The Sudarium of Oviedo
(Spanish: El Sudario de Oviedo—literally, ‘the sweat cloth of Oviedo’)—also known as the Sudarium of Oviedo, the Veil of Oviedo—is a rectangular linen cloth kept in Oviedo, the capital of the Spanish region of Asturias. This cloth has approximate dimensions of 855 × 526 mm, a density of 18–21 linen fibres on the edges and 40–45 fibres in the centre, and was most likely made by hand. At first glance it resembles a thin, creased, very old and yellowed piece of cloth. The edges are creased by the frame and perforated by nails. Numerous stains (flower pollen, wax, soot, fungus) and stains of blood and other human physiological fluids are visible on the material. The main blood stains are numerous small spot stains, butterfly and accordion-shaped stains and, “twin” reflections of the largest stain. In the upper part, oblique folds are visible: these are places where the Sudarium was bound for a very short time, forming something like a hood.
The study of the Sudarium of Oviedo, carried out in the 1980s and 1990s by a team of Spanish scientists, shows that it dates from antiquity, and originates from the Middle East region. It was a simple cloth of little value at the time and for a short period of time covered, in at least three different positions, the head of a man who had died as a result of a cruel ordeal, most likely on a cross. It is assumed that it was first placed on the head of the deceased in an upright position for about an hour, with the right arm bent upwards. After this time, the body was laid on its right side without changing the position of the arms, face down and forehead resting on a hard surface. In turn, the body was in this position for about an hour and then moved for a short time (about 5 minutes). Finally, the cloth was removed from the head and covered with myrrh and aloe vera. The entirety of the marks visible on the Sudarium show an amazing, remarkable correspondence with the wounds and facial features of the person visible on the Shroud of Turin.
The Sudarium of Oviedo has been an object of veneration in Spain since around 1075; the first information about it dates back to the 5th century. It is now believed that this very cloth is the cloth found in the tomb of Christ (John 20:7–8).
The history of the Sudarium is well documented and goes back further than the confirmed information about the Shroud of Turin. Assuming the date of Jesus’ death accepted by most scholars as 7 April 30, Spanish syndonologists believe that the Sudarium was buried with Christ on the same day, and that Peter and John found it in the empty tomb on 9 April.
Around the year 63, when Peter went to Rome, the Sudarium was said to have been hidden near the site of Jesus’ baptism, on the banks of the Jordan. He was not to be found in a cave on this river until around 440 by St Gerasimus. Shortly afterwards, around the year 450, the Sudarium was described by Nonnos of Panopolis. From the history of the sacred chest, which was described by Bishop Pelagius of Oviedo in his Liber testamentorum, it is known that it contained Christian relics, was transported from Jerusalem to Alexandria, and that around 614 the patriarch John had a church built in which it was to be kept. In all probability, it can be assumed that this chest contained the Sudarium. When Egypt was invaded by the Persians in 616, the chest containing the relics was taken to Cartagena in Spain and, a little later, to Seville, from where it found its way to Toledo and was kept there until the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711. It was then hidden on the Monsacro Mountain in Asturias before being moved to Oviedo, a town founded in 812.
In 1075, the chest was opened for the first time in about 250 years, in the presence of King Alfonso II. Meanwhile, in 1120, the aforementioned Pelagius wrote down its history in the aforementioned work. In 1556, the first blessing given to the faithful with the Sudarium was documented.
In 1965, Monsignor Giulio Ricci, archpresbyter of the Cathedral of Acquapendente in Italy and future doyen of Spanish syndonology (he completed his seminary and worked in Acquapendente, then in Assisi; transferred to Rome in 1963, where he was archivist in the Holy See Congregations; canon of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and prelate since 1975), began to study the Sudarium and its comparison with the Shroud of Turin.
Spanish scholars proceeded to study the Sudarium in 1965. The aforementioned G. Ricci, after examining the cloth, found a marked similarity in appearance and shape between the bloodstains of those on the Shroud of Turin and those on the Sudarium. This was the first attempt to compare the Shroud and the Sudarium without using biblical sources. Today, Spanish syndonologists are active within the Spanish Syndonological Centre (Centro Español de Sindonología—CES) and the results of their research, including conference papers on the Sudarium of Oviedo and other subjects of interest to the Centre, are published in the scientific notebooks „Línteum”.
Spanish syndonology argues that by analysing the traces of blood and body fluids from the nose and mouth of the person who was covered with the Sudarium, and by studying changes in body position, it becomes possible to describe the shape and dimensions of the face. It was significantly deformed by the blows inflicted on it. Due to the fact that Sudarium remained pressed firmly against his face for some time, a fairly accurate picture of the injuries and wounds from which blood flowed, as well as areas with inflammation and swellings caused by the injuries inflicted on the deceased during his lifetime, was obtained. Research by Spanish syndonologists also shows that the purpose of applying the Sudarium to the face was not to wipe or cleanse it of bodily fluids, but only to staunch these fluids. It is known that at first the Sudarium covered the head of the deceased (still in the upright position of the body) partially, then it covered the head completely, and after some time it was removed while the blood was still wet.
Important conclusions for the Sudarium arise from the examination of the Shroud of Turin using the VP8 image analyser, which enables a three-dimensional reflection of the face of a person wrapped in linen to be created. The juxtaposition of the shape and dimensions of the human face from the Shroud (including the visualisation made with the VP8 analyser) with the results of the study of the geometrical and physical features of the Sudarium shows an astonishing overlap of features on both cloths. The overlap is so great that it confirms that both cloths covered one body—that of Jesus Christ—at different times. Thanks to anthropological analysis, the following dimensions of the human face from the Shroud and the Sudarium have been established: total facial height 139 mm, total length of the nose 80 mm, length of the nasal dorsum 60 mm, width of the nose 25–30 mm and height of the nasal tip 21 mm.
Professor Juan Manuel Miñarro López’s research, conducted since 2006, confirms the above assumptions. Professor Miñarro notes that it is possible to describe the exact shape of the face of the deceased because the body was in different positions for a sufficiently long time, and the blood flowing out of the mouth and nose spilled in different directions fairly evenly over the cloth. This is what makes it possible to measure the parameters of the head and face. There can be no doubt that both cloths are authentic and there can be no question of any deliberate forgery, allegedly made in later centuries.
The Sudarium of Oviedo also confirms an interesting fact concerning the upper part of the head of the man from the Shroud. The wounds were undoubtedly made there while the deceased was alive, and the blood that oozed from them as a result of the cap that was placed on his head remained there after his death. The sudarium had been attached to the deceased’s head for a period of time by means of sharp objects, so that it acted as a bag, and the fluids inside it could not easily escape and, moving inside, formed the shape of the outline of the head. The sudarium from the deceased’s head was removed gently, just as it had been gently applied earlier. No doubt this was done slowly and carefully, which shows that the body was treated with great respect. It was placed in all three positions for a period of time and treated with great reverence, care and attention each time.
The overlap of the features of the Shroud and the Sudarium is revealed in the following facts: blood group AB (based on the findings of Prof. Pierluigi Baima Bollone of Turin, Carlo Goldoni of Rome and Dr. Ruiz de la Cuesta of Madrid), live blood from the crown of thorns, epsilon-shaped (ε) blood streak, blood clot on the forehead, trauma to the dorsum of the nose, swelling of the right cheek, stain in the form of a trapezoid, tip of the nose twisted to the left, swollen chin, stained tuft of hair, hair stains in the form of points on the occipital area identically distributed and at the same distance from each other, a strand of hair stained with blood near the seventh cervical vertebra (identical on both cloths) and three blood stains identically distributed. On this basis, it can be concluded that the injuries relate to the same face: it was first covered by the Sudarium, and in the tomb, the Shroud was first covered and then the Sudarium was once again placed on the head. Although the results of radiocarbon dating of the two cloths say that both artefacts are much younger (the Shroud of Turin is supposed to date from the 13th/14th century and the Sudarium from the 7th to 9th century), Spanish sindonology takes the view that the evidence that these cloths covered the body of Jesus is irrefutable. Further comparative research is needed into the Shroud done by experts on the Sudarium and further comparative research into the Sudarium done by experts on the Shroud.
Janice Bennett, an American Sudarium researcher, wrote in her book Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo (2005; Polish ed. 2011) about the inadequacies of the carbon isotope method of examination: Carbon C14 dating is a far from perfect method, especially when the sample is contaminated. Both the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin are contaminated to a high degree because these ancient garments were once exposed to the public without any protection (Bennett 2011). Based on the findings of anthropologists, biologists and even pathomorphologists, the author draws surprising conclusions:
The nose of the Shroud and Sudarium person measures eight centimetres. The area around the nose on both robes is heavily contaminated. The nose is swollen and crooked on the right side, which is typical of crucifixion victims. The right cheek is not visible on either cloth due to the wound located in this part of the face. The bloodstains have geometrically corresponding shapes located in very similar places on both cloths. There is a remarkable similarity between the two clothes when it comes to the side of the head. The marks match perfectly in size, location and manner of formation. Furthermore, the stains on the back of both cloths correspond to each other. Based on the significant similarities between the Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo, it is extremely unlikely that they did not cover the same person.(Bennett 2011)
It is only worth adding here that the crookedness of the nose can also be linked to injuries following the beating during Jesus’ interrogation in the high priest’s house (cf. Matt 26:67–68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63–66).
Let us also mention the examination of the Sudarium for the flower pollen on it. A palynological study on both cloths was carried out in the 1970s In the case of the Sudarium, it was initiated by Dr Max Frei-Sulzer, a Zurich botanist. After his death in 1983, the studies were continued from 1995 by Dr Avinoam Danin, a botanist from the University of Jerusalem, and Dr Uri Baruch, a palynologist and specialist in the flora of Israel. These scholars have proven that the pollen found on the cloth comes from three regions—Spain and Italy, North Africa. the Dead Sea area and the Middle East—with two plants found exclusively in the Jerusalem area. This, according to these researchers, confirms the information that the Sudarium made its way from the Holy Land via North Africa to Spain.
Bennett J., Święta chusta, święta krew. Tajemnica Sudarionu z Oviedo, nieznanej relikwii Grobu Pańskiego, przeł. P. Zarębski, Kraków 2011.
Baima Bollone P., Czy Całun wiążą jakieś relacje z Chustą z Oviedo?, [in:] Całun Turyński, 101 pytań i odpowiedzi, Kraków 2002, pp. 46–50.
Fernández-Figares Pérez J.M., Estudios florísticos en el Santo Sudario y en la Sábana Santa, „Linteum” 2008, No. 45, p. 10.
Mińarro López J.M., Sobre la compatibilidad de la Síndone y el Sudario, „Linteum” 2014, No. 56, p. 4.
Moreno G.H., Sudario de Oviedo y Sindone de Turin, posibles lienzos sepulcrales de Jesús de Nazaret [conference paper], 2016, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/heras2016span.pdf – 16 X 2021.
Rodriguez J.M., „Linteum” nr 42–43 (2007): La investigación del Sudario, „Linteum” 2007, No. 42–43, p. 4.
Source of Image
1. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Santo_Sudario_Oviedo.jpg (Reinhard Dietrich, CC BY-SA 4.0)