Most of the Christian world is aware of the famous, although controversial, Shroud of Turin. Fewer are aware of an equally impressive bit of cloth that may hold clues to the origins and authenticity of the Shroud. And it has a better documented history than the Shroud of Turin. This mysterious cloth is known as the Sudarium (“sweat cloth”) of Ovieto. It is believed by some to be the cloth placed over Jesus’ face after his crucifixion.
The bloodstained cloth, measuring about 84 x 53 centimeters, bears no image of a face. But there are some intriguing similarities to the Shroud of Turin. First, blood stains on both cloths are Type AB, common among Middle Eastern peoples, but relatively rare among Europeans. A comparison of the location of the blood stains on both the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin show that there is an exact fit of many of the stains on both cloths, indicating that one was laid over the other on the dead man’s face.
A study by Dr. Alan Whanger compared the stains on the Sudarium with those on the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Whanger made use of the Polarized Image Overlay Technique and showed that there were seventy points of coincidence on the front parts of each cloth, and fifty on the back. For many, this is conclusive evidence that both cloths were used to cover the same face, believed to be that of Jesus.
According to documents written by Pelagius, 12th-century Bishop of Oviedo, the Sudarium remained in Palestine until about 614 AD, when Jerusalem was conquered by Persian King Chosroes II. It was rescued and sent first to Alexandria, but moved again when Chosroes II invaded Alexandria in 616. It was then taken to Cartagena, Spain, and sent to Seville, where it remained for some years.
St. Isidore took the chest containing the Sudarium to Toledo when he became bishop there, but was taken north in 718 to protect it from the invading Muslims. It remained in a cave known as Monsacro until King Alfonso II completed the special chapel, where it remains to this day. In March of 1075, the chest was officially opened in the presence of King Alfonso VI, his sister and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (“El Cid). An inventory was made of the relics of the chest, including the Sudarium.
The Sudarium, along with other relics, is kept in a silver-covered reliquary box in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The chapel was built by King Alfonso II of Asturias in 840 AD especially to house the cloth. The Sudarium is publicly displayed only three times each year.
Does the Sudarium of Ovieto help to prove that the Shroud of Turin is real? Its provenance is certainly better documented, adding weight to the argument that the Shroud is much older than many people believe it is. Unfortunately, the tests that could help establish the authenticity of both cloths may never be made. It may be that non-destructive tests allowed at some future date can help to prove or disprove the authenticity of both cloths. Only time will tell.
For a more technical analysis of the Sudarium and its possible relationship to the Shroud of Turin, visit here