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Queries and Comments: The Testimony of a Crusader, The Dismal Science, BAR 25:02, Mar-Apr 1999.

Crusader_Map_of_JerusalemThe Testimony of a Crusader

Gary Vikan mentions that the Shroud of Turin has been dated to 1260–1390 A.D. and that in 12th-century Constantinople there were two iconic burial shrouds. While working on my doctoral dissertation, I came upon a description of one such shroud, by Robert de Clari, a knight from Picardy and a participant in the Fourth Crusade. Upon his return to Picardy, in about 1205, he composed, in French, a chronicle that contains the following passage, given here in translation- “There was a Church which was called of My Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, where there was the shroud (syndoines) in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday, raised itself upright so that one could see the form (figure) of Our Lord on it, and no one either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this shroud (syndoines) when the city was taken [by the Crusaders]” (Robert de Clari, La Conquête de Constantinople, ed. Ph. Lauer [Paris, 1924], p. 90, 11.42–50). The word syndoines (with a final s denoting subject case) is a quite normal development of Latin sindonem from Greek sindon, “shroud.” The reason that this passage of Robert’s chronicle did not catch the attention of students of the shroud is this- An English translation (by E.H. McNeal, New York, 1936) does not translate syndoines and gives “features” for figure, which suggested that Robert meant the image of the face of Jesus [which would have made the object one of a number of Veronica’s Veils—Ed.]. In the 15th century, figure could not mean anything but “outline” or “form.” (French figure acquired the meaning “features” or “face” only in the 18th century.) Another English translation (by E.N. Stone, Seattle, 1939), much less known but more nearly correct, offers “shroud” for syndoines and “form” for figure. Indeed, Robert could not possibly have been talking about the True Image of St. Veronica, but about the wrapping of a body, i.e., a shroud. I have published a more detailed account of Robert’s statement in Shroud Spectrum International (March 1982).

Peter F. Dembowski

Department of Romance Languages

University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

The Dismal Science

Gary Vikan argues that the Shroud of Turin could easily have been forged in the Middle Ages, as the knowledge of crucifixion that is portrayed on that object was available from the ritual practices of groups like the Penitentes. He is certainly right in his belief that the shroud was forged, but he need not resort to such obscure groups to explain this arcane knowledge. Though crucifixion was outlawed in the late Roman Empire, it continued widely in other societies of which medieval Europeans had intimate knowledge, most notably in the Muslim world. The most famous instance is perhaps that of the great Sufi mystic al-Hallaj, who was crucified in Baghdad in 922, but crucifixion continued to be used for criminals and political prisoners. Thus details of crucifixion were easily available to any European who had traveled to the Islamic world during the Crusades.

Philip Jenkins

Professor of History and Religious Studies

Pennsylvania State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

Posted in: Bible and Beyond

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