Sudarium of Oviedo

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The ark that contains the Sudarium of Oviedo.

The Sudarium of Oviedo, or Shroud of Oviedo, is a bloodstained piece of cloth measuring c. 84 x 53 cm (33 x 21 inches) kept in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain.[1] The Sudarium (Latin for sweat cloth) is thought to be the cloth that was wrapped around the head of Jesus Christ after he died as described in John 20:6-7

The cloth has been dated to around 700 AD by radiocarbon dating. However, at the same conference at which this information was presented, it was noted that in actuality the cloth has a definite history extending back to approximately 570 AD. The laboratory noted that later oil contamination could have resulted in the late dating.[2]

The small chapel housing it was built specifically for the cloth by King Alfonso II of Asturias in AD 840; the Arca Santa is an elaborate reliquary chest with a Romanesque metal frontal for the storage of the Sudarium and other relics. The Sudarium is displayed to the public three times a year: Good Friday, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on 14 September, and its octave on 21 September.

Background and history[edit]

The Sudarium shows signs of advanced deterioration, with dark flecks that are symmetrically arranged but form no image, unlike the markings on the Shroud of Turin. The face cloth is mentioned as having been present in the empty tomb in John 20:6-7. Outside of the Bible the Sudarium is first mentioned in 570 AD by Antoninus of Piacenza, who writes that the Sudarium was being cared for in the vicinity of Jerusalem in a cave near the monastery of Saint Mark.

The Sudarium is presumed to have been taken from Palestine in 614 AD, after the invasion of the Byzantine provinces by the Sassanid Persian King Khosrau II. In order to avoid destruction in the invasion, it was taken away first to Alexandria by the presbyter Philip, then carried through northern Africa when Khosrau II conquered Alexandria in 616 AD and arrived in Spain shortly thereafter. The Sudarium entered Spain at Cartagena, along with people who were fleeing from the Persians. Fulgentius, bishop of Ecija, welcomed the refugees and the relics, and gave the chest containing the Sudarium to Leandro, bishop of Seville. He took it to Seville, where it spent some years.[1]

In 657 it was moved to Toledo, then in 718 on to northern Spain to escape the advancing Moors. The Sudarium was hidden in the mountains of Asturias in a cave known as Montesacro until king Alfonso II, having battled back the Moors, built a chapel in Oviedo to house it in 840 AD.

On 14 March 1075, King Alfonso VI, his sister and Rodrigo Diaz Vivar (El Cid) opened the chest after days of fasting. The event was recorded on a document preserved in the Capitular Archives at the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo. The king had the oak chest covered in silver with an inscription which reads, "The Sacred Sudarium of Our Lord Jesus Christ."


The investigations of the sudarium have been summarized as follows[3]:

  1. The Sudarium of Oviedo is a relic, which has been venerated in the cathedral of Oviedo for a very long time. It contains stains formed by human blood of the group AB.
  2. The cloth is dirty, creased, torn and burnt in parts, stained and highly contaminated. It does not, however, show signs of fraudulent manipulation.
  3. It seems to be a funeral cloth that was probably placed over the head of the corpse of an adult male of normal constitution.
  4. The man whose face the Sudarium covered had a beard, moustache and long hair, tied up at the nape of his neck into a ponytail.
  5. The man's mouth was closed, his nose was squashed and forced to the right by the pressure of holding the cloth to his face. Both these anatomical elements have been clearly identified on the sudarium of Oviedo.
  6. The man was dead. The mechanism that formed the stains is incompatible with any kind of breathing movement.
  7. At the bottom of the back of his head, there is a series of wounds produced in life by some sharp objects. These wounds had bled about an hour before the cloth was placed on top of them.
  8. Just about the entire head, shoulders and at least part of the back of the man were covered in blood before being covered by this cloth. This is known because it is impossible to reproduce the stains in the hair, on the forehead and on top of the head with blood from a corpse. It can therefore be stated that the man was wounded before death with something that made his scalp bleed and produced wounds on his neck, shoulders and upper part of the back.
  9. The man suffered a pulmonary oedema as a consequence of the terminal process.
  10. The cloth was placed over the head starting from the back, held to the hair by sharp objects. From there it went round the left side of the head to the right cheek, where, for apparently unknown reasons it was folded over on itself, ending up folded like an accordion at the left cheek. It is possible that the cloth was placed like this because the head formed an obstacle and so it was folded over on itself. On placing the cloth in this position, two stained areas can be anatomically observed - one over the "ponytail" and the other over the top of the back. Once the man had died, the corpse stayed in a vertical position for around one hour, and the right arm was raised with the head bent 70 degrees forwards and 20 degrees to the right. How can this be reasonably thought of as a "vertical position"? If the man of the Oviedo Sudarium was hanging by the right arm only, then the rest of the body, especially the head, would be relatively far from this arm, hanging to the left. This position is incompatible with that of the head that the cloth wrapped. It is therefore easy to deduce that the body was hanging by both arms. But if the body was hanging like this, without support for the feet, the man would have died in 15 or 20 minutes, and there would not have been enough time to generate the amount of liquid necessary to form the stains visible on the cloth. If the body were hanging with both arms above the head, then the head would have been leaning forwards and not to the right. So the only position compatible with the formation of the stains on the Oviedo cloth is both arms outstretched above the head and the feet in such a position as to make breathing very difficult, i.e. a position totally compatible with crucifixion. We can say that the man was wounded first (blood on the head, shoulders and back) 4 and then "crucified".
  11. The body was then placed on the ground on its right side, with the arms in the same position, and the head still bent 20 degrees to the right, and at 115 degrees from the vertical position. The forehead was placed on a hard surface, and the body was left in this position for approximately one more hour.
  12. The body was then moved, while somebody's left hand in various positions tried to stem the flow of liquid from the nose and mouth, pressing strongly against them. This movement could have taken about 5 minutes. The cloth was folded over itself all this time. The cloth was then straightened out and wrapped all round the head, like a hood, held on again by sharp objects. This allowed part of the cloth, folded like a cone, to fall over the back. With the head thus covered, the corpse was held up (partly) by a left fist. The cloth was then moved sideways over the face in this position. Thus, once the obstacle (which could have been the hair matted with blood or the head bent towards the right) had been removed, the cloth covered the entire head and the corpse was moved for the last time, face down on a closed left fist. This movement produced the large triangular stain, on whose surface the finger shaped stains can be seen and on the reverse side of the cloth, the curve inscribed on the cheek. Like the previous movement, this one could have taken 5 minutes at most.
  13. Finally, on reaching the destination, the body was placed face up and for unknown reasons, the cloth was taken off the head.
  14. Possibly myrrh and aloes were then sprinkled over the cloth.

See also[edit]



Further reading[edit]

  • Guscin, Mark (1 June 1998). The Oviedo Cloth. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 978-0718829858. Retrieved 6 October 2012.

External links[edit]