The Tunic of Argenteuil
At present referred to as The Holy Tunic of Argenteuil (French: La Sainte Tunique d’Argenteuil) or as The Seamless Tunic of Our Lord Jesus Christ (French: La Tunique sans couture de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ). The object measures 122 × 90 cm (originally about 148 × 90 cm). There are traces of blood on the surface of the cloth, most intense in the back of the tunic, at shoulder height. From 1150 to the present day, the relic has been kept in the Church of St Dionysius in →Argenteuil. The tunic’s cloth was made from sheep’s wool with regular sized fibres. It was woven on a simple loom using the craftsman’s method, with a regular left-hand “Z” weave (the fibres forming the thread are wound in an anti-clockwise direction).
The average thread thickness is approximately 0.25 mm and there are 12 to 15 threads per 1 cm length. The tunic is originally seamless: it was woven from a single piece, including the sleeves, which are an extension of the back. In its current state, it is lined with a reinforcing cloth to protect it from falling apart, and the original piece is made up of about 20 fragments sewn together. Based, among other things, on the testimony of tradition and the similarity of the traces of blood (in terms of blood group and the shape of traces) to those found on the Shroud of Turin, it is believed to be the authentic tunic of Jesus Christ, against which the Roman soldiers cast lots (John 19:23–24). The tunic of Argenteuil should not be confused with the outer garment of Jesus kept in the Cathedral of Trier, which was brought from Palestine to Europe by St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great.
The history of the tunic is well documented starting in 1150, when it was found in the church of a Benedictine monastery in Argenteuil, a small village then inhabited by around 100 families. The first solemn public display, which involved recognition of its authenticity, took place in the presence of King Louis VII, nine bishops and two archbishops. A description of this event is contained in a document of 1156 drawn up by Hugo, Archbishop of Rouen. A very plausible hypothesis based on earlier chronicle sources is that the relic is supposed to have found its way to Argenteuil in the first half of the 9th century (probably in 814) thanks to Theodred, daughter of Charlemagne, who was a vicar of the Argenteuil monastery (Franziskus Büll; Pierre Dor). The artefact would have been brought to this French locality from Constantinople, where it is believed to have appeared around the 7th century. The relic found its way to France shortly after the coronation of Charlemagne (800), to whom it was given by Irene, Empress of Byzantium. Chroniclers and historians link the earlier fate of the tunic to Jerusalem (years 33–36 and 590–628), Jaffa (years 36–? and ?–590) and Germia (interval of years uncertain, but between the two stays of the relic in Jaffa), a town of unconfirmed location. It is highly likely that the tunic was brought to Jaffa by the Apostle Peter, where it was then hidden in the house of Simon the Tanner, mentioned in Acts (9:43). From the moment the cloth was found after 1150 in Argenteuil, it did not leave its storage place. However, this period is marked by a turbulent history, consisting of religious wars, revolution and the cloth being cut into pieces, its reconstruction in the 19th century, the separation of many fragments and their dispersal to many places, and finally the theft and return in 1984 (Marion and Lucotte 2008, p. 156).
The tunic was cut into pieces in November 1793 by Abbot Ozet, parish priest of Argenteuil, to save it from destruction during the French Revolution. Its individual parts were hidden in various places or distributed to worthy parishioners. Two years after this event, when the immediate danger had passed, attempts were made to recover all parts of the relic, but without success. The back part of the cloth was preserved in the best condition. Many fragments of the tunic have been lost irretrievably, some being stored in Longpont-sur-Orge in the French department of Essonne, and one since 1854 in the Vatican, where it was found following the intervention of Pope Pius IX. In April 1982, in the presence of the Bishop of Versailles, the relic was reconstructed from most of the available fragments.
The first studies of the structure of the cloth were carried out at the end of the 19th century: a chemical one in 1892 and a textile one a year later, part of the research being carried out at the Beauvais Manufactory. These showed that, before the garment was woven, the yarn was dyed a dark brownish-red colour, which was confirmed by a 1931 chemical study, identifying the source of the dye, which was most likely the root of the madder plant species Rubia tinctorum L. or Rubia peregrina L., used to dye cloth in ancient Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Fibre staining was confirmed at the turn of the 20th century following chromatographic and spectroscopic analyses undertaken by André Marion and Gérard Lucotte.
The first attempt to scientifically compare the bloodstains found on the tunic with those found on the Shroud was made in 1934, but this study proved to be not very accurate (Marion and Lucotte 2008, p. 173). It used photographs of the relics taken by Gérard Cordonnier in three spectral bands in the visible spectrum using colour filters and in the infrared. Only the research carried out at the Orsay Institute of Optics by A. Marion and G. Lucotte in 1998 made it possible to demonstrate a high correspondence between the bloodstains from the tunic and those on the Shroud. This similarity relates to the graphic image of the bloodstains on both relics, specifically their arrangement and shape. The research was carried out with computer tools; primarily reproductions made under infrared light by G. Cordonnier were used along with reproductions made contemporaneously in colour with the full spectrum of visible light. This analysis is accompanied by the following commentary: If we consider the previous hypotheses and if we take into account the deformations and rotations that the cloth undergoes, then the superimposition of the image of the tunic and the image of the back from the Shroud show a remarkable correspondence (Marion and Lucotte 2008, p. 181). The authors of the study and observation of the two perpendicular directions of the blood traces in the back area concluded that the victim who left these traces on both relics carried the cross on his shoulders in its full form, and not only in a form confined to the crossbeam (patibulum), as most syndonologists believe.
In 1985, the blood group was determined from the bloody marks left on the tunic (Saint Prix). The classical technique used in immunohaematology was applied: all analyses were carried out with specific sera containing anti-A and anti-B antibodies, detecting the presence of agglutinated cells corresponding to groups A and B (Marion and Lucotte 2008, p. 212). This is group AB, which was also found on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarion of Oviedo (cf. →Blood on the Shroud and →Sudarium of Oviedo).
The radiocarbon dating study of threads taken from one tunic sample, designated S2a, was carried out between 2003 and 2005. Two independent laboratories performed the analyses using the same AMS technique and followed the same pre-cleaning procedure (acid-base-acid). A large discrepancy was found between the midpoints of the two intervals of estimated dating. The range of the first dating was determined to be between 530 and 650, while the later dating was determined to be between 670 and 880, with an equal probability of 95.4%. The midpoint of the first dating is 590, while that of the later dating is 775, indicating a difference in the dating of the same sample of almost two hundred years. Critics of this research point to the unreliability of carbon isotope dating for textiles and, above all, they question the effectiveness of the sample purification methods used (Marion and Lucotte 2008).
At the beginning of the 21st century, thanks to the pollen studies carried out by A. Marion and G. Lucotte, it was also possible to find on the tunic six pollen species coinciding with those found on the Shroud and seven identical to those on the Sudarion of Oviedo, two of which occur on all three relics and are endemic to Palestine (Tamarix hampeana and Pistacia palaestina). The same scholars also carried out a study of DNA traces using the PCR technique on material taken from the tunic. Thanks to them, it was possible to establish that one person left traces of blood on the garment. This is a male person of Jewish descent from the Middle East (Marion and Lucotte 2008, p. 227).
The Tunic of Argenteuil is rarely displayed in public, as is the Shroud of Turin. The last such event took place in 2016.
Dor P., La Tunique d’Argenteuil et ses prétendues rivales: étude historique, Maulévrier 2002.
Leroy J.-Ch., Tunika Jezusa. Cudowna relikwia chrześcijaństwa, przeł. A. Zielińska, Kraków 2013.
Marion A., Lucotte G., Tunika z Argenteuil i Całun Turyński. Podsumowanie badań, tłum. A. Łatka, Kraków 2008.
Nickell J., Relics of the Christ, Lexington 2007.
Parcot L., La Sainte Tunique d’Argenteuil : Recherches scientifiques, 3e ed., Paris 1934.
Le Quéré F., La sainte Tunique d’Argenteuil : Histoire et examen de l’authentique tunique sans couture de Jésus-Christ, Paris 2016.
Sources of Images
1. Archive of the Basilica of Argenteuil (public domain)
2. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Argenteuil_95_Sainte_Tunique_2016.JPG (Simon de l’Ouest, CC BY-SA 4.0)