideas, but prefers Savio.

2 IN THE HOLY LAND ABOUT THE YEAR A.D. 670).Translated and Annotated BY THE REV. JAMES ROSE MACPHERSON, B. D. LONDON: 24, Hanover Square, W.1895 I, Chapters XI-XII

3 Ile było płócien pogrzebowych Jezusa? Part 1:,749.htm, Part 2:,750.htm

4 Waliszewski pg. 20, see also Remi Van Haelst, The Sindon Munda Of Kornelimunster, Compiegne And Cahors, Healst claims 808 AD, Waliszewski 880 AD, one date is probably a typo.

Note by Dan Porter, editor of this blog: I have a copy of a map from Waliszewski’s book that may help you. It shows possible routes between places in the Middle East and Northern France and points in between. Because of possible copyright issues I have decided not to post it. If you would like to see a copy, send me an email at Please put the word map in the subject and allow a couple of days for me to send it to you.